In the press box at Zephyrs Stadium — NOLA is playing the first of a four-game set against the Iowa Cubbies. It was pouring all morning, then the heavens cleared and now it’s sunny.
During the pregame, I had an interesting conversation with the New Orleans Advocate‘s Zephyrs beat writer, Darrell Williams, if he doesn’t mind me dropping his name. The banter in the box entered Negro Leagues territory with mention of Toni Stone.
One thing led to another — I know comic Brian Regan said “one thing led to another” lazy writing — and I stated that I believed Oscar Charleston was the greatest all-around baseball player in history, bar none.
Darrell, who’s African-American, said, “Who’s that? I’ve never heard of him.”
I, in keeping with my often irascible personality, responded with incredulity and indignation.
“How can you not know who Oscar Charleston is?!?!?” I retorted in astonishment and with more that a touch of sanctimony. “You’ve black! How can you not know who Oscar Charleston. You need to be proud of your own culture!”
Darrell wasn’t pleased with that statement. He answered with his own dollop of indignation that was half joking and half truly angry.
“I can’t believe you said that!” he blurted. “Just because I’m black, I should know who this guy is? That’s such a racist statement, and you don’t even realize it!”
That assertion kind of blind-sided me a fair amount, and it made me reflect almost immediately on what I had asserted to Darrell and, on a deeper level, my own attitudes about race and African-Americans in baseball and in baseball history.
My statement to him was borne out of my long-held frustration and amazement that I, as a pasty white boy from a high school whose number of black students numbered in single digits, frequently know so much more about African-American history — whether it be sports, music or politics — than many average African Americans.
To me, that ignorance is just tragic for a segment of the American population that has struggled so long and so hard for equality, freedom and respect.
For comparison, I reflect on my own heritage. I’m one-fourth Newfie — my paternal grandmothers’ family is from Newfoundland, which has an amazingly distinct, rich culture and history. But many Canadians across the rest of Canada deride Newfoundland that country’s version of a hick state, an island filled with dumb, uneducated, lazy rednecks. Newfoundland is “Canada’s West Virginia.” (I will add that I don’t feel that way about West Virginia, but many people I’ve talked to use that term to sarcastically describe Newfoundland.)
As a result, I’m proud to be a Newfie. It’s a badge of honor. Newfie’s have fought for respect and have worked to engender self-pride and knowledge of our culture. So would I would view Newfoundland natives who are ignorant of their own culture and history to be “less Newfie” than others? Is that far to tie that tag on such people?
And ergo, is my statement to Darrell accurate or even fair? And is it racist?
After a bit of jibing back and forth, Darrell acknowledged that he was just messing with me, which I understood.
But my questions remain, and it’s the one I pose to you: Should African Americans be somehow “required” to know about their culture and history, including the Negro Leagues? And, if they don’t have that knowledge, are they somehow “less black” or “not sufficiently” proud of being black than African Americans who are more knowledgeable?
I’d love to get your thoughts …