Say it ain’t so Sox fans.
Last week while the Red Sox were battling the Baltimore Orioles baseball team on the field, things got really ugly off the field, in the stands, on a blustery and chilly Monday night. Orioles’ center fielder Adam Jones was the target of racial slurs hurled from the bleachers by lughead Boston fans. To the Sox credit, the team responded quickly and forcefully, decrying the incident and instituting a new fan behavior policy. Future similar racist incidents will now result in immediate ejection and a lifetime ban from the park. Fans even stepped up the next day by giving Jones a standing ovation on his first at bat.
End of story? Afraid not.
Because that would mean the end of the ancient and stubborn human sins of racism and bias. Now I believe that most humans in society and the world do hope and pray for that great day, when, in the words of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., all will be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the contents of their character. That’s the good news. That’s the dream of the majority of humankind. Of God, absolutely.
But the truth? We’ve got a long, long way to go yet.
Especially when we are still unwilling, as a society and individually, to confess to and to own our inherent bias and prejudice, as human beings. The truth that all, ALL OF US, carry within, the seeds of prejudice. Of looking at another and seeing a “them” or “those people” and not a flesh and blood child of God, just like us. Our species seems hard wired for racism, for “–isms” of all kinds. I know I am. My clergy collar does not exempt me from primordial feelings of fear or threat or anger or judgment towards those I perceive to be different than me. Race. Gender. Religion. Sexual orientation. Culture. Class. Politics.
What I have come to learn is this: until I face into that truth for me, own that reality, nothing will change in terms of how I live in this world.
Let’s be clear. To face this truth is really, really hard. As a lifelong Sox fan, I don’t want to face into the often ugly racial history of our beloved hometown team. The fact the Sox were the absolute last team in major league baseball to integrate, thirteen years after Jackie Robinson broke into the big leagues in 1946 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The fact that beloved African-American players in Boston through the years, like Jim Rice; they were subject to racism, and not just on the field or from the stands, but in the community too, the local places they chose to live and to raise a family.
I get that no one wants to be labeled prejudice. Not me. Not any of us. I get the reluctance and fear to look at ourselves so clearly, so without bias, when it comes to our bias. But here’s my truth: until I can admit to having a problem, the problem itself can’t and won’t change. Until I can confess that I, in fact, at times, actually benefit in this world: because of my skin color and how I choose to worship and who I choose to love; until I lean into this, things won’t change. I won’t change. The world won’t change.
I have to face the truth. Hear the truth too.
“Want to come to a Red Sox game with me?” Thirty years ago I was a first year divinity student at Boston University, a five minute walk down Commonwealth Avenue to Fenway Park. I offered this innocent invite to an African-American classmate of mine who’d told me she’d never seen a game.
“John: have you ever really looked around at the crowd at a game? Do you see a lot of folks who look like me?”
I thought about it for a moment. “No.” I confessed, confused and sad at this truth.
She said, “I just don’t feel safe or welcomed there, or in a lot of other parts of Boston either. But thanks for the invitation.”
When it comes to bias, we as a people, a city, a nation and a world: we’ve come a long, long way. But…we’ve still got a long, long way to go. That’s the truth. Just ask Adam Jones.