Jun 26, 2012

Representin' vs. Privilege

"I really hope nobody thinks he was with me just because I'm African-American, you know?"                                     
 Image via Flickr/LifeSupercharger

The air is filled with electricity, and it isn't just the buzz of the lights warming up. The crowd is tense. On edge. Waiting for the big game to start. "It's just little league" is a blasphemous statement that could set angry mobs of senior league pre-teens aflame. To the players, this is serious business; friends playing against friends for the championship. More importantly, playing for bragging rights that will last all summer--perhaps into the new school year.

Game faces on, ice water in veins, adrenaline amped up. Ready.

Flashes of silver light up the night as the little sisters and brothers collect change for the "confession" stand. Popping smacks of pinkness erupt from the mouths of both the players on the field and the parents in the stands. The bleachers are full. Both baselines are separated by fence and mirrored by colorful camp chairs.

The teams are announced. The national anthem is played. Game on!

And there he is...standing behind the fence. Close to home plate, along the third base line, rooting for the Guest team: in other words--in enemy territory. His baggy, ball-capped frame blocks the view to the plate and parents are thinking (at least I am), "You make a better door than a window!" But instead of throwing out that confusing cliche, a parent politely asks him to sit down so she can see. 

"I don't mean any disrespect to you all, but I will not sit down. You can't make me." Fingers resume their interlaced dance with the fence. But he's not just watching the game--he heckles the players on the field. The pitcher tries to retain focus...ice water in veins, game face on, check that adrenaline...don't want any wild pitches. Then the foulness begins--not in the batter's swing, but along the fence. Behind the umpire.

A slew of phrases that my grandmother would attribute to sailors infects the air, making parents tense about more than just the pressure on the diamond. That statement that just a  few minutes ago would've caused child rebellion and pre-teen eye-rolling is now uttered by the crowd in near-unison. No longer a diminishment of the proceedings, but a phrase that warns an inebriated spectacle that his words are not appropriate for young players, younger siblings. "It's just little league!" No need to heckle--they're just kids.

The umpire is also just a kid. Maybe in college. He's focused on the game, not on the Spectacle almost directly behind him. But then a torrent of motherf****s erupts. He must pay attention to the Spectacle because the mom brigade can no longer stay seated. Moms rise up and march forward, one firmly demanding, "You need to sit down and shut up." 

Again the Spectacle turns to the crowd behind him, "I don't mean to disrespect you all, but you will not talk to me like that. I can tone down my cussing but you cannot make me sit down."

He's walking. He's angry now, but so is the mom brigade. The sensible uncle behind them tells the moms to, "just sit down. Don't get involved." Instead of heeding sensible advice, one mom and the Spectacle circle each other, a dance evoking images of elementary school playgrounds after school when the day-long whispered threats finally boil over into a full-blown fight. The game is no longer the primary entertainment, it's tension has shifted to the stands as we wait to see if the lion mama will pounce. Instead, she sits down and pulls out her cell phone to call the police.

Shouts from the crowd, "He's gonna to have to go! Get him outta here!" goad the umpire into quietly saying something to the man (from behind the safety of the fence, of course) and the Spectacle boisterously begins the charade of leaving. After a minute or so, there is silence and the ump calls, "Batter up!"

The game continues. The focus is where it should be--on our boys. Pop-up flies are caught. A pitcher has two innings of perfection and then can't hold it any longer. The winning runs are scored and the guest team celebrates its victory, accepting high fives from both their teammates and their opponents. A secondary battle was waged tonight, too. My son played against his best friend. Brother against brother: one on the mound, the other in the box. Bragging rights are serious between these two whose friendship has only been interrupted by the recent presence of a first girlfriend. Over the years, their camaraderie has naturally led to a friendship between parents. As the season progressed it became obvious that both our families and our teams were set on a collision course for the championship---an awkward battle of the buddies. Before the handing out of medals, my friend comes over to, I assume, exercise some motherly bragging rights.  

My friend is wife of the opposing team's assistant coach. She joins me (the assistant coach's wife for the home team) while I am rehashing the season with the head coach's wife. We stand along the third base line cheering loudly for each boy who played. We are all friends, so there really isn't too much trash talking. A few jokes about how the boys will be exacting or receiving revenge for the rest of the summer (Extra elbows in their summer league basketball practice? A coup d'etat in their video game war? Pranks involving the girlfriend?) We chuckle over the antics we are sure will entertain us in the coming month, but the conversation quickly turns to the Spectacle. 

"Can you believe he was cussing like that? There are kids here! It's just little league!" Our head coach's wife was really shocked.

"I can understand wanting to drink some beer and watch a ball game on a hot night, but that was out of line. Did he really leave?" my friend asked.

I said, "Yeah, I think he left when one of the moms called the cops."

She shook her head and looked at me with concern, "You know I was sitting in the bleachers with a lot of other people. I wasn't too far from him. We were both rooting for the same team. I really hope nobody thinks he was with me just because I'm African-American, you know?"

And I didn't know what to say.

I've been in groups of white women who talk about "those people," when they don't know my family. I've been like a spy in enemy territory, witnessing the truth that comes out when people feel comfortable enough to talk openly among "their own kind." And after being around such women, I can tell you that my friend is right to think about who will judge her based on the actions of the Spectacle tonight. Some white parents, maybe even those from her own team, will think that the drunken Spectacle must've been a part of that big group of black folks in the bleachers--just because they all share a skin color. 

I've seen many drunken white men at sporting events. Some embarrassingly drunk, rowdy, and even violent. But I don't ever recall a time when my own character was judged because of the behavior of a drunken white man, just because we share a skin color.


2012 Senior League Sox--2nd place team (but champs in our book) Photo by Jen Marshall Duncan


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