Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lessons from 42

I saw 42 last weekend with the Mrs and was very happy to hear that over the first weekend, it was the highest grossing baseball movie ever.  I liked the way the movie was done because it gave you enough to have a conversation about what you were seeing and it elicited an emotional response about what went on during that time.  It got me to thinking about how I might teach this movie if I were still in the classroom.  Here are a couple of the things that stuck out for me.

1.  The Amount of Accomplishment it Took to Break Through White Privilege

Jackie Robinson was selected by Branch Rickey to break the color barrier in baseball from among many accomplished Black ball players in the Negro Leagues.  It wasn't just about his prowess as a baseball player that made him the best candidate to be the "chosen one" but he had to be an all-around great human.  He couldn't be a criminal, a cheat, or a deadbeat husband, but instead, he had to be a patriot, a Christian, an activist, and a devoted husband and father.  The dichotomy between Jackie's resume and that of his white counterparts is a powerful symbol of privilege in this country. Valuable conversation can be had about the nature of privilege in this country and how it works.  Jackie Robinson's accolades off the field also provide a blueprint for what is possible today for young student athletes who face some of the same challenges of access and privilege that Mr. Robinson encountered.

2.  Ethnic Identity Discovery

Often the burden of figuring out one's identity is left to the "person of color" because they are the "other" whose existence lies outside the mainstream. In 42 you get to see how white players had to do their own searching to figure out their identities in the face of watching Mr. Robinson fight to maintain not only his identity as a baseball player and a Black man, but as a human.  Pee Wee Reese in particular is shown to progress from being someone reticent to deal with race issues to deciding that he cannot stand by and let a man be treated like an animal.

3.  Interest Convergence

While Branch Rickey may have had some sympathy for the plight of Black players given his past and his Christian beliefs, his fiscal legacy also stood to gain by being the first owner to bring Black players into the Major Leagues.  No major institution changes drastically without the gatekeepers recognizing that there is benefit in them giving a little.  On top of the financial bump at the gate from additional patrons, Rickey's Dodgers also would be the first to tap into a talented well of ball players by bringing in Negro League stars (at a cheaper price).  The more we can understand interest convergence at an early age, the more prepared young people are to make real change.  The case for some of our most pressing social issues today (gun control, immigration reform) won't get solved without the narrative being spun so that both sides feel like they got a win.

On another note:  Good luck to Kobe Bryant as he rehabs his torn achilles.  Keep praying not only for Boston, but the world.  We rise to violence way too quickly these days.

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