Posts Tagged ‘Blackness’

How Baseball Became a Litmus Test for Blackness and Why I Don’t Give a Damn

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

by Gus Griffin







Baseball is back and along with it the same annual rituals: the Spring and warmer weather is approaching, my Giants spanking the Dodgers, and other Black folks giving me the side-eye of suspicion for so openly loving the game.


Yep! It is not an uncommon line of thinking among some Black folks that baseball is a white game. This thinking is not totally without merit but it was not always this way. As hard as this may be to believe for the younger generations, there was indeed a time when baseball was the unquestioned most popular sport among Black America. Its representation at the Major League level peaked in the mid-70s to early 80s at about 25%.


And then things began to change. I cite two primary reasons: 1) deindustrialization of the economy and the criminal industrial complex, both of which disproportionately adversely affected Black men, who would have been the primary teachers and passers of the game of baseball. Subsequent reasons are the rise of the Latin American player to fill the void and AAU basketball, which all but requires year-round participation. The cumulative result of all these factors is that today that 25% from the mid-70s-early 80s is now about 7% and declining.


With this change in the face of baseball came the stigma for Black youth who aspired to play the game in the form of the accusation of “acting white”. Peer acceptance among youth is important across cultural and demographic lines. That importance is even greater among oppressed and already isolated peoples. The value of community endorsement is not easily set aside.


One of the many struggles of oppressed and segregated groups is to resist oppressed and segregated thinking. This is outlined beautifully in the late Brazilian Educator Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The less we see our reflection in baseball or any other activity or venue, the more the thinking creeps in that this just isn’t for us. The natural companion of that thinking is that any Black person who aspires to or likes the activity is running from his community identification. For Black folks the need to dismantle a criminal justice system, rooted in Capitalism and White supremacy that literally kills us with little to no accountability for doing so, is an overwhelming challenge and discouraging for some. It is much easier to question the cultural identity of someone who likes baseball than to deal with the substantive sources of our oppression.


This is not to suggest that there aren’t Black folks who do both consciously and subconsciously seek out interest for the specific purpose of separating themselves from the lager group.


I’m just not the one.


There is hope and high profile Black baseball fans exempt from this litmus test. One who comes to mind is local cultural icon and poet Ethelbert Miller. Besides finding a way to never age, for some 40 years he worked at my alma mater, Howard University, as head of its Moorland Spingarn Research Center. It is one of the world’s greatest repositories of Black history, culture, and life. I met him upon my arrival at Howard in 1991. He also just released his second book on baseball called “If God Invented Baseball?”. Yes, I will be reading it soon.


But with or without high profile Black baseball fans, I always have and always will love baseball. For any cultural legitimacy gatekeepers who have a problem with that, I strongly suggest you find a more useful way to spend your time and hate. I don’t care what you think!

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports