During my self-imposed hiatus from writing, I saw “42.” This is the movie based on the life of the first black baseball player to play in Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson. As I was a baseball player, I knew the story, but there was still one scene that I wanted to mention here. If you haven’t seen the movie, me talking about this one scene probably won’t spoil the movie for you. It doesn’t have anything to do with the “plot,” but I thought it was really important.
The scene I’m talking about is after Jackie is already on the team with the Dodgers. He had played with the team for some time now and there was a road trip to Cincinnati. Cut to the scene in Cincinnati and we’re shown a father and son. The son is talking to the dad about being excited to see his favorite player (Pee Wee Reese) do well today. The dad is encouraging about Reese doing well today, too.
Jackie and the rest of the team take the field. Immediately, the demeanor of the dad changes and he starts hurling racial epithets at Jackie. The dad wasn’t the only person to be acting in this way. The other fans in the stands started following suit.
The part I want to focus on is the child’s perspective. In the scene, the child looks up at the dad as the dad continues his barrage. The child then looks back at the fans behind to see that they’re doing exactly the same thing. Social learning. The kid then begins saying racial slurs about Jackie. It’s enough to make your stomach turn.
If you ever wondered how racism has persisted in the US even though the Civil Rights Act passed almost 50 (!) years ago, this scene exemplifies it.