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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Reasons why Robin DiAngelo is bad Part 4: Her easily debunked claim about Jackie Robinson

Reasons why Robin DiAngelo is bad Part 1: Race essentialism
Reasons why Robin DiAngelo is bad Part 2: She broke US labor law and bragged about it
Reasons why Robin DiAngelo is bad Part 3: she supports micro-revenge

Reasons why Robin DiAngelo is bad Part 4: her easily debunked claim about Jackie Robinson

In 2017 The Good Men Project published DiAngelo's article No I Won't Stop Saying White Supremacy in which she made this claim:
Take, for example, the Jackie Robinson story. Robinson is often celebrated as “the first African American to break the color line and play in major-league baseball.” While Robinson was certainly an amazing ball player, this story line depicts Robinson as racially special; a black man who broke that color line himself. The subtext is that Robinson finally had what it took to play with whites, as if no black athlete before him was strong enough to compete at that level. Imagine if instead, the story went something like this: “Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.” This is a critical distinction because no matter how fantastic a player Robinson was, he simply could not play in the major leagues if whites—who control the institution—did not allow it. Were he to walk onto the field prior to being granted permission by white owners and policy makers, the police would have removed him.

Narratives of racial exceptionality obscure the reality of ongoing institutional white control while reinforcing the ideologies of individualism and meritocracy. They also do whites a disservice by obscuring the white allies behind the scenes who worked hard and long to open the field to African American players. These allies could serve as much needed role-models for other whites (although we also need to acknowledge that in the case of the desegregation of baseball, there was an economic incentive for these allies).
DiAngelo says: Imagine if instead, the story went something like this: “Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.”

But that is how the most popular story goes.

DiAngelo virtually never gets pushback from a respectful, verging on worshipful media, but occasionally nobodies get a chance to argue back, as some do in the comments section of this article. This commenter starts by quoting DiAngelo (bold):
The subtext is that Robinson finally had what it took to play with whites, as if no black athlete before him was strong enough to compete at that level. Imagine if instead, the story went something like this: ‘Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.’ ”

There is NO ONE… and by that, I mean literally NO ONE who thinks Jackie Robinson was the first black person “strong enough” or good enough. In fact, many people consider Satchel Paige to be the greatest pitcher of all time and he wasn’t allowed to pitch outside the Negro Leagues until he was almost 40 and well past his prime. Everyone understands that in football, baseball and the NBA, as in other aspects of life, there were black athletes who were capable of competing but not allowed to and further, I don’t know of anyone who represents it as anything else. I wasn’t taught anything other than that when I was in school in the 70’s.
For you to misrepresent this is an indication of either serious ignorance or a very warped sense of reality and a need to assign blame that doesn’t exist.

The movie "42" was released in 2012, five years before DiAngelo's 2017 article. Robinson's widow was pleased with the results:
Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, was involved in the production of the film and has praised the end result, saying, "It was important to me because I wanted it to be an authentic piece. I wanted to get it right. I didn't want them to make him an angry black man or some stereotype, so it was important for me to be in there. ... I love the movie. I'm pleased with it. It's authentic and it's also very powerful."[23]
There is a scene early in "42" where Rachel sees a "whites only" bathroom and comments she's never seen one before. Jackie responds "we aren't in Pasadena anymore." This speaks to the point I made in Part 3 of this series - the atrocity of Emmett Till's death was very much a Southern-specific event.

"42" does not downplay the racism of the entire United States, but it does make a distinction between parts of the country. Even in the late 1940s white Americans were not completely homogenous in their levels of racism. And the movie certainly doesn't downplay the racism within baseball itself.

There is a scene in "42" where Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers owner who was the leading force for baseball integration, tells Robinson that the reason he wanted to integrate was because he played with a great black ballplayer who was "broken because of the color of his skin." In other words the movie makes clear that there were certainly great black ballplayers before Robinson. So in 2012, a major motion picture was pushing the narrative that DiAngelo claims is not being pushed: "Jackie Robinson (was) the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball."

Then in 2016, just a year before the DiAngelo piece, Ken Burns made a documentary about Robinson which clearly represents the intense racism that had kept Robinson - and all black players - out of the major leagues.

It's certainly possible that two things can be true at once - that blacks were not allowed by whites to play major league baseball and at the same time Robinson was promoted first because he had personal qualities that Branch Rickey felt were needed (and this is portrayed in the movie 42) in order to withstand the enormous pressure of being the first black player in a racist country.

There are no media alternatives in the last ten years, as far as I know to these two portrayals of Jackie Robinson. There is zero evidence that anybody, anywhere is suggesting that Robison was selected only because he was the first black ballplayer who was good enough. And given how many black ballplayers have excelled since Robinson, only the most delusional of racists would believe that somehow no black players were good enough before Robinson.

So why does Robin DiAngelo feel she has to lie about the "white" attitude towards Jackie Robinson? Why does she feel she can get away with making such an easily-debunked assertion?

And why should anybody accept DiAngelo without question on anything knowing she seemingly deliberately misrepresents the facts?

I said in part 3 that DiAngelo does not care about facts. I believe her goal is to provide justification for micro-revenge. Yes white people behaved horrifically towards Robinson, black athletes and blacks in general - all this is presented in "42" and in the Burns documentary. DiAngelo wants to pretend that nothing has improved since 1947, just as she pretends that what happened to Emmett Till in 1955 Mississippi somehow represents a typical social interaction in the present.

White people as a group, dominating non-white people, as groups, is an accident of history.

Europeans just happened to get their hands on superior technology in the context of nation-states (after the nation-states had spent centuries slaughtering each other) before the inhabitants of other geographies did.

As Thomas Chatterton Williams noted, white supremacists are similar to the "woke" like DiAngelo in their belief in the specialness of white people. The only difference is whether white people are especially good, per the white supremacists, or especially bad, per "white fragility."

I say white people are not special. "We" were the beneficiaries of technology and nation-state organization through chance, not through innate superiority.

And "we" have the same intelligence and stupidity, bigotry and charity, brutality and sympathy as people of color. And "we" are increasingly making love matches with "them."

Normally Pinkerite must fight those who think that white people are innately superior. But sometimes Pinkerite must fight those who think that white people are innately inferior - most often morally inferior.

Now if Robin DiAngelo wants to call herself a racist, based on her own invented terminology, she's welcome to do so. But I am not a racist, in spite of being white. And I believe that judging someone for the color of their skin, instead of the content of their character is, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., bullshit.

I'm not saying I am a saint. I have a preference for people who are like me, like most people.

But our values determine which differences matter the most.

The oldest of my brothers is a rightwinger, so extreme that a few years ago he argued with me on Facebook on behalf of the Confederacy. And this in spite of the fact that two of our maternal great-great grandfathers fought for the Union.

I've barely spoken to my brother since we were teenagers, so different in outlook, taste and habits we are that there's virtually nothing we have to say to each other. And since he's come out as a Confederacy sympathizer, I haven't spoken to him at all.

I am sure that I would prefer to spend time with each and every black person I have ever known than with my own brother. My brother and I are only thirteen months apart in age, "Irish twins" as they say. By both nature and nurture he is the closest living person to me, but he is a virtual stranger to me. Because our values are so completely different.

Human sympathies are far more complex than essentialists like race science proponents or "white fragility" proponents like Robin DiAngelo would have you believe. And we must not accept their simple-minded view of the world, and force everybody into these artificial "race" silos. We must acknowledge not only the history of European brutality against others, but also we must acknowledge that European imperialists invented "race" categories. And in order to create a more just future, the concept of race itself must be rejected.