Through considering Latinos in baseball, how can we see changes in the color line and what does this teach us about race? Be sure to use the ideas of power and racialization to explain your answer.
While baseball’s color line is often portrayed in a black/white binary, Latino players proved there was a distinct gray (or in their case – brown) area. Latinos pushed the boundaries of the color line, but in doing so, became highly racialized figures. They were marketed as curiosities and were categorized not only racially, but also phenotypically and ethnically. Latino and African Americans experienced solidarity – especially in organically diverse communities such as Harlem – but lighter-skinned, Spanish-bred Latinos were positioned as distinctly non-black. The Latino baseball experience proves that discrimination and racialization are more than just black and white, cut and dry issue, and their presence in the game not only helped break the color line, but is still felt today.
Vincent Irwin made his professional debut in 1876, and his experience would set the stage for other Latino players in the future. Vincent Irwin, the son of a Mexican woman, was, as a young boy, adopted by his white stepfather. While these are important details of his heritage, they were largely overlooked in order to construct a highly desirable and unique player. Vincent’s Latino heritage (read brown skin) made him what the Providence Gray’s saw as a good “advertising card” that would lure in fans who would consider him a curiosity. Vincent was promoted as a racial and ethnic caricature. Instead of being referred to by his Anglicized surname, he was called Nava (which was most likely his biological father’s last name). His name made him distinctly foreign. However, team promoters also made sure he did not come off as negatively foreign. He was distinguished as a “Spaniard” with a “dark olive complexion and the distinctive features of his race.” Being Spanish was a common, if not necessary, requisite of Latino ball players. Demonstrating a hierarchy of race, Spanish ancestry was seen as something prestigious and European (highly assimilable), but most importantly, something disassociated with the mongrel mixed races and African blood. Latino players following Nava would also be highlighted for being some of the “purest bars of Castilian soap.”
Latino players of all shades and social backgrounds were not only placed in a hierarchy within their own race, but also one within the black/white color line. Similar to their ethnicization as Spanish, Latino players were also racialized by their skin color. The more racially ambiguous, darker players were viewed as black, and thus sent to play in the Negro Leagues. Many of these players found fame as “Harlem’s own team” and found solidarity with African Americans. However, in the Jim Crow South, Latino players had to find ways to separate themselves from blackness – which speaks volumes about race issues at the time. In restaurants, Latino players would often “forget English” to distinguish themselves as non-black. While in certain realms being non-black had its benefits, being non-white also came with discrimination. They faced racial slurs and received lower wages than their white counterparts. Once again, we see how Latino players were caught in the middle of the color line. For instance, when Adolpho Luque fought back against one of his main agitators, famed player Casey Stengal, Luque’s action was racialized due to his “hot Spanish blood.” Despite this racializiation, it is also important to note that if Luque had been black as opposed to Latino, his action would not have been acceptable in any way. Latino players were racialized and discriminated against while pushing the boundaries of the color line, but their contributions to the game helped lead the way to integration in the mid-20th Century.
List five ways that Jennifer Harris was discriminated against by Coach Portland or the courts. For each one, indicate whether the discrimination was based on race, gender, and/or sexuality.
- Portland told her players to tan
- If you really think about it, this comment is ridiculous to tell her black players and shows Portland’s racism against anything that is not the white feminine ideal
- Portland told Harris to stop wearing baggy clothes, and be more feminine
- Harris’ baggy clothes were an expression of herself and fit into the connection of basketball and hip-hop culture
- Portland told Harris to forgo her cornrows for a more feminine hairstyle
- Cornrows are a distinctively black hairstyle that also fit into basketball and hip-hop culture and emulated players of the time such as Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony
- Cornrows also don’t fit into Portland’s white femininity ideal
- Portland had a strict non-lesbian rule on her team
- This obviously discriminates against player’s sexuality, but also pigeonholes what it is to be a lesbian. Because of Harris’ style, Portland did not see her as feminine, and was thus obviously a lesbian (displaying Portland’s ideal of heteronormativity). Portland even had other players try to catch her in a homosexual act
- The courts would have only looked at one aspect of the discrimination Harris faced
- Although in Harris’ case, race, gender and sexuality were inseparable, the courts would not have viewed them as that, and Harris’ case would be impossible to win
List five ways that Mike Piazza’s gender or sexuality was constructed by others or by Piazza himself.
- He surrounded himself with Playboy Playmates, eventually marrying one
- When allegations that he was gay came out, he publicly denied them and said, “I date women”
- In the World Series, he didn’t not react or rush the pitcher’s mound when Clemens hit him with a pitch, he calmly walked to first base (this was seen as a non-masculine reaction)
- Once again with Clemens – Piazza broke his bat (an over exaggerated phallic and masculinity symbol) from a Clemens’ pitch. Clemens through the broken bat back at Piazza, who did not react in this situation either, but rather stood there just looking at Clemens
- When Piazza did show his anger, he was criticized for this as well. He turned into “Mad Mike” when he was intentionally struck by Mota’s pitch in a Spring training game. Piazza did not react immediately, but rather, waited until passing to grab Mota by the collar with both hands