republished from TheNation.com
To paraphrase bell hooks, the events of this summer show with bracing clarity that there are huge swaths of this country that love black culture and hate black people. It is difficult to not see this reality in the events of the last week: events that counterpose something as American as apple pie, the Little League World Series, and something else that is frankly also as American as apple pie: the killing of unarmed black men and women by police.
On the Little League side, Hollywood could not have painted a more soul-stirring tableau. We have the charming, charismatic champions of the United States, called Jackie Robinson West, hailing from the great city of Chicago. JRW is a team consisting entirely of African American kids from the city. The fact that such a team has ascended to the finals of the Little League World Series is an astounding accomplishment both athletically as well as demographically. JRW is the first all African-American team to become US champions in over 30 years. During that same thirty-year stretch the number of African-American kids who play baseball has plummeted dramatically, their roster-spots in the Major League Baseball falling from 19% to 8% of all players. In college baseball, less than 6% of rosters have African American players.
What else has happened over the previous three decades in this country? We have seen the rise of neoliberal economics and the hollowing out of our cities. One casualty of the new urban-normal has been Little League programs, Boys & Girls clubs and community centers: the very infrastructure baseball demands. This period of decimation has been followed more recently by an era of urban gentrification, as the wealthy have moved back into the cities, exploding property values, pushing the poor disproportionately black residents to the margins and creating a 21st century phenomenon: the suburbanization of poverty and dislocated ghetto sprawl. The infrastructure for baseball in urban communities has withered, likened by sports sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards to a corpse on life support.