Racism at Fenway: News to no one but me

I don’t intend to blog about race issues much here because I am not very well informed, and because there are dozens of people of color doing amazing work, but this story, found through Racialicious, was a swift kick in the ovaries. Torii Hunter, an African-American baseball player, says that when he’s played in Boston he’s heard people call him the n-word and even throw beer and batteries at him.

Obviously, this is horrifying. My first instinct was to defend Red Sox fans, Not My Nigel-style. I’ve been to Fenway dozens of times, and I’ve never heard anyone utter a racial slur, much less seen someone throw something at a player. “Surely,” I thought to myself, “the people who used to count out Pedro Martinez‘s strikeouts in Spanish, who made up Japanese signs to welcome Daisuke Matsuzaka to Boston, who still won’t let Dave Roberts buy his own drinks, who celebrate Manny Ramirez’s everchanging hair, and who so readily embraced David Ortiz’s decidedly Latino nickname — surely they couldn’t really be hurling hate speech and projectiles at opposing players?”

But being dismissive of reports of racism is, obviously, a symptom of and a method of perpetuating a racist system. So when I thought about it for, oh, half a second, I realized that of course these people could be doing these terrible things. Because, first and foremost, why would anyone lie about that? What does Torii Hunter gain from exposing racist treatment? And thinking for another half second made me realize that all my objections are stupid. So I personally haven’t heard anyone use that term or seen anyone throw anything. So what? I’m white, no one would say it to me; there are thousands of games at Fenway that I don’t attend, and thousands of fans out of my ear- and eye-shot when I do. So fans love minority Red Sox players. So what? It’s easy to love the home team, but much harder to respect the opposition. Furthermore, Torii Hunter plays center field, which, at Fenway, is directly in front of the cheapest, drunkest, rowdiest seats in the house, and he is renowned for making amazing leaping catches that turn sure home runs into the world’s longest outs. Do I believe that if he made one of his astounding defensive plays in a close game that the Fenway Faithful might curse him and even throw things? If I’m honest with myself, yeah, yeah I do.

I’m not trying to mitigate the offense. No matter how happily Sox fans embrace the racial diversities of our own team, or how frustrated and drunk were the fans who assaulted Hunter (and other opposing players over the years), nothing excuses their abominable behavior, because nothing lessens the hurt it causes or erases the hateful attitudes it reveals. But I have the urge, however misguided, to defend Sox fans not just because I have been trained to turn a blind eye to racism and attempt to discredit those who point it out, but also because I really believed that in a city famous for its continued de facto segregation and racial tensions, there was one oasis where Bostonians would unreservedly accept people of all colors. I was naive; I was wrong. But losing that illusion is breaking my heart, because I love this city and I have no idea how to reconcile that with my horror of its racism, if that’s even possible.

While I try to work this out, I resolve to stop living in denial of the racism under my own nose, and to work harder to confront and change those attitudes, including my own. And I will keep hoping that things really are getting better, however slowly.

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2 Responses

  1. I don’t even know you, but i found your page while searching for Manny Ramirez stats. Just wanted to say that those are some powerful words up above.

    Unfortunately, most (non-white) people are very,very well aware of how completely racist Boston is, was, and will always be. And as for the sox, well, don’t forget Branch Rickey’s infamous words when Jackie Robinson came in for a tryout….

    Finally, here’s James Baldwin’s famous quote about Boston “When they sh_t on you in boston,they hand you a towel and tell you to wipe their ass”

    Keep keeping on…

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