The Evolution of Baseball and Racism

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We’re at the All-Star break, and my team is currently in first place. This is a major deal to me.

Yes, like a lot of Gen X Latinos, I’m a huge baseball fan. In fact, I recently achieved a fatherhood milestone when I took my 4-year-old son to see his first big-league game (he enjoyed it, even if he kept yelling, “safe!” and “out!” — usually at random).

I’m also a fan of science, which is one reason I’m not a Republican.

Ha, just having fun there, my GOP friends.

Anyway…

Among my favorite science writers was the late Stephen Jay Gould. He wrote an intriguing essay titled “Why No One Hits .400 Anymore” in which he argued that while .400 hitters were fairly common in the early days of baseball, it’s become nearly impossible to reach that milestone today.

The reason is because pitching has gotten so much better, as has the overall quality of play. This has had the effect of shrinking the highest and lowest batting averages against the mean (i.e., everyone’s better now, and it’s much harder to be exceptional).

So today, you have no .400 hitters, but also no .100 hitters. On the flip side, you have no 30-game winners, but no 20-game losers either. It wasn’t like that back in the day.

Gould employed this observation to discuss how the predator-prey relationship evolves. That is, as prey become more cunning or faster, predators get stronger and quicker, in a never-ending cycle of adaptation and balance.

It’s a great essay, blending two desperate but fascinating topics (baseball and science). But of course, we can make the original observation even better by adding a third element: racism.

You see, many Americans are having trouble processing the election of Trump and the return of overt bigotry. How could the country have regressed so severely after the presidency of Obama? Well, I’ve pointed out the reasons for this before, and they’re all perfectly logical.

However, there is another overarching issue, independent of Trump, that many Americans fail to grasp. And it is that, as Ibram X. Kendi pointed out in the New York Times, “there have been two historical forces at work: a dual and dueling history of racial progress and the simultaneous progression of racism.”

Yes, just like there are no more .400 hitters, there are no more George Wallaces fighting for legal segregation. But just as a predator evolves to chase its prey, racists have adapted to the progress of ethnic minorities.

It’s actually pretty simple when you think about it. The truth is that “both racist and antiracist groups have made progress,” writes Kendi, a professor of history at the University of Florida and the author of Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. “Both forces — the racist force of inequality, and the antiracist force of equality — have progressed in rhetoric, in tactics, in policies.”

So while Hispanics, African Americans and other marginalized groups have broken down myriad barriers, Kendi argues that the haters, xenophobes and white nationalists have “organized and sometimes succeeded in putting new racial barriers in place, new discriminatory policies in our institutions. And they succeeded in developing a new round of racist ideas to justify those policies, to redirect the blame for racial disparities away from their new policies” and onto the supposed pathology and inferiority of ethnic minorities.

Again, the election of Obama — as historic and groundbreaking as it was — did not herald a new post-racial American, where bigotry had been knocked out, and we would all join hands to sing about the colors of the rainbow.

Rather, it was both a victory and an escalation in the unending battle against racism. And to insist otherwise is to “parade the exceptional twin, and try to hide away the other history” of hatred and fear.

Perhaps someday we will indeed see a truly bigot-free society, a nation where racism has gone completely and totally extinct.

But to be honest, I think it’s more likely that somebody will hit .400 again.

 

Featured image: Sterling G/Flickr

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