The Jumping to Conclusions Rant

Note from Cyn:  I’ve been writing this for a few days and it came about for two reasons, one is a thread about it over at the Sons of Sam Horn and the other is a bunch of emails I received from folks wondering how, in light of this article, I could be a proud Red Sox fan (seriously).  I’ve given a lot of thought to what I’ve written and debated on if I should even post it and decided, in the spirit of my accepting that this is a personal blog as much as a baseball one, that it was something I wanted to get out.  If anyone is offended by what I’ve written, I apologize in advance.  My goal isn’t to offend anyone but to speak out because I was a bit offended by the piece I write about below.  Ignorance doesn’t serve anyone well and we’d all be better if we paid more attention to what we said or wrote and didn’t jump to conclusions.

I’m a second generation American on my father’s side and third generation on my mother’s.  My great grandfather Alfredo, born in Tufo, Italy, lived long enough for me to be able to not only remember him but remember conversations we had.  My father’s father, my grandfather Daniel (an Irish immigrant) died a couple of years before I was born so I, sadly, never got to speak with him but my father tells me stories that he shared with my dad all the time, including stories about how difficult it was to find work back in the days of “No Irish Need Apply”.  Both my maternal great grandfather and my paternal grandfather had stories of how poorly they were treated when they came to this country.  It was because of this poor treatment that both of my parents’ families have a long history of being racially and socially tolerant.  No one wanted to be treated like they were nothing and they would make sure they never treated anyone that way.  Being turned away for a job because of your heritage gives you an anger (and embarrassment) that you don’t get over quickly.  As a result, as I’ve mentioned before, my family is quite racially diverse.

I mention this yet add that I am not so racially diverse.  While I do have a small bit of Creek Indian in me, I’m pretty much a white, Italian, Irish American with very light skin and while I do understand what it’s like to have someone consider me less of a person, given that I’m a woman, I will never truly be able to appreciate how difficult it can be for a racial minority.

Which is why I find it difficult to criticize when someone who lives with being a minority writes about their experiences as such and puts a negative light on something or some place I love.  I grew up in the 70s and 80s not too far away from Boston and I know very well about this city’s terrible history with race relations.  Regardless of any changes that have occurred, Boston’s history will always relay the facts that minorities were not welcome here for quite some time.  Nothing changes history, we can only hope to improve upon it.

I bring all of this up because a “Globe Correspondent” named Francie Latour wrote a piece last week that only just today came to my attention.  She titled it (or maybe the Globe did. I get confused on the difference between blog entries and actual articles over there) “Race on Yawkey Way: Why is Red Sox Nation so White?”.  Now, usually pieces like this are written by white guys trying to stir up trouble and I read them, dismiss them and move on with my life.  But this was written by a black woman in a mixed-race marriage who happens to be a Red Sox fan so automatically I give her more credence than I would, say, Ken Rosenthal, on the matter.

Latour admits to feeling like “that lonely brown speck in the stands” and there’s really no one who can argue that.  Chances are, if you went to Fenway and saw her sitting in the stands, you might have the same passing thought.  There have been very few times when I was the minority somewhere but the idea of being such a minority in a crowd of 35,000 folks is daunting.  But Ms. Latour adds something to this piece and uses broad strokes to paint Fenway as an awful place without considering that it’s not so different in other parks.

First off, it has long been an issue for MLB, blacks in the game let alone going to them.  There is plenty of diversity in baseball, but, as of this year, blacks only make up 8.5 percent of the players.  While there are those who love to remind the Red Sox of their terrible history with race relations (being the last team in MLB to integrate, among others), recently, especially under this ownership, racial diversity hasn’t been an issue.  But, still, the complaints come out that black people aren’t coming to the parks and Latour’s article implies it is because they aren’t made to feel welcome at Fenway Park.

Unfortunately, disgust is something I’ve felt at Fenway in other contexts. I’ve seethed as a nearby fan screamed “Go back to Japan!’’ at former third-base coach Wendell Kim. (Kim, a Korean-American, was born in Hawaii.) Once, my husband nearly got us kicked out after confronting fans shouting antigay slurs at former Blue Jays outfielder Frank Catalanotto. I wonder, if I ever heard the N-word fly, what would I do? And is it possible some blacks don’t come because they don’t want to risk hearing that ugliness?

The only racist slurs I ever heard at Fenway were lobbed at Daisuke Matsuzaka by a group of men who seemed to be college students who were drinking, not paying attention to the game and acting like jackasses.  That isn’t to say I believe no one has ever uttered such things at Fenway, but I spend a lot of time there and, usually, the problems I encounter don’t have anything to do with folks being racists…just jerks.  Admittedly, the worst things usually came from some drunken idiot who eventually got booted out of the ballpark.  My issue with this particular paragraph, though, is it could apply to any park in MLB (and, really, any arena in sports in general).  You are always going to find asses at the park.  Alcohol and testosterone don’t mix well.  Hell, alcohol and assholes don’t mix well.  (I’ve experienced my share of women who were offensive and just utter idiots at the park.  It isn’t fair to just blame idiocy on men.)  It’s disingenuous to imply that you wouldn’t hear this kind of talk at any other ballpark and that it’s specific to Fenway (and that’s exactly what she does by sharing this story as an example of why Red Sox Nation is “so white”).  While I understand that this is her specific experience, she wrote this piece in a tone that implies you wouldn’t find this issue at other parks.

In researching for this entry, I came across this:

In terms of race and ethnicity, White Americans made up 84.9% of New England’s population, of which 81.2% were whites of non-Hispanic origin. Black Americans comprised 5.7% of the region’s population, of which 5.3% were blacks of non-Hispanic origin.

Black Americans make up 5.7% of the population in New England while whites make up almost 85%. How is that not stated as the obvious reason there is such a lack of racial diversity at Fenway Park?  It certainly doesn’t excuse the asshats who are offensive and harassing, but at least it gives some perspective. (For more perspective, in Boston specifically, non-Hispanic whites make up 47% of the population while Blacks and African Americans make up 22.4%.)

The larger argument could be made about all of MLB but simplifying it to Fenway is playing with the emotions of people who all too well remember the history of race relations in Boston (myself included).  It certainly isn’t perfect, but Boston is far from the same place it was in the 1970s.  It would be ignorant of me to pretend that there still aren’t race issues out there because I’ve witnessed them myself, not just at Fenway but in other aspects of my life, including through my family.

Here’s how she ends her piece questioning why “Red Sox Nation is so White”:

For fans, baseball is religion. For owners, it’s a business. I get that. But like believers before me, I long for the day my hometown team will go all the way against improbable odds. I root for them to reverse their other curse.

The other curse?  How do you blame the team for something that is clearly out of their control?  She mentions in the piece that she’s been going to Fenway since 2000. She then mentions that she wonders what she would do if she ever heard “The N-word”. If she’s been going to Fenway for 11 years and hasn’t heard that word yet, does that not tell her that things are probably not as terrible as she imagines they could be? Isn’t it possible that the fact that there are less blacks in the region, coupled with the fact that there are less black fans in ALL of MLB be the reason the stands are so pale in Fenway? Why does there have to be a correlation between some jackasses she’s seen and the fact that less blacks (and minorities in general) go to the ball park?  To blame the Red Sox for the fact that so few blacks go to Fenway is ignorant.

One thing I do agree with her on is the Red Sox and their connection to Dennis and Callahan.  To me, there’s no excuse for the support NESN (and through NESN, the Red Sox) gives them.  That is an argument Red Sox fans of all races make every day.  It’s also one that people can easily excuse (so many write me to tell me I’m flat-out wrong about them being racist and sexist and that it’s all in the interpretation of what they’re saying) and one that, thanks to money, will be difficult to ever get across to NESN, WEEI and the Red Sox.

I will never know what it is like to have someone look at me and immediately condemn me for the color of my skin, so I don’t comfortably criticize Latour because hers are shoes I can truly never walk in.  But there are sometimes when I think it’s appropriate to defend those being unfairly targeted and I think that’s what Ms Latour has done here.  There is no arguing that Fenway Park and the Red Sox fandom are full of more white people than any other group.  But just because that is a fact, that doesn’t mean there is a nefarious reason behind it.  Articles like hers, in my opinion, don’t encourage there to be a legitimate discussion about race, they just put people on the defensive and that’s not a good way to get any kind of change in place.

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