Monday, June 18, 2007

The Last N***a Left

About 2 months ago I was babbling on the phone about baseball to my boy and he said, "You know what, you have got to be the last black man left who cares about baseball." He made this comment in jest, really just to shut me up from inconsquential spewing about the Mets, but his point was pretty profound. As the MLB celebrates Jackie Robinson's breaking in, we're watching the role of African-Americans, pardon the pun, fade to Black. I've seen a couple of stories about this run on ESPN, I remember one particular segment on HBCUs and baseball that caught me off guard, since the team was predominantly Latino, rather than African-American. At the core of this transition are really the boundaries of race and ethnicity. For most folks in the United States, in common terms, there is Black and there is Latino. While we can acknowledge there are Black or Afro Latinos, seldom do we fully grapple with that dualness and what it means for race and race relations. This debate recently got resparked by the Tigers Gary Sheffield.
In the June GQ he said... well, I'll just excerpt from the article,
The percentage of African-American players in Major League Baseball has declined percipitously over the past three decades, from 27 percent in 1975 to 8.4 percent last year. Over the same period, the proportion of Latin Americans in the game has increased from 11 percent to 24 percent. "I called it years ago," says Sheffield. "What I called is that you're going to see more black faces, but there ain't no English going to be coming out."
Sheffield then unspools a curious theory about the trend in the game. It's about "being able to tell [Latin players] what to do," he says. "Being able to control them. Where I'm from, you can't control us. You mugh tget a guy to do it that way for a while because he wants to benefit, but in the end he is going to go back to being who he is. And that's a person that your'e going to talk to with respect, you're going to talk to him like a man. These are things my race demands. So if you're equally good as this Latin Player, guess who's going to get sent home? I know a lot of players that are home now can outplay a lot of these guys.

So when I read this in the magazine, I found it an interesting quote and kept reading. Didn't shake me to the core, didn't cause me to run to to post (let's be honest few things cause me to run and post these days, but you know what I mean). I actually said to myself, "interesting." This is far from the reaction that others have had. ESPN decided to get some opinions from Latinos, I wonder how they picked who they interviewed. Lester Spence gives a really good analysis that talks about Black folks and sporting preferences (though Lord knows I loathe the word preferences, probably from all this affirmative action talk over the years)and the number of Black baseball players. But for me, the thing that is serious here is the color-line and particularly as it is interpretted in a post-colonial global sense. Translation: Who is Black, and where are they from?
Recently, I had a conversation with a dear friend who has been spending some time in Miami. She said to me, about a Cuban man she met, "If you were walking down the street, you would have thought he was Black. You know, not Cuban." I paused and responded, "You mean, you would have thought he was African-American, you mean, right?" As I finished my comment/question she said, "Yeah, I guess." It was at that moment that I was reminded again, even the most well-read and educated and arguably open folks, have trouble rectifying who is Black and what the boundaries between race and ethncity are.
Whether it's Debra Dickerson making assanine comments about Obama not being Black or my friends telling me Black folks from Latin America are "not really Black." We see Black all too often acts as a synonym for African-American. To some this is a symantic distinction, but I think it is really important. Now my point in bringing this up is not to create a "race-war" (mind you there can't be a race war over this, we're not talking about race) but to just make you think about who consitutes authentically Black folks?
Now for a long time I've subscribed to the "cousins theory" of the African/Black diaspora. This is my colloquial name for the theory that basically goes, "Well, we're all cousins, the boat (slave ship) just dropped us off in different places." Usually this gets some chuckles, but it makes sense. The global struggle of people of African descent in the Carribean and other locales is, in many ways, akin to that of people of African decent in the United States. Now we can catalog the differences in slavery and colonial subjecthood, but that's a much larger project with little meaning to my argument... oh that's right, I should be making an argument.
Sheffield basically brought the point front and center that in America, folks who look like you, may not be you. For him, and many others, the social spaces that are occupied by AfroLatinos today may have been occupied by African-Americans before. For me, I realize that I may not be like a lot of my friends who cringe at such a transition. Come to think of it, it may have been in part because of my socialization into Black Latino folks via growing up in New Haven or watching so much baseball. I'll never forget seeing a "George Bell" card from Topps that said "Jorge Bell" I immediately grabbed it thinking it was an "error card", it was an error, but the error was my own. I'll be honest, it's only recently that I started to realize how many Black athletes that I'd pronounced in the most Anglosized ways were AfroLatinos, not African-Americans. Sheffield's comments really crystallized this phenomenon and others have commented very well on the colonial relationship between MLB and Latin America, so I won't take that on. But Sheff's comments should serve to facilitate another level of discussion around culture, identity, and representation in the global Black community. For many, these tensions become talked about in a zero-sum manner. Translation: If you (Afrolatinos) get something, we (African-Americans) lose something. But that is way too simplistic. For some, this is a question of coalition building. Translation: Can't we all just get along. That too is too simplistic. The real question is: Am I the last African-American male who still watches baseball? ;)


Anonymous said...

you and stuart scott may be the last black dudes on earth to be teaching your kids to shag flies and know that doesnt mean banging flight attendants. have lots of kids :P

quick story:
if you look at the historical and archeological evidence, you will see that the first settlement attempt made by non-natives in what is now the US was in South Carolina or Georgia (in that area anyway) 1526. Now these were spaniards comming from Haiti (Hispaniola or whatever: conveniently cleared of resistant Arawaks, by Columbuses thugs from what i understand) 500 or so settlers with 100 or so, you guessed it, African slaves. a year or so of disease and "disagreements" with the local tribes and there were only about 250 settlers left. the slaves revolted and were taken in by the local tribes. the surviving settlers fled back to Haiti.

now these slaves brought to the tribes something VERY important, immunities. it was during this century that around 90% of the native population on the east coast would die from the plagues. its FEASIBLE that the bloodlines of these first African-Americans survived for quite awhile (well... until they were enslaved again later i imagine...)

now, natives will call these guys natives. their kids were natives and they lived as natives. just makes one wonder, what else did the refugees bring to the tribes? my guess, what existed after that was a syncratic (is that the word? sumthin) culture, since these black folks just werent getting sick they would probably have to play a big role as the were assimilated into the tribes.

now i grew up with some black natives (one kid's last name was Loonsfoot, the poor bastard, try being a 140lbs in 11th grade, look black, in a school of all whites and natives with that name... luckily he played football, so we wouldnt let anybody else tork on him and the coach would tork on us if we EVER gave another player too hard of a time.) i wonder if they play a similar game to the one i do: i.e. i can easily go from italian, to hispanic back to native based on my complexion and mood (tougher when i get too much sun...) are they going from Haitian, to Nigerian to african-american back to native?

one thing i have noticed though, these days, once you identify with native ethnicity, you dont go back. I have no interest in learning much about my mother's heritage and she his little in explaining it. even if your blonde with blue eyes, once you hear that your grandmother was a Cherokee (nevermind that in the 60s the Cherokees had a 0% bloodquantum requirement to enroll in the tribe and your grandmother was a hippie) you will ALWAYS tell any native you see about that connection.

the lines have always been a bit blurry, and getting blurrier still. skin color is plainly an idiotic way to seperate people and now race and ethnicity are becomming tougher to package. maybe this is progress. whatever, maybe this old rez indian had it right, "to me, your either an indian or your not, i dont discriminate"

-Andy Chosa

ps sorry for hijacking yer blog. its just cool to know other people are looking at this stuff with an open mind and from a different perspective, sometimes i babble :)

Rachel's Tavern said...

I really like this post. I've written a few similar ones...

Here and Here .

PS--I guess you meant you didn't want to start an "ethnicity war" LOL!! Sounds so awkward to the tongue.

Dumi said...

Andy- Wow man, thanks for the insight, definitely learned something(s) new! Feel free to comment away man, you always bring a unique perspective on topics.

Rachel- Wow, those are two good posts, somehow I missed those, thanks for putting me up on them. And you're exactly right "ethnicity war", see you got my little sociological joke :)

Rachel's Tavern said...

Yeah, that we a good sociological joke. I'd venture to say 90% of the population won't get it. LOL!

PS-You aren't the only Black guy watching baseball, but you might be one of about 10 African Americans. (Just joking... :) )

Anonymous said...

Then on that note, I must be the only Black-American woman who still watches and enjoys baseball, even if I do think the Astros (or the "Disastros" as I like to call them) stink.

Anonymous, thanks for that.

I know of St. Augustine, the oldest still survivng settlement in what is now the U.S. state of Florida and you are right, there were Black/African people in this country way before Jamestown and the cruelty of white English slavery.

I still to this day wonder what life would be like for us black people if the Spanish, and not the English, had kept control of this country.


We will never know.

Ismael said...

To the first anonymous poster, there is a guy out of NYC who researches the islamic makeup of native americans. (He is a cherokee dude who converted to Islam.) One of the things he found is that up until the middle 1800's roughly (my time-line is a little off i think), that the Cherokee tribe of South Carolina was headed by a tribal leader who went by the name of "...Muhammad..." and dressed pretty much the way you see Arabs from the Middle East dress today. This guy found some drawing of him. There is no doubt that the African Slaves passed on the religious teachings of Islam to the Native Americans. The word "Tallahasee", the capital of Florida, is an arabic word that contains the word "Allah". "T" - "Allah"-"asee". I forgot what it means though in Arabic.

Anonymous said...


that wouldnt suprise me one bit.

think about it:

for as far back as anybody can remember, your people followed thier tribal religion. it was part of everything you did, kept you happy and healthy. suddenly, europeans appear and around the same time your people start dying. en-masse, whole villages wiped out by these plagues, not enough left alive to bury the dead. your religion has no explanation, your traditional medicines are powerless. you patch together tribes out of the few survivors left from dozens of previously flourishing tribes, escaped slaves and, later, even a few europeans who have forsaken thier old way of life. you are going to listen when these newcommers who dont get sick tell you of thier beliefs that have kept them safe.

and this would certainly be information that "history books" would never want to mention.
good heavens, the very idea that islam might have played a part in our american history would make thier heads explode.
shit, they dont even mention the plagues most of the time in thier pathetic eurocentrism.

I would imagine that if you did the research you would also find elements of tribal african religions intermingled with the cultures of the native tribes during that period as the people cast about for some explanation for what was happening and something they could do to regain some semblance of control.