"The world won't get no better if we just let it be. The world won't get no better. We gotta change it, yeah, just you and me."
Lyric from: Wake Up Everybody from the album Wake Up Everybody
Written By: John Whitehead, Gene McFadden and Victor Carstarphen
Performed By: Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
|Photo of Marcus Smart courtesy of espn.com|
Jackie Robinson made his Major League Baseball debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. He was the first African-American to play for the league, breaking baseball's color line.
The racial climate in the United States at that time was one that included lynching in the South, high unemployment rates for blacks as a result of blatant discrimination and the hypocrisy of blacks fighting for democracy overseas while facing segregation at home.
As a player in the big leagues, Robinson was not immune to this overall mistreatment of blacks.
Some of his Dodger teammates objected to his presence. He was taunted by fans. People threatened his family.
That was 67 years ago.
Since that time Brown vs Board of Education has happened; Civil Rights were signed into law; a black man ran for President and lost and a man whose father was born in Kenya ran for president, won and is now serving his second term.
These milestones are evidence of progress.
Black people no longer expect (for the most part) to encounter overt and barefaced racism.
So when a 19-year old who’s playing basketball for an integrated school, on an integrated team, in an integrated gym that he entered through the same doors as his white teammates and coaches comes face to face with a fan spouting racial slurs directed at him; it is beyond unreasonable to expect him to respond as Mr. Robinson would have in 1947.
In fact, it’s downright disrespectful and insensitive.
This article might quite possibly be irrelevant in the first place. Marcus Smart didn’t confirm in his recent statement that, as many have speculated, super fan Jeff Orr called him the n-word or told him to go back to Africa. In Orr’s statement, he offered apologies all around but denied using a racial slur as he derided Smart on Saturday night.
Both statements and Smart’s suspension have helped make for a quick resolution on this matter and, the recent announcement by Missouri’s Michael Sam has somewhat dimmed the story’s spotlight.
But even the mere possibility of Smart’s shove being a reaction to a racially insulting comment has brought out the Jackie Robinson historian in many sports fans and media.
Not the least of which is Dick Vitale. He joined Mike and Mike in the Morning earlier today to discuss the Smart incident and didn’t hesitate to trot out the Robinson expectations.
We should remember that Robinson was asked by Dodgers club president and general manager, Branch Rickey, to be a Negro player “with guts enough not to fight back”. He asked this of Robinson because abuse of the first black man in MLB was inevitable. Robinson’s decision to be that type of Negro player was absolutely the right thing to do. Reacting to racist idiots during that time had dire and violent consequences for a black man. Death was a real possibility as was harm to his family.
Simply put, though, a refusal to be that type of Negro could have relegated him back to the Negro Leagues of which he had grown tired.
Racism was not catching any black person off guard in 1947. It was an absolute certainty.
But it likely would have caught Smart off guard on a Saturday night in 2014, especially spewing out of the mouth of a 50-something year old.
We can say that we wish he would have handled it differently, wished that he would have used the moment as an opportunity to cultivate a resolve in the face of adversity that will serve him on and off the court for the rest of his life. How dare we, however, ask him to respond in 1947 fashion with his 19-year old, contemporary mindset? One informed, mind you, by all of the modern-day messages that tell him he is equal, tell him racism is no longer a problem in this country essentially rendering him ill-prepared for a split-second, best-case scenario type of reaction.
Frankly, I am surprised by how comfortable White Americans-white media especially- feel in even using a Jackie Robinson reference when placing demands on blacks to be the bigger person in these situations. After all, that type of trip down memory lane when framing a present day occurrence might actually highlight how little their race has grown in its willingness to take responsibility for this venomous behavior. Once again hoping that Black Americans will care more about our karma than whites care about their own, making a post-racial America an easy picture to paint with little real, authentic soul-birthed progress being made.
If blacks don’t react when confronted with racism, then no one hears it or sees it or has to acknowledge it and then maybe it isn’t really happening. Kinda’ like that tree in the forest.
The real culprit here is that the narrative on Jackie Robinson’s agreement to be a turn the other cheek type of Negro baseball player became one that Americans, black and white, associate with character. Jackie Robinson had high moral character because he didn’t react, didn’t fight back against his mistreatment. And even though we say we have progressed, our definition of character for the black athlete, and really black people overall, has not. It’s stuck six decades back. More broadly asserted, while white men are allowed to be bold, aggressive and confident in their quests to become masters of the universe, for the black man silent and reserved strength is king.
It’s why Dez Bryant is out of control while Tom Brady is a leader. It’s the real reason folks were so appalled by Richard Sherman’s post-game interview.
And it’s the reason why Marcus Smart’s critics have shown no compassion for his actions even if a racial slur was involved and, why his defenders have begun a campaign to promote his standing as a “good guy”.
They know how thin the line between high character and low moral fiber can be for a guy like Marcus Smart.
For Smart’s part, he has said all the right things since the incident. He has acknowledged his mistake and called his actions an embarrassment. As for the latter, he’s not the only one.
Suggesting a 67-year old solution that was tailor-fitted for a specific need in a racial climate in which we no longer exist to a 19-year old for a problem in 2014 that shouldn’t even be a problem in 2014 is downright shameful.