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No easy explanation for Fenway Park racism

Melvin B. Miller | 5/10/2017, 10:41 a.m.
Boston has to work to change its culture. The “City on a Hill” must have a metropolitan demeanor in order ...
“Man, let’s keep it moving before they get hostile.” Photo by Dan Drew

May Day is supposed to be a joyous time. Children celebrate the emergence of spring by dancing around the maypole and workers acknowledge their solidarity. However, May 1 in Boston last week was neither. First of all, the weather was so cold that spring seemed to be in retreat, and an unprovoked racial assault by a spectator in the center field bleachers at the baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles demonstrated once again that the racial conflict in Boston is still quite unresolved. One wonders whether the propensity for violence is genetic.

Some people have speculated that the incident occurred because Donald Trump has essentially confirmed that such racial misconduct is now acceptable. However, that speculation fails to recognize that with 49.3 percent Trump had the highest vote in Massachusetts of any state primary before his nomination. Clearly there already was a sizeable population of state residents who are hostile toward African Americans.

During the Red Sox-Baltimore game, a Red Sox rooter threw a bag of peanuts at Adam Jones, Baltimore’s black center fielder, and called him the “N” word. The spectator was ejected from Fenway Park, but it is still unclear why whites in Massachusetts would want to insult blacks, even without provocation.

There is no historical basis for such racial conflict. There is no record of blacks having initiated attacks on whites in the state. Perhaps some whites find the demeanor of blacks too assertive. Indeed, blacks in Boston have never been obsequious, a state of mind sometimes imposed by violent whites in the South. No one can provide a reason for the unprovoked violent behavior at Fenway Park.

Family genealogical research has now become a fad. The progeny of American immigrants from Europe can trace their family origins to the districts of their original countries. While genes can control the color of one’s eye or a cleft chin that runs in the family, personality traits might also be genealogically affected. Violence between ancient European groups was common. The only essential requirement was to determine what tribe would be “the other” or the “outsider” and therefore an appropriate enemy.

On the other side of Fenway Park in the left field stands there was a more festive May Day event. The friends and family of Donna Gittens, the black CEO of MORE, a marketing promotion company, had assembled to support her future in baseball. She had been chosen by the Red Sox to throw the ceremonial first pitch of the ball game. Donna’s celebrants were totally unaware of the hostility building across the park, and they were absolutely unconcerned about the racial background of others in and around the Gittens party.

Racism is such an ugly affliction, every citizen should stand against it. The Red Sox management is right to remove racial agitators. No one should accept in silence the vicious racial harangue against any citizen. Such prejudice clearly exists, and everyone must be responsible for creating an environment that is alien for bigots and comfortable for everyone else.

Boston has to work to change its culture. The “City on a Hill” must have a metropolitan demeanor in order to sustain its lofty reputation. But there must be some considerable effort to identify the causes of the mindless white racism.