White Privilege, Baseball Coverage and Brandon Phillips

Yesterday, two remarkable articles were posted by Rob Iracane at Walkoff Walk and Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk. Iracane responded to a Calcaterra article from the previous night asking by asking “Why is it Always Minority Players Suffering From Lack of Hustle?” The post was a response to Calcaterra’s piece on Brandon Phillips who misjudged a ball, thinking it was a home run and instead of busting it for a triple, ended up with a double that may have lost the game for the Reds. Though it called out Calcaterra, Iracane’s piece did not isolate him or any racial bias, instead pointing that it is a broader problem in the baseball world of using “lack of hustle” to describe black and Latino players. Iracane writes:

Still, there is no reason to call out any single writer for leaning too hard on this simple, cliched phraseology. Nor is there any evidence that points to any single writer being a closet racist. Still, the evidence is vast: whenever the phrase “lack of hustle” is used, chances are the player is black or Latino. This is disturbing!

What was further remarkable was Calcaterra’s response later that day which acknowledges the problematic assumptions at work in his use of the phrase:

But as Rob notes, the terminology of “hustling” is problematic and loaded. Indeed, Rob points out that an analysis of news articles which reveals that “lack of hustle” is a term used almost exclusively to describe black and Latino players, never whites… This is not to say that the concept of “hustling” is now some third-rail, politically incorrect thing… But I think that it’s probably worth thinking about how we use the term…. After reading Rob’s post and thinking about it all, I’m mad at myself for using the phrase “lack of hustle.” Not because it was necessarily inaccurate in that particular instance, but because it’s prone to being misused and I don’t really feel like participating, however unwittingly, in the perpetuation of that kind of baloney.

In the comments section of the article, this dialogue continues.* Various commenters decried the presence of the “PC Police,” and bemoaned the need to be so careful about everything we say lest it be misinterpreted. Calcaterra responded to many of these concerns and did so quite intelligently and diplomatically, reiterating what he said in the article that: “Going forward, I’m going to think about it more.” And that “I care deeply about saying exactly what I mean and having my words misconstrued,” and that he doesn’t want his words to be reconstructed in racist terms, regardless of his intentions.

First, I applaud Calcaterra and especially Iracane for bringing up this issue and taking it seriously. It is so important to talk about baseball’s racialized discourses. Integrating in 1947 with Jackie Robinson is absolutely not the end of the conversation and neither is Al Campanis. I’ve written about this both on this blog and over at FlowTV (“Not Beyond Jackie Robinson”). I also wrote last fall about narratives of racial progress in Ken Burns’s Baseball (baseball.pdf).

Secondly, I want to elaborate on why it matters what kind of language we use to describe baseball players. Ball players are stars and as Richard Dyer has demonstrated: “Stars are also embodiments of the social categories in which people are placed and through which they have to make sense of their lives, and indeed through which we make sense of our lives” (Heavenly Bodies, 16). They are not simply reflections of the social world but shape and are shaped by that social world as they construct themselves and are constructed by others. To quote Dyer again: “Stars matter because they act out aspects of life that matter to us,” (16) or they are made to act out aspects of life that matter us. Whether or not Brandon Phillips is truly a star is certainly up for debate but he is nonetheless a public figure and as such can be made to act out aspects of life that matter– which is exactly what I think Iracane does. While usually these stars are made to reflect dominant ideologies, Iracane challenges us to make them examples of what’s wrong with those naturalized, dominant ideologies.

Furthermore, another way to understand these constructions is to look at which minority groups are left out. Not only are whites not often described as lacking hustle, but Asians also are not often described in such terms. Why? One answer would be that that characterization does not resonate with the broader understanding of Asian-ness. Asians are “hard workers” and “model minorities”. I raise this issue because I think sheds further light on how these processes work.

The third point I want to make about these articles is how they illustrate white privilege and illustrate what we can do– as white people– to challenge it.
As many of you know, I’m a graduate student in media studies and this semester I’ve been TA-ing for a class on “Race, Ethnicity and Media.” Additionally, I’ll be starting my PhD in the fall and as such, I’ve started to take more seriously the challenges I will eventually be facing in my own classroom. I’m becoming more attentive to archiving clips and articles that illustrate certain points and thinking about what kind of exercises I might conduct with my students in discussion section-type environments. I think this article (and its attendant comments)** provides an interesting example, particularly in concert with a really great article my professor assigns on white privilege.

In the article “My Class Didn’t Trump my Race: Using Oppression to Face Privilege” (Multicultural Perspectives. 8.1 (2006) 52-56.) Robin J. DiAngelo describes a series of “patterns of internalized dominance” which contribute to white privilege and potentially unconscious forms of racism. I think alot of these patterns play out in these scenarios and so while trying not to be too didactic, I want to share them because since reading the article this semester I’ve tried to keep them in mind as much possible and they certainly jumped out at me reading through these dialogues on baseball coverage and race.

  • We Live Segregated Lives.
  • We Are Taught in Our Culture to see Our Experience as Objective and Representative of Reality.
  • We Are Raised to Value the Individual and to see Ourselves as Individuals, Rather than as Part of a Socialized Group.
  • In Our Dominant Positions We Are Almost Always Racially Comfortable and Expect to Remain So.
  • We Feel That We should be Judged By Our intentions Rather Than the Effects of Our Behavior.
  • We Believe That if We Can’t Feel Our Social Power, Then We Don’t Have Any.
  • We Think It Is Important Not to Notice Race.
  • We Confuse Not Understanding With Not Agreeing.
  • We Will Be the Judge of Whether or not Racism Has Occured.
  • Racism Has Been Constructed as Belonging to Extremists and Being Very Bad.

DiAngelo concludes the article with a word on “interrupting internalized dominace.” She says:

I have found that a key to interrupting my internalized racial dominance is to defer to the knowledge of people whom I have been taught, in countless ways, are less knowledgeable and less valuable than I am. I must reach for humility and be willing to not know… I do ot have to understand racism for it to be real, and my expectation that I could is part of my internalized dominance. (57)

*Note: On the one hand, we should all know not to read comments sections because they’re usually awful. On the other hand, this is exactly why its important to read them. Especially as media scholars and cultural critics, comments do, to some degree, further contextualize issues like this and they at least point to reception issues (methodologically this is of course only a starting point, but it is potentially an important one).

** Note 2: There is something of an ethical dilemma, here however. In using the comments, I run the risk of point to individuals and saying: “you’re racist” which though perhaps not untrue, may be somewhat unfair. I want to use comments as examples of racist thinking and white privilege, but of course real individual people are at stake.


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