If You Have to Hold Someone Back so You Can Win

…then you‘re not the best.

As we were learning about Hank Aaron’s career in class a couple of weeks ago, my students were amazed that he received death threats as his career home run count approached Babe Ruth’s record. We had a hard time wrapping our head around this on so many levels. For one, just the stunning racism of it was pretty terrible, but then, there was also the idea that a baseball record is worth this? They were all amazed that his skin color mattered that much in 1974, and that people would behave that way. (I know, buckle up, kids…)

What really struck me, though is that the perceived need to tell Mr. Aaron not to keep going is an agreement that he is an inherently better baseball player. Maybe you’re a terrible person, and you can’t stand to see a Black man have a top achievement, but what’s the story there? Let’s say you convince the man that it just isn’t worth it, and that he should call it quits. What you’re really saying is, “Our best isn’t the best, so we can’t have anyone else playing.” Is that fear? That sounds like fear. Because it sure doesn’t sound like white supremacy means that white people are better, but that they get to be better. Because if white supremacy were based in natural law or some terrible, racist claim, then there wouldn’t have to be threats. White people would naturally win contests and games. That’s what Hitler thought was going to happen, and what Jesse Owens proved wrong.

And I suppose I don’t have much of a point here beyond, “Racism is harmful and stupid,” but I’m just kind of thinking out loud. If you want to prove that you’re so great, go be great, don’t prevent other people from having access to greatness. And on one level, writing this out feels like the most obvious thing in the world, like something that doesn’t need to be said. And maybe five years ago, I would think this is too trite to share, but lately, I don’t know.

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