Racism gets the boot at Fenway, returns to where it came from in the first place
This past week, I read a seemingly endless string of articles detailing the latest in the burgeoning, bizarre feud between the Baltimore Orioles and my Boston Red Sox. It all started when Manny Machado of the O’s, a sort of biological weapon designed specifically to smash soul-rattling dongers off even the best pitchers, accidentally caught Dustin Pedroia, avatar of all little New England white guys, with his cleats after a late slide into second.
This would be a mildly entertaining and mostly forgettable story of guys throwing baseballs at each others’ heads in misguided retaliation if not for some mean drunk who saw the opportunity to salvage and escalate the feud as so appetizing that he hurled his five-dollar Fenway peanuts at the O’s center fielder and then wielded what is still the most sickening word to hear out of a white person’s mouth, as if to say, “I don’t give a fuck how nasty public life in this country is or what I’ve contributed to that unfortunate reality. I am safe here in this temple of an insular and lily white regional culture, and, despite your Major League contract, your great professional skill, and the eight year occupation of the White House by Barack Obama, I can still, in 2017 and within earshot of so many, call you a nigger.”
The fallout was predictable for anyone familiar with Boston and/or these sorts of incidents. Curt Schilling spewed his usual brand of unfounded, corrosive gibberish. CC Sabathia of the Yankees pointed out that all 62 black MLB players know to expect this sort of thing when they arrive in Boston. A survey of tweets and comments, some compiled by Deadspin, reveal the eye-roll-worthy knee jerk reaction to point out that one fan doesn’t represent a ball club or a region, a misguided takeaway from a high-profile revelation of a pernicious problem. The club took well-meaning but ultimately frivolous steps, and a shortly after the peanuts-and-epitet incident, banned a fan reported for aiming racist comments at another fan. The night after the verbal assault, Jones was given a standing O at his first at-bat of the night, a nice, but again mostly frivolous, gesture.
Jones himself said that fans like this shouldn’t just be kicked-out but “confronted.” As we all should, I take his words seriously, but the logistics of this are cloudy. It’s hard to have much faith that these sorts of confrontations are possible. Certainly the onus lies not just with the Red Sox, an organization which has limited purview and capability to deal with this societal bullshittery. The police? They are busy pushing back against body-cams and mopping up the dark and ugly mess on the post-game sidewalks of the Fenway. The people of New England? It’s an uncomfortable business deciding when and how to confront racism in everyday life because it is rarely as stark as a brazen asshole directing the most obviously hateful language at an actual black person. Also, look at all the Democrats we elect here. This is not excusable but unfortunately easy to see.
Most of my engagement with my adopted New Hampshire town happens at a public dog park. On occasion, a man who rolls up with something like ten TRUMP decals all over his big Ram truck. He open-carries a pistol and greets other dog-owners pleasantly. The pistol seems entirely unnecessary even when there are slobbering, muscle-bound dogs of questionable disposition prowling the sandy grounds. He might be unaware of the effect — sending cowards like me into a fit of fitting-in as opposed to starting a dialogue about where all this peacocking bullshit is coming from. He might feel so threatened by his nightmarish, talk-radio-driven visions of modern public life that he can’t bring himself to leave the house without his nickel-plated companion. Nevertheless, the pistol and the president serve as a reminder that he is secure in his position and doesn’t care about the damage done to the psyches of others. In that way, his accoutrements are like the racial slur the still-anonymous man sent flying like a retaliatory pitch at Adam Jones’ head.
Some message-board dwelling pseudo-intellectuals like to point out that the northeast is just as racist as the South, just better at hiding it. I grew up in rural Virginia, and I think the opposite is true. New Englanders don’t feel they have to hide it because it is so rare to be in conversation with persons of color. Whatever competing forces grapple within the souls of white people here, the most racist don’t see a visible impediment to exposing themselves. After all, the culprit in the Adam Jones incident is probably, as I write, at some dive (with an Irish name, of course) quaffing two-dollar Coors Light, playing Keno, and insisting that “political correctness” is rapidly eroding Western Civilization. Some of his fellow patrons are nodding solemnly and others, not so sure in their hearts but doubtful that this is the opportunity to stamp out America’s demons, keep their eyes on the dirty white cue ball as it sends the other balls clacking into chaos.