Does Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier matter?

Progress. That’s a matter of interpretation. For Black Americans in the United States, progress often comes with a caveat. It seems like every time Black Americans take a step into humanity, we’re kicked right back to sitting in the back of the bus. 

Robinson was supposed to be that progress-opener for America. In many ways, the Hall of Famer was. The great Jackie Robinson Experiment through the brain-making prism of Branch Rickey, came into fruition in 1947 when Robinson officially broke baseball’s color barrier. 

Yeah, for integration. April 15 is supposed to be the day Americans everywhere celebrate Robinson and his rightful contribution to help make this country a better place to live. But did he? One man cannot carry the mantle of a whole race on his back, although Robinson, and later Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., tried to do so. 

It’s an incredible burden to have to carry the weight of an entire class of people on your broad shoulders. Because baseball was largely considered America’s favorite pastime, Robinson left more than his mark on the sport. He left an indelible legacy. 

But of course, that would come at a price. The same year that he played his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson would win Rookie of the Year honors. It was a great honor indeed. 

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers uniform, 1954. Courtesy photo

However, as a Black man in a very white-dominated world, Robinson and the rest of Black America were forced to take into the context of a sobering reality that lynchings were still the norm in the United States. 

According to a study presented by the Tuskegee Institute in 1947, there were as many as 3,432 lynchings of Black people since 1882. And the very same message of dusting off racism in the country prevalent today through the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of police shootings of Black people was being hammered by W.E.B. DuBois in a speech address to the United Nations.  

One step forward. Ten steps back. That seems to always be the case for Black people in America. The date April 15 is supposed to be a wonderful, joyous day for Major League Baseball as the honoring of Robinson is seen as a tool to promote diversity and equality for all of America. 

But how do you promote inclusion when a 20-year-old Black man loses his life senselessly over a minor traffic stop while thousands of white insurrectionists are allowed to invade and deface the U.S. Capitol as they commit treasonous acts? 

How do we as a nation continue to fix our lips to say One Nation Under God when the country we are still living in still operates under the separate and unequal doctrine? 

There’s nothing equal about the police shooting and killing Black people. There is a lot of unequal justice when it comes to this subject. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Philando Castile. Breonna Taylor. Walter Scott. Elijah McClain. Michael Brown. Ezell Ford. Daniel Prude. Rayshard Brooks. The list of names is too long. 

A protester holds up an artistic likeness of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Los Angeles, California, on June 3, 2020. The protest was part of nationwide and global unrest in wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others who have died in police custody. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

These are the names we have become familiar with. We shouldn’t be. We should have no clue who these individuals are. We only know them because they were killed by police. During his heyday as a baseball novelty superstar, Robinson and other Black people had to watch their every move to avoid being strung up on a tree somewhere. 

Today, the gun has replaced the tree. Daunte Wright lost his life because of it. In the case of George Floyd, a knee to the neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, rendering the 46-year-old Black man lifeless, is too gut-wrenching to go through. 

There is no level playing field when it comes to freedoms that are supposed to be granted to everyone under the law. That’s only a pipe dream. 

When Black American ancestors were brought to America, we were never supposed to be free. Our ancestors were brought here to be servants to a dominant culture forever. After all, the U.S. Supreme Court at one time did declare that we were just three-fifths human. Now, how does all of this tie in with Robinson and the special day that is his?

Well, consider that racial animosity towards Black Americans then and now has not changed much. While people will come out with their platitudes and nice and polite things to say in regards to Robinson and his quiet dignity in handling the 800-pound of race, it would be somewhat hypocritical. 

We’ve made progress, but not nearly enough. Not when you consider that Colin Kaepernick lost his career for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem to address police brutality in this country. This was back in 2016. 

© May 31, 2020 -Photo by Dennis J Freeman for News4usonline – Black Lives Matter Los Angeles protest in Long Beach, California. Thousands of demonstrators came out to protest the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Minneapolis man who died in police custody on May 25, 2020

The death of Wright, Floyd, Taylor, McClain, and others, fly right in the face of the NFL and the league’s hypocrisy around Kaepernick. I don’t care how many special diversity initiatives they try to come up with. It’s nothing but a false sale of goods. 

The NFL can blackball a Black man for standing (or kneeling) to address racial inequality when it comes to the criminal justice system, but in the same breath hire a Black woman to be a running backs coach, all under the guise of equality. 

What if that Black woman gets into an altercation with the police, or worst, experiences some form of police brutality? What will the league’s diversity message be then?  

For some reason or another, everything keeps coming back to race. And when it comes to race and the times that Robinson lived and played in, the Moore’s Ford Lynching, just a year before he made his introduction to the baseball world, serves as a reminder of what Black Americans were going through. 

The Moore’s Ford Lynching, killings of four Black people by a white mob is considered to be one of the last mass lynchings in the United States. And then just think, Emmett Till was lynched and killed eight years after Robinson made his entry into the major leagues.  

The unfortunate commonality between the era that Robinson played in and today is that Black people continue to be executed with little or no impunity or repercussion. A white serial killer can walk into a Black church and commit a mass killing and gets treated to lunch by the arresting cops. Wait. What?   

It used to be the rope and a white robe that would bring terror to Black Americans. That fear has been replaced by the badge and a gun. 

So what real progress have we made as a country? Will we continue to hide behind the lie of sports and entertainment to blind us to the truth? Will we continue to stick our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t see or hear anything? Attitudes don’t change. People do. 

Featured Image: Baseball star and the first black player in the major leagues, Jackie Robinson, is shown in an October 1947 portrait by Scurlock Studios. The photo was probably taken when Robinson was in town to do a week-long, five-show-per-day performance at the Howard Theater with Monte Hawley.