by Mark P. Fancher
Organized Little League baseball last year stripped Chicago’s champion Jackie Robinson West team of their World Series title. The injustice blends their anguished voices “with those of today’s young black scholars who are unfairly suspended or expelled and then shoved through a school-to-prison pipeline.” Dreams can be great motivators, but “at a certain point a dream can become dangerous self-delusion.”
Black Children’s Dreams Crushed on a Field of Nightmares
by Mark P. Fancher
“America as a grand field of dreams?”
This week Williamsport, Pennsylvania, will be invaded by the thousands who make an annual pilgrimage to the home of Little League Baseball. As the crowds celebrate the youth athletic program with an international World Series and related festivities, there will be futile efforts to ignore the elephant in the room…er, uh…on the playing field. Large, in charge and unavoidable will be the collective memory of how only one year ago, a team of beautiful black children from Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West baseball program took the field, and with grace, skill and style, whipped team after team until they emerged as national champions.
In the months that followed, figures lurking in the shadows slithered from dark corners and hissed accusations of cheating at certain of the team’s adult volunteers. Members of the team and African people worldwide who took enormous pride in the accomplishments of these children, watched with sick resignation as decisions were made to punish the entire team – not just the adults accused of wrongdoing – but the entire team…of children. Their title was stripped, and they were left reeling from the blow.
In the months that followed, the players, their families and supporters have tried to make sense of it. The players did everything that could be expected. They worked hard. They played with discipline and demonstrated good sportsmanship. They were poised, well-spoken and in a word, everything that America says that young people should be. Nevertheless, when all was said and done, the Little League program and much of America took their collective, figurative, colossal middle finger and thrust it violently skyward while staring at this team of young African innocents.
The wise know that in America, it has always been so. Meander across the vast, green expanse of center field in any ballpark, and if you listen carefully, the wailing voices of African children long gone can be heard crying out for the justice denied them during their hellish sojourn on this soil. Crying out are the slave era’s gaunt, terrified plantation toddlers who clutched the ragged skirts of overworked, abused mothers. Their anguished voices blend with those of today’s young black scholars who are unfairly suspended or expelled and then shoved through a school-to-prison pipeline.
“Their title was stripped, and they were left reeling from the blow.”
During the slave era, when the children were not worked mercilessly, tortured or sexually abused, they dealt with severe neglect. This unrestrained hostility toward African children extended even to the most sacred bond between mother and child. Charles Ball recalled: “… [M]y poor mother, when she saw me leaving her for the last time, ran after me, took me down from the horse, clasped me in her arms, and wept loudly and bitterly over me…but whilst thus entreating [the master] to save her and her family, the slave-driver, who had first bought her, came running in pursuit of her with a raw hide in his hand. When he overtook us he told her he was her master now, and ordered her to give that little Negro to its owner, and come back with him. My mother then turned to him and cried, ‘Oh, master, do not take me from my child!’ Without making any reply, he gave her two or three heavy blows on the shoulders with his raw hide, snatched me from her arms, handed me to my master, and seizing her by one arm, dragged her back towards the place of sale.”
With this history, America makes it crystal clear to the young Jackie Robinson West athletes that they should not be mystified by the fact that they have been deprived of a championship they rightfully earned. This even as the New England Patriots are not only allowed to retain the Super Bowl title, but America cries crocodile tears along with Tom Brady, the man at the center of the “deflate-gate” scandal. No doubt, many adoring fans believe Brady does not deserve to be punished – even if he cheated. But the Chicago children are unlike golden boy Tom Brady. They committed real crimes. They have been indicted and convicted of the following offenses:
* Count One – They were born black.
* Count Two – They embarrassed white children by beating them at baseball.
A conviction for Count One can carry with it the penalty of death. The murders of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and countless others are continuing evidence of that fact. Nevertheless, many black parents persist in encouraging their children to dream of the day when the powerful in America will share their power and white supremacists will abandon their hateful ways. After all, dreaming is what we do in this country. There is the grand American Dream. Well-behaved Negroes are expected to confine their social and political aspirations to Dr. King’s 1963 dream. President Obama’s memoir is titled “Dreams from my Father.” There is even a special dream for baseball players – a field of dreams. They made a movie about it. But at a certain point a dream can become dangerous self-delusion.
“They should not be mystified by the fact that they have been deprived of a championship they rightfully earned.”
Children who are at the focal point of war cannot afford to live in a state of denial. Palestinian children who hurl bricks at Israeli tanks are under no illusions about where they stand in the eyes of a Zionist regime. Thus, the best thing concerned adults can do is to awaken black children and escort them into the generations-old struggle to overcome the harsh reality of the African experience in America. Children can be a potent force if even in their pre-teen years they gain the ability to explain with precision not only the mechanics of capitalist and imperialist exploitation in this country and abroad, but also the vulnerabilities of these systems and the vital, strategic value of Africa’s unity and independence. Such children, knowing that the contest they must win is not on a baseball field, will use Little League insults as fuel for their own revolutionary fire.
America as a grand field of dreams? Field of nightmares is more like it. Our children must be saved not only from this society’s cowardly, petty denial of their athletic accomplishments, but also from a system that seeks to enslave their minds with satanic, mind-numbing video games, minstrel celebrities, and a thousand other destructive distractions and threats to their physical, emotional and mental health. At long last let us wake the children and introduce them to the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of generations of freedom fighters, analysts and scholars who have been committed to achieving our liberation.
Mark P. Fancher is a member of a National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) ad hoc committee monitoring developments in the Jackie Robinson West matter. The opinions expressed in this essay are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of NCBL. Information about NCBL’s inquiries to Little League International is posted at www.ncbl.org. The writer can be contacted at [email protected]