There are numerous times this year I have thought about writing this piece. The most prominent being when the anti-Domonic Brown furor was alive and well. Each time, though, I decided against it. It is a subject that not everyone wants to talk about. It is a subject that people do not want to address. People do not want to read about racism. They think "playing the race card," is just a sad statement people make because they do not have another retort. Honestly, I wish this were the case. But racism is alive and well in 2011. It's horrifying to think about, but it's true.
Flyers fans who paid a single shred of attention to tonight's pre-season game against the Detroit Red Wings in London, Ontario tonight know what happened. But for those that don't, as Wayne Simmonds was taking a penalty shot when one of the most despicable fan actions in the history a sports. As he was taking the penalty, a fan from the stands launched a banana in his direction. The implication of this, of course, is obvious. The person throwing the banana sees the black person as a monkey, which is about a degrading a sentiment as you could possibly have against someone. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened in hockey. In 2002, black goaltender Kevin Weekes also had a banana thrown in his direction.
Unfortunately, this is a problem that reaches far and wide and society. This is not something limited to hockey, or even sports, although sports will be the main focus of my discussion here.
A History Of Racism
Think about people you know in the United States are currently 47 years old or older. All of these people have one thing in common. They were born before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, meaning they were born in a time where racial discrimination was the norm. Their parents, products of the system. The society they grew up in and the society their parents told them was a society where blacks were discriminated against and segregation was the norm. This segregation and this racism dates all the way back to the discovering of America, and maybe even more horrifyingly so, to the founding fathers. While Thomas Jefferson was preaching liberty, he himself owned slaves.
While you may be asking yourself how Thomas Jefferson could be such a blatant hypocrite, the answer he was a product of his time. Blacks were not seen as people, but rather as property. When the Constitution was first ratified, they were counted as three-fifths of a person. The only reason they even got that far is because the white population in southern states was not as big and the southern states wanted blacks to count so they could get a larger representation in the House of Representatives. Of course, the beacon of freedom that was the northern states felt they should not be counted at all. The compromise they settled on was blacks would count as three-fifths.
Even though blacks were freed after the Civil War, they still struggled with civil rights and equal treatment. Eventually, the Jim Crow Laws and Plessy v. Ferguson came along, which decreed that segregation was legal as long as the facilities were "separate, but equal." Of course, these facilities were not equal in practicality and worse more, this fostered an environment of discrimination and racism. This discrimination was only finally outlawed in 1964. 47 years ago.
You can't erase hundreds of years of bitter feelings, degradation, and beliefs that people of a different skin color are inferior, in 47 years. As a nation of Americans, we like to think that we are past these issues of race. They may be subconscious thoughts, or conscious actions of unfathomably hate like tonight in London, Ontario, but racism exists in our society. It exists in Canada. It exists in the United States of America. It exists in Pennsylvania. It exists in my family. At large family dinners, I'll hear my maternal grandfather call the current president of the United States the N-word without thinking anything of it. We are not past racism. Not even close.
Twitter Responds.....And Goes Too Far
The pre-season hockey game tonight between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Detroit Red Wings played in London, Ontario, Canada was not televised. However, thanks to Twitter, the news of the banana incident quickly spread. Most were quick to denounce these horrible actions of outright bigotry, but some unbelievably supported it, including largely anonymous before tonight tweeter Amber Alexander (@Amb_Alex). She has since deleted her tweet, however, thanks to the internet, the quote is still floating out there. Her exact quote was as follows, "whoever threw the banana at Simmonds.... you are officially loved by me." After getting RT'd by Adam of The Pens Blog (@TPBadam) and my Twitter friend Shawn (@9inOrange), the hate toward young Amber exploded. You can do the Twitter search of @Amb_Alex on your own time and see this for yourself. Upon realizing the chaos she caused, she apologized repeatedly, preaching ignorance of the connotations of a black person and a banana.
But that's the problem. I do not care whether she knew exactly what she was talking about and was blatantly racist, and only backtracked with the apology upon seeing the hate coming her way, or if she truly was ignorant. It does not matter, for in this case, ignorance is no less the crime. To not understand something and to support it without knowing is just as bad as supporting it and knowing. To not understand this nation's past and the connotations that tossing a banana at a black person might have, is just as bad. To support an unfathomably act without knowing what you are supporting is ignorance, and to have ignorance of this nation's past and what all this means almost blows one's mind away.
My hope is that she learned her lesson and that she will be a better person for it. Some replied to her to "kill herself," and that is not going to solve anything. The object here should not be to convince people to take their lives but to educate the ignorant in hopes of making them more understanding members of society. It is an idealist's view to be sure, but maybe she really was ignorant and maybe young Amber will take her experience tonight and do something good with it. That would be the best case scenario. We all make mistakes, but to learn from them and to change is what defines a person's true character.
Why Philadelphia Should Be Paying Special Attention Tonight
I mentioned earlier I nearly wrote a racism in sports post after the Domonic Brown hate reached its height earlier this year. For those not aware, Domonic Brown is a highly touted black prospect in the Phillies farm system who in the eyes of many, has not lived up to expectations. Never mind that he is only 24 years old and while some baseball players like Mike Stanton are making noise at 21-years old, others like Chase Utley did not start playing in the majors until he was 25.
After the Phillies mishandled his call-up in 2010 leading to him sitting on the bench and in the minds of many performing poorly while serving as a bench player for the end of the 2010 season and negative perceptions forming, Domonic Brown sustained an injury to his hamate bone in Spring Training. According to ESPN's Keith Law, it can take up to 12 to 18 months before a full recovery is made. While Dom Brown was cleared to play after several weeks, the effects of the injury are what last for a year or more. And quite unfortunately, the big effect of a hamate injury in the context of baseball is how it zaps the victim of his power.
Dom Brown was called up to the Philadelphia Phillies on May 20, 2011 after Shane Victorino was put on the DL. Despite improving his MLB on-base percentage from .257 in 2010 to .335 in 2011 and putting up a batting average of .246, a number that hovers around league average, Dom Brown has been absolutely lambasted by members of the media, Philly.com commenters, and the always infamous WIP/97.5 The Fanatic hosts and callers. Why? "Lack of hustle," "laziness," "an unfixable swing," "lolly-gagging," and being "terrible defensively."
Unfortunately, a lot of these criticisms are born out of racism. They may not be at the forefront of consciousness like the guy who threw the banana about Wayne Simmonds, but calling Dom Brown, a black baseball player, "lazy," is certainly racially tinged. When Dom Brown "dogged it" on a groundball, he got blasted. When Cliff Lee later "dogged it" on a ground ball, it was seen by and large by most people as a humorous event. When Dom Brown misplayed a flyball, he got booed unmercifully, when Hunter Pence slipped and fell on his ass causing a fly ball that would have otherwise been easily caught to fall in, again, most people laughed and while some were a little frustrated, the vitriol of hate was no where near the level it was when Domonic Brown made a mistake.
Remember when Chase Utley first starting playing with the Phillies? He was a little rough around the edges defensively like Domonic Brown is now. Chase Utley is now widely considered one of, if not the best defensive second basemen in all of baseball. The same could hold true for Domonic Brown in the future. People need not be so quick to place judgment on someone, especially when he has only played 90 games in Major League baseball, or the equivalent of just over a half of a season. While he has struggled with left field and hitting since being demoted to Lehigh Valley after the Phillies traded for Hunter Pence, Dom Brown's on-base percentage at LHV this year still ended up at .391 and there is still reason to believe he will be more than just an effective outfielder in baseball, especially once he fully has his power back from the hamate bone injury.
Racism in baseball does not extend just to Domonic Brown. Think about all the "gritty" and "scrappy" baseball players you know? David Eckstein, Aaron Rowand, Cody Ross, Hunter Pence, etc. Now think about how many times you have heard someone call a black baseball player "gritty" or "scrappy." Writing over at Big Black Kids, The Good Phight blogger FuquaManuel illustrated a similar point using Jon Heyman's views on David Eckstein and Luis Castillo. It's not just Domonic Brown that faces unfair criticism because of his skin color.
Why bring up Domonic Brown's plight now and interject baseball into this discussion? Because unfortunately, some of the people who decry the blatant racism against Wayne Simmonds may also be the same people who think "Dom Brown is lazy." It is easy for some to stand tall against outward racism while harboring racist feelings toward others. That is not to say all who stand with Wayne Simmonds are secret racists, or all who criticize Brown have secret, subconscious racist feelings (though dismissing Dom Brown as lazy, a bum, and a bust at this stage is at best a stupid opinion to have), but we may not necessarily be aware that what we think or how we feel can be interpreted as racism. A common stereotype of black people is laziness. This is not some sort of little known, hidden fact. That's not to say no black people ever do anything lazily, but when someone calls a black person lazy despite all objective evidence and reports from people familiar with the person, it triggers the racism alarm. When people call a black person lazy for one thing, but then laugh it off when a white person commits a similar act is racism, whether it be conscious or subconscious.
Hope For the Future?
Through all the hate, there may be some good to come out of this. Numerous Flyers have shown their support for Simmonds, hockey players left and right ranging from Paul Bissonette to Logan Couture to the aforementioned Kevin Weekes have voiced support for Wayne Simmonds on Twitter. My Twitter friend @ItsAFez66 has set up a FanPost at Broad Street Hockey where people can voice their support for Wayne Simmonds, and the support has been overwhelmingly positive not just from Flyers fans but from hockey fans everywhere. That so many people recognize and decry such an evil act and praise a man for not letting the action phase him and scoring the goal anyway is without a doubt a positive step.
What that man tonight did at the John Labatt Center in London, Ontario, Canada was done out of pure malice and evil, but maybe there is some good that can come out of this. Maybe those that were once ignorant can finally learn what they needed to realize so long ago. Whether white or black, as human beings, we are all the same. Quite literally, the only difference between a white person and a black person is skin color. It seems a concept that is so simple that having to say it is nothing more than stating the painfully obvious, but the words and actions of several people, including the person who threw the banana tonight in London, Ontario in a hockey game between a Philadelphia team and a Detroit team indicate otherwise.
Even if they did not have the experience tonight of Amber Alexander tonight, maybe others who were once ignorant can learn from this. And they can start up the conversation that has long been buried by those who are naive enough to believe there is no more racism in the United States and North America in 2011. Maybe the headlines made tonight can help some people finally learn about stereotypes, the plight of black people throughout American history, the connotations their words have, and to truly understand the problems we as a country have faced for our entire history. They can in turn teach others, and little by little, we can truly work on eradicating racism from our society. Enough is enough. People should not have to worry about being degraded and unfairly looked down upon over something they have no control over. It will take awhile, maybe even as long as it took for the United States of America to end discrimination of blacks, but it is a dream I hope will one day become a reality.