“ADAM & ERIC, Something In Common After 40 Years”

On May 1, 2017 during a very ordinary day at Fenway Park, Adam Jones the centerfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, was subjected to a stream of racial epithets from the stands. Vulgar, degrading and demeaning words laced with the N-word came in his direction for no apparent reason other than the color of his skin. Jones could not pinpoint when the barrage of vulgarities began, which included a fan throwing a bag of peanuts in his direction, and though this was not the first time he has been subjected to such treatment by Fenway’s faithful, Jones said this time he was “compelled to speak out.”

Joneses experience is not isolated or unique. According to Chris Young an African American teammate of Jones, “It happens to Latin guys, as well, or anyone who’s different from whatever the norm is considered to be. But it’s very upsetting…that it happens in environments where you’re surrounded by 35,000 other people, you have kids in the stadium. This kind of stuff is passed down. Hate is taught.”[1] When CC Sabathia, of the NY Yankees heard about the Adam Jones incident, he reflected upon his own experiences in Boston. Sabathia said Boston is the only place he has heard the N-word.

When I heard of the Adam Jones incident, I had a similar remembrance about Boston as CC Sabathia. It was not about an experience of my own but of a friend from my youth. His name was Eric (pseudonym) a friend that I grew up with who attended a Christian academy in the mideastern part of America. The incident ironically happened nearly 40 years ago in 1977. He was then a high school student, one of twelve, who was on a class trip to Boston to view some of the historic sights of the city. He and his group of twelve along with their two adult chaperones had just left visiting the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. As they were waiting for a bus to take them back to their hotel a car with five white males pulled up and assaulted them with golf clubs, hockey sticks and an axe handle. It is ironic and tragic that the Bunker Hill Monument was erected on the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution and on this day my friend and his classmates would be the subjects of a battle with the opposite intent. I was in college at the time when the news came to me. It was very disturbing to hear, but what I did remember was, somehow the public transportation came at about the same time as the attack and my friend Eric heroically pushed several of the young ladies into the bus, away from harm, while he and the other young men took several of the undeserved cowardly blows.

The postscript of the story was the attacked African American academy students were invited back to Boston and wined and dined by the “Black” Deputy Mayor Clarence Jones, who later that evening took them to the Shubert Theater, where they saw “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide—When The Rainbow Is Enuf,” an all‐black play that moved to Boston from Broadway.[2]

Three of the five white males responsible for the attack were arrested and tried, but as you might imagine an all-white jury acquitted them after deliberating nine hours. And why do you say were they acquitted? While the victims were able to pick out their attackers in line-ups for their arrests, local residents did not corroborate their identifications. According to the reports at the time, “several residents who witnessed the attack testified at the trial, but all of them said they could, not identify any of the assailants.”[3] Sounds familiar doesn’t it. This is a scene that plays and replay throughout African American History in our country. Someone Black is victimized, but no one white seems willing to stand with the Black victim in court and convict a White perpetrator.

When the Adam Jones incident happened, while the person who threw the peanuts at Jones was found and ejected from the ballpark, the fans that hurled the racial slurs were never identified. When the Jones incident was brought to the attention of upper management and the ownership of the Red Sox, there were profuse apologies and renunciations but nothing that would be considered a real deterrent to the actions. The Red Sox President Sam Kennedy said, “We want to make sure that our fans know, and the [Boston] market knows, that offensive language, racial taunts, slurs are unacceptable,” “If you do it, you’re going to be ejected…you’re going to be subject to having your tickets revoked for a year, maybe for life. We’re going to look at that. We haven’t made any firm decisions, but it just can’t happen.” Strong words but as usual, no real definitive decision from Kennedy. Ejected yes, tickets revoked for a year…well okay…lifetime, maybe. We’re going to look into it, no firm decisions. This is how it usually goes. And after the outcries die down and things go back to normal all of the push for change is forgotten and Boston remains Boston.

So what are we to make of Adam and Eric? How are we to handle all of this? When any incident of white racial misbehavior occurs, we in society are quick to isolate the action as a singular moment of one sicko or yahoo who has not developed or matured into a whole or sane human being. We are quick to say the guilty party does not represent the majority of the White community. But if they don’t, then why do the sickos continue to persist with such consistent regularity?

Why is it that forty years later since the late 70s when white racist attacked Eric and the students of that Mid Eastern Academy, that not much has changed? Why is this kind of behavior still tolerated and allowed among those in the white community? Why do the silent majority still remain silent in the face of the persistent, consistent incidents and acts of racial insensitivity such as what Adam Jones experienced at Fenway Park?  Can we truly say, such incidents do not reflect upon the entire community when silent accomplices continue to continence such reprehensible behavior?

When we look at the long history of White racism in America from the early inception of this nation, before America became America, when it was 13 colonies bound by slavery fighting for its liberation from English dominance, can we truly say that America is not a racist nation? What happened in Boston is a microcosm of the country at large.

Racial inequality IS Americas original sin. It defines whom America is and has been etched in the pages of the US Constitution, the nations first official document of record.

For centuries America has soft-pedaled and downplayed its racists history when speaking of the founding fathers that authored articles declaring all men being created equal, while themselves owning slaves. We have tried to excuse this duplicity by calling them products of their time. But there were contemporaries of the founders who during the same time refused to own slaves, spoke out vehemently against slavery and challenged their hypocrisy. Individuals that our history books regularly and conveniently exclude from American history.

There have been several books written about this history that no one ever discusses or reads. Books that detail how slavery and Jim Crow segregation has significantly advantaged and advanced the cause of Whites in America to the extent that we see the gross economic and social disparities that exist today between Blacks and Whites and yet you still hear that somehow Whites are losing ground to Blacks and immigrants. In what century and on what planet is this myth happening. Two books that I will mention and urge you to read are “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” by Edward E. Baptist. The second deals with what happened after slavery, during the New Deal era, when legislators, principally Southern Dixiecrats, systematically legislated African Americans out of almost every New Deal program to preserve what they called the “Southern way of life.” The book is titled, “When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America,” by Ira Katznelson.   These two books are must reads in order to gain a more balanced realistic perspective about America.

The real issue at the core of the problem is what these ugly incidents of race allow Whites to have. It allows a comfort zone of racial ugliness that no one is ever responsible for. Neither the perpetrator nor the accomplice is ever held responsible their behavior. The perpetrator feels no shame or retribution for his/her actions, because the White community protects them with a “White Wall of Silence.” No one ever comes forward to hold them accountable for their actions or punish them with ostracism, severe discipline or reprisal of any kind as a deterrent. What is the penalty to a white person for the kind of misbehavior meted out against Adam Jones and my friend Eric? Can anyone tell me?

This is what White privilege affords you. It allows you to live with and retain your most insidious evil racial behavior without any penalty, ostracism, guilty or shame. And in some instances it serves as an enhancement because allowances are always made for incidences of white racism. People are quick not to paint the entire White community with a broad brush and are always defending the honor of the “good” White people. But the time has come to call all Whites into account for the indiscretions of the few, because the many are the reason the few continue to persist and obtain. As long as the “White Wall of Silence “ exists no one can be held guiltless.

Some weeks after the Jones incident when Lebron James’ home in Los Angeles was vandalized by racial epiteths, I was listening to the Michael Kay show podcast; a well-known NYC shorts talk show. Kay voiced his strong consternation for this despicable act. He wondered why someone believed they had the right to do such a dastardly thing to another human being. His co-host Don La Greca gave his point of view sharing his incites that focused on the individual act of a horrible person that for some unknown reason had gone off the deep end. But then their third host, Peter Rosenberg, a younger millennial, brought a different perspective. One that was broader and more comprehensive. He began to talk about the history of racism, how it was systemic and that the action of this person was not as isolated as the older hosts were portraying it. He saw the actions of the vandal as symptomatic of a larger American racial problem that they all were responsible to address. His older co-hosts became somewhat quiet to his angle of the problem. While they were willing to vilify a single white knuckleheaded yahoo, they were slow to see the issue as a corporate systemic community problem. They were unwilling to address the ‘white wall of silence’.

What is the White wall of silence? It is a wall that is erected when all-white grand juries refuse to render an indictment against a fellow white police officer who has been videotaped killing an unarmed African American male, merely because the white, armed trained police officer, who has taken an oath to serve and protect every citizen claims, “he feared for his life,” even when the unarmed African American male is a young child playing in a public park. Or a white juror who can not bring him/her self to convict a white police officer who is videotaped shooting an African American male in the back while running away from him and then afterwards, tries to plant a weapon on the shot Black victim’s person.

For every white yahoo that hurls a racial slur at Adam Jones or attacks and terrorizes my childhood friend Eric and his classmates, there are 10-20 other “normal” fair-minded whites that know them, tolerate them and do nothing to make them feel any sense of disenfranchisement or ostracism. Their indifference and benign neglect becomes an assent.

But there are those who feel no obligation or responsibility to intervene in situations that do not involve them. They take the Cain approach and ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” For those who take such a position, I will share two texts of scripture. The first is in Exodus 23:2 NTL, it ways —“You must not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you are called to testify in a dispute, do not be swayed by the crowd to twist justice.” And then for those who try to stand as silent bystanders and do nothing, Proverbs 24:12 says NLT—“Don’t excuse yourself by saying, “Look, we didn’t know.” For God understands all hearts, and he sees you. He who guards your soul knows you knew. He will repay all people as their actions deserve.” The Message is even more emphatic. It says—If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,” will that get you off the hook? Someone is watching you closely, you know— Someone not impressed with weak excuses.” There is no such thing as a neutral zone for Christians when it comes to acts of evil perpetrated in our midst. We are expected by God to stand for what is just and right and against sin and evil.

Behavior modification is gradual and subtle. It is much like the adjustment your eyes make when you go from a bright atmosphere into a darker environment. When you enter a darker room at first you cannot see very clearly but eventually yours eyes adjust to the dark and your vision becomes very clear. You can never believe that closing your eyes to evil will not eventually cause you to become the very thing you give assent to.

So the day after Adam Jones revealed his experience in the outfield at Fenway, before his first at bat, the fans gave him a standing ovation. What a nice gesture. Something we’re big on in this country. But has Boston changed? Will the racial intolerance that has been a strong staple in some segments of Boston ever cease or at least be given no quarter of tolerance? Of course not. As long as the White Wall of Silence remains, Boston will still be Boston and Adam and Eric will still be linked, etched in my memory for all times by another horrific senseless unnecessary racist incident that the White community continues to support by its silent appeasement.

On June 12, 1987 as the Cold War was waning, President Ronald Reagan traveled to the Western Berlin Wall to make a historic speech. The Reagan administration was known for staging impeccable events that took advantage of the president’s oratorical skills. Reagan was known as the “Great Communicator.” And regardless of what your political affiliation, President Reagan was a great speechmaker. It was a part of his mystique and influence as an effect leader. Well, President Reagan stood on a podium at the Brandenburg Gate and with crowds before him, waving American and West German flags, he announced to the Soviets, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!”

Well I would like to make a similar appeal to all of my Anglo brothers and sisters today who have been supporting the “White Wall of Silence,” that has been erected and maintained for centuries in America…I say to all of you lovingly and passionately, “If you truly seek peace, harmony, unity and racial reconciliation. If you truly want justice to flow like a river and righteousness as a mighty stream, then TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!”

[1] Lauber, Scott, espn.com. May 3, 2017.

[2] Associate Press, Boston, November 16, 1977.

[3] NY Times, 3 Acquitted in Assaults on Blacks, December 7, 1978.

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