Race & Sports 2

Explain how Jackie Robinson has been mythologized, how the myth is false, and what the myth of Jackie Robinson can teach us about race in America.

The myth of Jackie Robinson depicts an African American athlete who patriotically served his country in the war and broke the color barrier in Major League baseball by listening to and learning from Branch Rickey and staying out of trouble and only speaking up after he had earned permission.  His story is a legendary example of how anyone who puts their mind to something can really make it in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  However, the true story of Jackie Robinson is much different.  Robinson’s life was embroiled with racist discrimination both in the military and in the Major Leagues.  He was much more intelligent and outspoken than folklore would portray, and while his story is an amazing testament against segregation and discrimination, his triumph is by no means an end point.

The mythological movie Jackie Robinson quits school so that he can find a job.  He sees that even though his brother was an amazing athlete and college graduate, he is demeaned to working a lowly, “steady” job.  Then Jackie gets a letter in the mail from the army.  The movie shows this as a way for him to work in a way that helps the country and proves his Americanness.  However, the reality is much bleaker.  Jackie faces a lot of discrimination during his time of service, and refuses to take a literal back seat and passively stay for the ride.  When a bus driver calls Jackie out for sitting next to a light-skinned woman in the front part of the bus, Jackie refuses to move and passively accept punishment.  Jackie was smart enough to know that military buses were desegregated, and he and the bus driver got into an altercation.  When Jackie faces punishment, he also shows his smarts – both his intelligence and his wit.  Jackie is then court marshaled for his “disrespect,” but he is found innocent because the evidence proved that he was not in the wrong, and the accusations were simply racist.  Of course the movie skips over this whole part of the movie, not wanting to focus on such a terribly racist ordeal and not wanting to depict Jackie as a strong, smart African American man with a hair-trigger temper.

Jackie Robinson’s rise to fame is also highly mythologized.  The movie essentially skims over his time in the Negro Leagues, and ignores and skills he learned or honed during his time there.   Then Branch Rickey comes along as a white benefactor, ready to put his full faith in this mild-mannered, talented black man.  Rickey warns Robinson of the racism he will experience in the Major Leagues, and goes on to tell him that he must keep his cool in these situations, as to be a positive symbol for his race and other aspiring African American baseball players.  The movie depicts his Minor League coach as being unsure and somewhat racist at first.  It also has scenes of blatant, extreme racism against Robinson and one in which he is almost beat by a group of KKK members, but is rescued by his white teammates.  As Robinson gets better, fans see is worth and come around to support him.  Even the most stanch, racist fans are cheering for him at the end of the movie when he has become the Rookie of the Year.  This very movie-like depiction, has its truths and its exaggerations.  In reality, Rickey had previously been very opposed to integration in the Major Leagues, but saw Robinson as a good business opportunity.  Robinson was not necessarily the best African American baseball player, but Rickey viewed him as the right combination of athleticism and attitude.  Robinson was actually not the first African American to play in the Major League, in the late 1800’s, Walker played for a white team, but of course, this fact is overlooked, because reintegration is a much less glamorous and progressive idea.  Robinson also faced much more discrimination than the movie depicts, and it didn’t go away within a season.  Racism is not as cut and dry as “Well he did good, I like black people now.”  This alludes to a future that is free of racism and because the color line of baseball had been stricken, it was non-existent in other realms as well.

Finally, the movie closes with Jackie’s words about America.  Viewers are meant to take this as hope for our future in a completely free land.  While Jackie in reality was a symbol of hope, he also represented much bigger topics and was not some mythologized hero of his race.  Racism and segregation continued even after Jackie broke into baseball.  Jackie stood in opposition to other African American figureheads at the time, letting his voice be heard.  Jackie stood against communism in his testimony about Robeson.  He believed that Americans should fight for their country and that the Soviets would be no savior to their race.  He also spoke out against Malcolm X.  Malcolm X was a member of the Nation of Islam and supported a more violent form of protest.  Robinson believed in integration and was friends with non-violent protest leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. While the movie prefers a cut-and-dry view of race in America through Jackie Robinson, the truth is much deeper and more impactful.

Discuss how Asian Americans have used sports as a way to resist racism and build community.

Asian Americans found in sports an outlet to resist racism and build communities.  Japanese American baseball players in the Pacific Northwest were able to travel and interact with and build communities and connections with players from areas outside of their isolated farming communities.  Chinese American basketball players at the Chinese Playground also built a community in which they could have a home away from home and show their worth through their abilities.  The all-Chinese American basketball team the Hong Wah Kues had many opportunities they otherwise would not have been able to have and built inter and intra-racial relationships with people all over the country.

Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest were largely isolated from each other, but found a way to build a community through baseball.  Teams travelled all over Oregon and even drove for hours into Canada to compete against teams with a common ethnicity and culture.  Without baseball, travel and these subsequent bonds might not have been possible.  These connections were not only important to just the players, but also to other people as well.  They would hold social gatherings such as dances after their games.  This was a way for boys and girls to interact and form bonds that would in many cases lead to marriage along the way.  (Humorously, one man describes how he was bragging to a girl about he had gotten three hits, but she, a baseball player herself, called his bluff).  Baseball allowed isolated Japanese American groups to come together to form a larger, long-lasting community.

Basketball players in the Chinese Playground found a home away from home and a way to express their worth.  Often times, Chinese American youth would stay at the Playground until 10 at night when they finally had to go home.  The Playground was place for them to interact with other Chinese American children and receive mentorship from employees of many different races.  For many, the Playground became a home away from home and their coaches became parental figures.  Their style of play on the basketball court was unique and practically unbeatable.  Not letting their small size work against them, they played a fast-paced style that focused on forcing turnovers and skilled passing.  The girls, limited to just one or two dribbles per possession, dribbled way in front of themselves so that they could move the ball down the court faster.  The Chinese Playground teams won so many championships, that they ended up just keeping the trophy, since their names covered it anyway!  These players proved that regardless of their race, they were the best.  They didn’t have the fancy uniforms or sneakers that the other player had (in fact, they just played in their street clothes), but they had the smarts and the skills to beat anyone.

The Hong Wah Kues had unprecedented opportunities to not only play basketball, but also to build communities across the country and find racism in the process.  The teams got to travel all over the country, a feat in itself, and also got to experience conditions, that while not completely amazing, were much better than what they were used to.  They go to drive a car and sleep in bunk beds and have running water at the YMCAs they typically stayed at.  While they were racialized, they found ways to ironically fight this racism.  They were supposed to speak Cantonese on the court, but since no one could understand what they were saying, they could say as much funny quips as they pleased.  They also had a mutual respect for other racialized teams such as the Harlem Globetrotters.  The Globetrotters were the best, but didn’t treat the Hong Wah Kues with any disrespect or tom-foolery.  Not only did they build bonds with people of other races, they also built a nation-wide community with other Asian Americans across the country.  From town to town, Asian Americans supported the team, and the team new all the best places to experience their culture and eat some Chinese food.  The Hong Wah Kues used their opportunity to subtly fight racism and build connections with Asian Americans and other minority groups around the US.

List up to five ways that the Hong Wah Kues were racialized.

  • Had to speak Cantonese when they were on the court
  • Promotional ads listed their Chinese names, even though they called themselves their American names and the press would use their actual names as well
  • They were described as “invaders” and the media called them racial slurs (which at the time was accepted)
  • Their name was alleged to mean something other than what it actually translated to and had a double meaning, referring back to the hairstyle of a queue (sp?)
  • Promotional posters had racialized emblems such as dragons, queues, and Asians as laundry men, moving from a laundry basket to a sport with a basket

List up to five ways that Hideo Nomo was represented as a model minority or Hideki Irabu was represented as a yellow peril

  • Nomo as “model minority”
    • Assimilated, viewed America as the top of the Major Leagues
    • Turned his back on Japan (refused to do interviews with the Japanese press
    • Hard-working, cared more about supporting his team than making money and gaining fame
  • Hideo Nomo as “yellow peril”
    • Demanded to play for the Yankees, causing more deserving pitchers to be pushed aside
    • Got a $12.8 million dollar contract without actually showing his worth (economic threat)

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