Minstrelsy in the new millenium

America would like to think that it’s made a lot of progress in the last two centuries.  The land of the free and the home of the brave has abolished slavery, promoted universal suffrage, won wars in search of a freer world and even elected an African American president.  But one not so pleasant tradition has persisted throughout the years – minstrelsy.  Even though America promises racial democracy, minstrelsy continues to thrive in new forms, creating a gray space in regards to the racism of modern-day blackface.  Blackface minstrelsy began as shows intended to amuse white audiences.  Performers would “black up” their appearance and attitude in their caricatures of slaves and other African Americans.  While such blatant depictions are scarce in modern times, minstrelsy still prevails in subtle ways.

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The “Magic” effect on HIV

Twenty years ago, basketball hall-of-famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson made a stunning announcement.  On November 7, 1991, the Los Angeles Lakers legend told the world that he was HIV-positive and would be retiring from the National Basketball Association.  His announcement rocked the sports world.  Fans and detractors alike were shocked that such a popular, hyper-masculinized athlete could contract what had previously been seen as disease solely for the extremely deviant – the gays and the drug addicts – not for a heterosexual superstar.  With his status, Magic Johnson shed new light on what it meant to be HIV-positive.  While his story brought new attention to the disease, the media used his situation to perpetuate heterosexist and misogynistic ideals.  Johnson’s own language after his announcement helped maintain his position as a hyper-masculine and hyper-heterosexual African American athlete.  Subsequently, in the many articles that were written about him, these ideals persisted.  Johnson’s situation was undoubtedly unique, but because of what he symbolized in popular culture, he was never demonized, but rather victimized and forgiven for his heterosexual promiscuity.

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Race & Sports 3

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.

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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.

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Race & Sports 1

How does Zirin argue that sports have functioned historically to define social categories? Cite examples and explain.

Throughout the history, there have been many different functions of sports, many of which directly related to social categories including class, race and sex.  Sports were outlets to escape the realities of work and war, prepare young men for battle, keep these same gentlemen out of pubs and away from other so-called negative activities and assert oneself in a larger community.  With this, there are many distinctions between good sports and bad sports and which sports minorities and women were allowed to participate.

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