Crazy Quilt #1:

Jackie Robinson Breaks the Color Line

Page 6

There are things I want to say with expletives as punctuation, in order to sink those nails—give them the force and drive of undeniable truth, as sure and right and open as anything.

Sitting here in my Chicago American Giants cap: 1921 in the Negro Leagues in the open-air ballfields in the land of the free, Rube Foster that big man putting it all together, upping the ante, thinking all men are created equal my ass we'll make our own magic with this game on our own terms. What the hell kind of world is this anyway, he thought then, I think now. How do we get from such high-reaching ideals to such transparent emptiness? Where did we go, besides wrong?

(Imagine, for a moment, that a little fairy godmother appears to every human being harboring a seed of intolerance in their hearts, and grants them all their most fervent wish—say at twelve noon tomorrow—and at that time we'd all of us drop dead or turn into copies of our most unimaginative selves. Civilization suddenly having all the flavor of a vat of unseasoned potatoes that's been roiling for three or four days. We have such a profound talent for taking signs of difference and somehow transforming them into something to be despised, feared, and pushed away. We lose sight of the fact that a "difference" is information / is contrast / is an element of perspective. Food for the healthy brain.)

Jackie!   The various Black baseball leagues flourished from a little while after Cap Anson and a number of others got all dim-witted and refused to play with anyone with more melanin in their skin than they had (and hopefully you pause here to press your temples in dismay and wonder at the scope of spirit behind or below such profundity) and lasted until Branch Rickey and a number of others decided that this kind of thing was for minds much less developed than those that died out in the Stone Age, and went ahead and nabbed the amazing Jackie Robinson to put it to the test. Hold on—Resume Check: UCLA's first four-letter man—football, basketball, track, baseball. Twice led Pacific Conference in scoring in basketball; eleven yards per carry in football, All-American, "the greatest ball-carrier today" (Sports Weekly); 1940 NCAA broad jump champeen, also junior college record in event; Pacific Coast Intercollegiate Golf Champion; UCLA swimming champion; semifinalist Negro Tennis Tournament; and there were people who actually let themselves get away with feeling superior to this college-educated, articulate, intelligent, non-smoking, non-drinking, straight-up serious individual because of that nasty ol' melanin.

This is the same pigment makes my hair dark.

Blondes have more fun, oh yeah, I forgot.

"The world's gone mad today, and good's bad today, and black's white today, and day's night today..."
Cole Porter.

When functioning properly our minds do not go the easy route of exclusion, hate, or prejudice—no one has ever laid claim to these traits as attributes, have they? I mean, I've been listening, and I don't remember any such nonsense. But so many of us accept these properties in ourselves. As if learning a new trick might kill us.

"A 'culture of professionalism' emerged in the late 19th century, various occupations establishing standards of performance while erecting barriers to entry. Often racial and ethnic barriers. By designating some people as worthy of admission, the baseball [or any other] community elevated the status of those accepted into the profession..." [JT] ...or club or school or neighborhood or latrine or bus seat and my lord what an obvious self-directed head game. Someone once told me: "It was easy to kill them gooks they were like little dogs runnin' around ping! ping!" and then he laughed, and the robber barons and the politicos said way back when if we keep them busy on each other they'll have no time for us.

"We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."
—Woodrow Wilson, Princeton University President, future U. S. President.

"Why would any politician wish to confront an informed citizenry that could read the federal budget, decipher the news from Washington, and break down the election-year image into their sub-set of component lies? Why would the purveyors of American goods and services choose to afflict themselves with a public intelligent enough to see through the scrim of paid advertisements?"
—Lewis H. Lapham/ Harper's Magazine, July '91.


Every April I close my eyes and picture Jackie in '47 walking onto that field in Dodger Blue, and I want to write "changing the world" here but it was only a small corner and it was more a shift toward what's right than a change in-to it. It's easy to go low-roading through life, it takes less energy, the mind's lower-level meanderings take the no-effort-no-comprehension-required emotive routes toward intolerance, positing vast shares of the world's people as Other. I heard Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson speak at a Black History conference today and I want to scream. The sun shone more brightly on my cheek for a time when I walked outside, but it was too short a time for me, this crazy-quilt world quickly impinging with its marvels and horrors all spinning across my screen at once. What to do...

(Later that day someone asks me "how was it?" and I stop wordless still devouring the echoes my hands to the sky looking upward: okay? I can only allude right now I'm sorry but it seems that every other tick of the clock my life's changing then "anything you could tell me about it?" and I sputter flustered how do I draw a picture of wisdom? Of those whose spirit is larger than any room they might walk into? How to synopsize the "larger truths" in a two minute office walk-through? How to do it even on this page?

Later still I offer alms—other words and the first installment of BB10K: Look I wasn't frustrated with you this is where my mind is—that's what I'm doing here all these materials at hand somehow turned into this whacky shack I'm standing in the middle of, marvelling at how it all hangs together, these shards of corrugated tin, scraps of tarpaper, slabs of cardboard and wood, glancing nervously at the roof waiting to see if it holds...)

So I think it's all pervasive and innocuous enough that if you let down your guard it almost seems harmless. There's this phenomena I call "Guy Noise," this unconscious, in-deliberate thing that happens every day—like the "special societies" biz—we go in search of acceptance, to feel part of a group and specifically of a group of we that are better than thou. To waylay our smallness. In this regard my workaday friends and casual acquaintances become unknowing fodder for my inner dialogues, but I rarely say anything, though actually more and more allatime I'm trying to turn anger into working words. And if I must listen to their slurs they must listen to my condemnation of them. STOP'em. Stop IT. And I'm thinking you know mental sloth recognizes no racial barriers, assailing us all in different degree—the One will talk about the Other in order, by pushing "them" down, to raise "us" up. This is baaad magic. This is a trick we play on ourselves that may work to make us feel better but it also most assuredly makes us look foolish.

I excitedly look forward to meeting a white person who has suffered a real or perceived injustice at the hands of one or more white people on one or more occasions who has gone on to develop an unreasonable hatred for all white people. Anyone?


"Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man, this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal."
—Abraham Lincoln, politician, Senate Campaign, Chicago, (northern) IL, July 1858. [HZ ]

No one teaches us to think clearly, most of us on our own in any matters of transcendence so who's really to blame for these divisions? Last week I read two editorials same day same page on youth and education and they both had as main selling point the need to better prepare our young to function more competitively in the world economy. As if this was the begin-and-end-all purpose of learning. No talk of creativity, powers of logic or reasoning, knowledge of the world, grasp of poetics, love of literature or art, none of that. I used the phrase "cogs in the machine" the other day and a friend laughed, because the facts sound so outrageous (even to me) through the vacuous orchestrations of our current "values." Whoooaa. The count's 3 and 2, bases loaded two outs bottom of the ninth—a cliché, that—and we stumbling to the plate with blinders on against all these hideous junk-ball pitchers.

1889 to 1946 and no Blacks allowed, a dark cloud that makes the Major Leagues rather minor in some respects, a moral chasm that made "The Show" less than it could have been.

"This is the time, and this is the record, of the time."
—Laurie Anderson.

At least 30 lynching attempts occurred in 1946: "When Brooklyn Dodgers' president Branch Rickey described a Robinson catch as a 'superhuman play,' minor league manager Clay Hopper responded, 'Mr. Rickey, do you really think a nigger's a human being?' " [JT]

"What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages."
—Frederick Douglass, July 4th, 1852. [HZ ]

Perspective is all. "Walk the roads my forefathers walked, climb the trees my forefathers hung from..."
—Arrested Development, Tennessee.

Jackie Robinson spreads his wings and leaves the world in a cloud of hot brown dust, sliding safely home, his smile setting the crowd afire. And every April I close my eyes...

[JT]: Jules Tygiel's Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, © 1983
[HZ]: Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, © 1980

"There is no adequate defense, except stupidity,
against the impact of a new idea."

-Percy W. Bridgman, 1882-1961, The Intelligent Individual and Society

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