I’m both excited and apprehensive about the upcoming Jackie Robinson biopic, 42. I’m excited because any high-profile film and attendant discussion about the man Martin Luther King, Jr., called “a freedom rider before freedom rides” should be a positive. I’m excited because the film might stir people to read brilliant books like Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment, Chris Lamb’s Blackout and Arnold Rampersand’s Jackie Robinson: A Biography. I’m apprehensive because we know what Hollywood does to history. It’s not unlike what a monster truck does to a ferret: leaving it flattened and unrecognizable with all its sharp teeth knocked out. Historical movies about sports and the triumph over racism are often even worse. Films like Glory Road or Remember the Titans follow the s-i-c formula: segregation, integration, celebration. In a biopic of the man who broke baseball’s color barrier, that formula would be particularly ironic since Jackie Robinson was doubting his own integrationist belief in the better angels of this country at the end of his life. I will watch 42 with an open mind. However, here in advance are five aspects of Jackie Robinson’s tumultuous, politically complicated life story I fear won’t make the film’s final cut.
1. Branch Rickey was no saint. Based upon previews, it certainly appears that the hero of 42 will be not only Jackie Robinson, but Brooklyn Dodgers boss Branch Rickey played by Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford. Yet Rickey, while brave in bringing Robinson to the majors, hopefully will not be exempt from criticism. He is what Melissa Harris-Perry would call “an imperfect ally.” Rickey was responsible for Robinson’s entry in the majors. He also bears a great deal of weight for the implosion of the Negro Leagues, after Robinson made his debut in 1947.
The Negro Leagues weren’t just a place of thwarted ambitions for the country’s best African American players. They were also the largest national black-owned business in the country. Black owners, bookkeepers, trainers, coaches, and groundspeople were all part of what was a source of economic power, pride and self-sufficiency. Yet Rickey was ruthless in his dealings with Negro League owners, publicly claiming no obligation to compensate teams for signing away their talent. That became the pattern as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and many more were signed out of the Negro Leagues and this infrastructure of black economic power rotted away, creating a racial power imbalance in sports that persists to this day. Rickey’s pilfering, layered with a public campaign of denigration, set the Negro Leagues on the road to ruin.
Rickey was also, as he said proudly, “no bleeding heart.” He saw the economic advantage of showcasing, as Jackie Robinson said himself, “a patient black freak” for mass consumption. In fact, Rickey had far more public concern and condemnation for how black Americans would respond to Robinson than the reaction of white Americans. As he said at a mass meeting of New York’s “respectable” black community, “The one enemy most likely to ruin [Robinson’s] success are the Negro people themselves. You’ll hold Jackie Robinson days, and Jackie Robinson nights. You’ll get drunk. You’ll fight. You’ll be arrested. You’ll wine and dine the player until he is fat and futile. You’ll [turn him into] a national comedy and ultimate tragedy.” The audience applauded. I’d love to see the film dramatize this scene and educate people about pre-civil rights class tensions within the black community. I’m not hopeful.
2. Testifying against Paul Robeson. The most high profile political event in Jackie Robinson’s life is almost certainly not going to be in this movie. It was 1949, and Robinson took part in what he called “the greatest regret of my life,” testifying against perhaps the most famous African-American in the country, the singer, actor and communist-aligned activist Paul Robeson, in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. When Paul Robeson said, “Blacks would never pick up arms against the Soviet Union,” HUAC wanted to bury him. To legitimize their attack, they called on Robinson to testify. This made perfect sense as Rickey and the media had presented Robinson, a proud veteran and patriot, as a symbol of racial progress.
Robinson, in a prepared statement to HUAC, said, “Every single Negro who is worth his salt is going to resent slurs and discrimination because of his race, and he’s going to use every bit of intelligence he has to stop it. This has got absolutely nothing to do with what Communists may or may not do…. Blacks were stirred up long before there was a CP and will be stirred up after unless Jim Crow has disappeared.” Such a statement, both in the absence of a civil rights movement and directly in the face of a HUAC committee dominated by Dixiecrat segregationists, was incredibly brave.
However, it was Robinson’s next remark regarding Robeson that has stood the test of time. “I haven’t any comment to make except that the statement [about Blacks refusing to fight the USSR]—if Mr. Robeson actually made it—sounds very silly to me… Negroes have too much invested in America to throw it away for a siren song sung in bass.” With those words he had done the bidding of HUAC—giving them license and cover to attack and persecute Robeson. Robeson was asked to condemn Jackie Robinson but he wouldn’t do it. Jackie’s “greatest regret” should be a part of a film about his life.
3. The role of Lester “Red” Rodney and the Daily Worker newspaper. Speaking of Communists, without the radical Reds, it’s highly likely that Jackie Robinson never gets the chance to break the color line. Lester Rodney, the sports editor for the US Communist Party’s Daily Worker paper from 1936 to 1958, launched a high profile labor-based campaign to integrate baseball in the 1930s. (Like thousands of others, Rodney left the party in 1958 when the extent of the crimes of Joseph Stalin were revealed.) As he said, “[The campaign] just evolved as we talked about the color line and some kids in the YCL suggested, ‘Why don’t we go to the ballparks—to Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds—with petitions?'”
This was history-making work. That petition campaign evolved into the issue becoming part of May Day and Labor Day mass union demonstrations where the slogan “End Jim Crow in Baseball” was displayed with proud prominence. In the late 1990s, Rodney’s role was finally recognized and embraced. He was interviewed on ESPN and PBS and also spoke on panels in 1997, sitting next to Jackie’s widow Rachel Robinson. I saw in the credits of 42 that an actor plays Wendell Smith, the legendary sports columnist and editor for the black newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier. Smith worked alongside and exchanged articles for publication with Lester Rodney. I didn’t see anyone playing Rodney. It’s a greasy move if the filmmakers, after 15 years of appreciation and three years after his death, shove Lester Rodney back in the closet.
4. Jackie Robinson: Republican? Whether the powers behind 42 are Republican or Democrat, tackling Jackie’s own politics are both an education as well as somewhat embarrassing for both parties. Robinson was a Republican for most of his life and people like former RNC chair Michael Steele have raised this in speeches as a way to highlight the party’s historical roots in the black community—as well as a way to deny the present evidence of racism. But Robinson was a Republican because, from his Georgia birth, he had a hardened, and quite justifiable, view that the Democrats were Dixiecrats—the party of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow. When John Kennedy gave his speech to the Democratic National Convention, Robinson saw sitting by JFK’s side none other than Democratic Governor of Arkansas and notorious segregationist Orval Faubus, and this confirmed his worst fears that little had changed. But Robinson would be devastated as the Republicans became the new home of the Dixiecrats after Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. When he was a guest at the 1964 Republican convention and heard Barry Goldwater speak, he said that as a black man, he finally understood “how it felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.” By 1968, he had endorsed Hubert Humphrey for President over old friend Richard Nixon. He’s a Republican like Frederick Douglass was a Republican: a member of a party that no longer exists.
5. Political transformation. Robinson’s ideas further changed over the last five years of his life. He disagreed with his friend Dr. King for opposing the war in Vietnam. But then the realities of the war came crashing into his own life. His son, Jackie, Jr., saw combat in Southeast Asia and returned deeply scarred—carrying a gun, jumping at shadows and addicted to drugs.
Jackie, the fervent anti-communist, began to change his own views: “As I look around today and observe how lost and frustrated and bitter our young people are, I find myself wishing that there was some way to reach out to them and let them know that we want to help. I confess I don’t know the way.” By the end of 1968, he supported the much-criticized movement among black athletes to boycott the Olympics, writing, “I do support the individuals who decided to make the sacrifice by giving up the chance to win an Olympic medal. I respect their courage. We need to understand the reason and frustration behind these protests… it was different in my day, perhaps we lacked courage.”
In 1969, this “veteran,” “Republican” and “anti-communist” wrote, “I wouldn’t fly the flag on the fourth of July or any other day. When I see a car with a flag pasted on it, I figure the guy behind the wheel isn’t my friend.” I could very well be wrong. Maybe the film will be a politically sophisticated magnum opus. Maybe it will cover some of the above with nuance and flair. Or maybe we will be treated to yet another race and sports fable of segregation, integration and celebration. I hope not. History is often contradictory and complicated, and the best movies share these traits. Let’s hope 42 embraces—and doesn’t ignore—Jackie’s contradictions, because it’s within them that we learn the most pungent lessons for today. It’s also within them that his bravery and sacrifice can best be appreciated in full.
******Trigger WARNING ***********
There are several videos in this post, so click here to see them; also included is image from Dolce & Gabana that I had planned to talk about last week).
Some Notes On Rape Culture
I happened to catch a tweet from Karnythia yesterday that turned my blood cold.
#rapeculture hurts everyone. The same rhetoric VSB spouted is used in court to make sure less than 20% of all rapists do time.
Turns out, Damon (a.k.a. The Champ) decided to create a really flip response to Zerlina Maxwell’s Ebony.com piece “Stop Telling Women How to Not Get Raped.” Despite Maxwell writing lines like these:
Our community, much like society-at-large, needs a paradigm shift as it relates to our sexual assault prevention efforts. For so long all of our energy has been directed at women, teaching them to be more “ladylike” and to not be “promiscuous” to not drink too much or to not wear a skirt. Newsflash: men don’t decide to become rapists because they spot a woman dressed like a video vixen or because a girl has been sexually assertive.
How about we teach young men when a woman says stop, they stop? How about we teach young men that when a woman has too much to drink that they should not have sex with her, if for no other reason but to protect themselves from being accused of a crime? How about we teach young men that when they see their friends doing something inappropriate to intervene or to stop being friends? The culture that allows men to violate women will continue to flourish so long as there is no great social consequence for men who do so.
Damon still decided to write his piece, essentially asking this question:
But, why can’t both genders be educated on how to act responsibility around each other? What’s stopping us from steadfastly instilling “No always means no!” in the minds of all men and boys and educating women how not to put themselves in certain situations? Of course men shouldn’t attempt to have sex with a woman who’s too drunk to say no, but what’s wrong with reminding women that if you’re 5’1 and 110 pounds, it’s probably not the best idea to take eight shots of Patron while on the first, second, or thirteenth date? Yes, sober women definitely get raped too, but being sober and aware does decrease the likelihood that harm may come your way, and that’s true for each gender.
It seems as if the considerable push back again victim-blaming has pushed all the way past prudence and levelheadedness, making anyone who suggests that “women can actually be taught how to behave too” insensitive or a “rape enabler.” And, while the sentiment in Maxwell’s article suggests that victim-blaming is dangerous, I think it’s even more dangerous to neglect to remind young women that, while it’s never their fault if they happen to get sexually assaulted, they shouldn’t thumb their noses to common sense either.
Damon’s already (somewhat) apologized and been raked over the coals by folks on his site, Twitter, and Tumblr.
So my goal in writing this piece isn’t to hold him accountable–that’s already gone on. My goal in writing this is to answer his question. And since I recently gave a talk at Swarthmore on rape culture, I just so happen to have a bunch of examples and facts right at my fingertips.
First, the primary premise is flawed.
Damon seems to think that reinforcing to men that circumstances and consent are different things means that we are also letting women off the hook for reckless behavior. However, most men aren’t privy to all the rape prevention tactics women employ everyday, as a matter of course. (For the purposes of this discussion, the framing will be around cisgender, heterosexual men and women, though we are not the only people impacted by this type of thinking and this type of violence.)
I could share stories about being told from the time I started going out to always cover your drink with a napkin, never be alone after dark, always have your keys out in case of an attack, to never be alone with a guy you don’t know. I was also told not to open the door for boys I didn’t know, but in my case, it was the boy you kind of know that gets you. But I digress.
We could tell our stories all day, but where’s the data? When I presented at Swathmore, I ran a little experiment based on a question I had. How do men talk about rape? So I took it to the newsstands.
Cosmopolitan Magazine is best known for it’s unrelenting focus on sex tips, meeting men, and the ubiquitous “75 new ways to make him pop!” feature. However, in each issue, Cosmo always has something on rape prevention. Since they are the most popular magazine sold on college campuses, they just rolled out an initiative on stopping campus rape, encouraging their readers to lobby their schools and Congress for changes. If you search the content on the Cosmo website, a search for rape pulls up 24 action oriented articles–however, that is misleading as the majority of Cosmo’s content in magazine exclusive, so a lot of their monthly features aren’t in there. I’ve been reading Cosmo since I was 17–if they run one article on rape prevention each month (and sometimes, they run two), I will have consumed 132 of them. And that’s just Cosmo. Other major women’s magazines, like Essence, Marie Claire, and Glamour also cover rape, but not with the same frequency as Cosmo.
So how do Men’s Magazines stack up?
Interestingly, most men’s magazines don’t do “How Not to Rape” articles. They don’t really do “How Not to Get Raped Articles.” A further reading into what these articles were about revealed that most of the articles listed on men’s mags weren’t about rape at all–many were jokes about prison rape (or reviews of Oz) or contained the specific phrase “against abortion except in cases of rape of incest.” With one huge exception from Esquire‘s Tom Chiarella, the majority of men’s articles that mention rape aren’t actually dealing with the subject.
In my talk, before I got into the rape-culture nitty gritty, I asked students to consider a scenario:
[A] spends a late night drinking heavily at a bar. After going a few rounds [A] meets a group of people that includes [B]. [A] continues to hang out with the group for a while, drinking more and more. Later, [A] ends up with [B] alone. [A and B] are both dating other people. Something went down – but [A] was so drunk [A] doesn’t remember exactly what happened. Neither does [B].
I asked who was at fault. There are no easy answers. If I say A is female, a lot of people responding to Champ’s post might have said that she needed to take responsibility for drinking so much. But what if I say A is male and B is female?
This is the rape story in Details, about a guy named Kevin Driscoll who was brought up on rape charges. He’s the person I condensed into the A story.
As he was packing the car, Driscoll got a call on his cell phone. “I don’t know if you know who this is or not,” the caller said, “but, um, this is the girl from the other night.” He remembered her as the pale brunette with the big smile he’d picked up two nights earlier at the Tumble Inn, a dive bar a couple of miles from his home in Redmond. They talked for a few minutes. The woman said she was in a relationship and was freaked out about contracting an STD. Driscoll assured her that he was clean but promised he’d get tested again. “Like, why didn’t you just stop, like, when I was trying to tell you no?” she casually added. “Well, you didn’t say no,” he responded. Soon the woman wished Driscoll a good day, and he hung up, perplexed. He got everyone in the car and started to drive, but he didn’t get far—a police car pulled him over a few blocks away, in front of Pappy’s Pizzeria. Moments later, four more squad cars appeared. The officers, their hands on their guns, ordered Driscoll and Dunn out of the car. One took Driscoll aside and told him he’d have to come down to the station. Driscoll asked for a minute to talk to Dunn, who was getting visibly upset. “That cop told me you beat some girl to death and raped her,” Driscoll recalls her screaming as he walked toward her. “What the fuck is going on?!”
And so began Kevin Driscoll’s nightmare. Charges of first-degree rape—three counts. A very public humiliation. Two trials. And the loss of just about everything he valued in life. After two years, Driscoll was acquitted of all charges—when the not-guilty verdict was handed down, each of the jurors shook his hand—but to him that’s no more than a footnote to the fact that he will forever live under a cloud of accusation, a pariah. Last Halloween he ran into two friends who hadn’t spoken with him since he was taken into custody. “I heard everything worked out for you,” one had said. “Yep, that’s what I heard too,” Driscoll said.
“You didn’t say no” is not a “yes.” And somehow I doubt that people tsk-tsked Driscoll about taking responsibility for how much he was drinking and going home with people he didn’t know. That’s almost exclusively reserved for women. Ultimately, a jury decided to clear Driscoll of the charges–but reading that story as a feminist, I wonder what kind of messages Driscoll received about rape and consent. (Not to mention fidelity.)
Moving on from Driscoll, the crux of my talk was that pop culture helps to normalize rape culture by painting problematic behavior as okay, and even laudable or romantic. Case in point: The Twilight Series. There’s a lot of questionable content in there, that has been discussed for years and years at this point. But it is fascinating to contrast a scene that made it into the movie and the book.
(Notice that undercurrent of violence right there amongst all the sweet talk? Rape culture harshes my squee, son. They’re making it hard to be Team SuckaAssJacob.)
You know what’s so bad about that scene? Besides the fact that you have a man literally forcing himself on a woman (just not with his penis)? The one in the book is actually worse!
Why is she using the type of tactics that rape survivors describe to escape from the situation to talk about this kiss?
But Jacob is still one of two heroes, and he and Bella go on to share a consensual kiss later in the series.
Films and books aren’t the only places where rape culture is normalized.
(Relevant part of the clip starts at 6:05 with Beverly Guy-Sheftall and runs to the end.)
Sut Jhally takes a multi-genre look at how rape culture is encoded in our society, with seemingly innocuous choices in music videos. While Jhally makes powerful points by just stripping away the sound, but he really drives the point home at 4:12, where he contrasts the images of women being assaulted in Central Park with popular music video tropes.
Here’s what he concludes:
Rape culture is why we have to treat random men on the street like Schrodinger’s Rapist. Because we don’t know. And we can’t know.
To expand on an earlier point, here’s the full Limp Bizkit video:
What Durst fantasizes about in the video has been conveyed to me by men on the street time and time again. Reject me, there will be violence. Accept me, and there will be love (edged with a violent threat). This video isn’t just exploring the pornographic imagination, as Jhally says–at this point, we’ve entered the psychopathic imagination. In this world, a woman will acquiesce to a man’s demands through a combination of pretty words and violence. Durst’s created world is disturbing–a kidnapped and terrified woman will eventually come around to love? Are you fucking kidding me?
At this point, people who haven’t spent a lot of time thinking through rape culture will be screaming. “All men aren’t like that!” Yeah, most of us are aware of that. But it only takes one to change how you approach other interactions forever. It only takes one to destroy your trust in the inherent goodness of other people. And it only takes one to fuck up your life.
The men reading this probably aren’t that one guy. (Then again, you could be…to someone else.)
But most of us have already met him.
Women are told, over and over again, that it is their responsibility to keep themselves safe. And in the event that you fail, rape culture will ensure that people will blame you for dropping your vigilance, while directing little, if any attention to the person who actually acted without consent. And this is why we started shifting the conversation to speak to men directly.
Because all the words aimed at us still aren’t keeping us safe.
For those who didn’t do this one before, another opportunity
Scenario: You are a single parent living in Pullman. You work full time (40 hours a week) at a local fast food restaurant and make approximately $18,803.00 a year before taxes and other standard deductions (at WA’s minimum wage $9.04). Your annual net salary (what you take home) is around $13,000. You have two kids, ages 3 and 5. According to Federal guidelines, the minimum poverty threshold for a family of 3 is $18,530.00, which means you make too much money to qualify for financial assistance. That means that given Washington’s minimum wage (the highest in the nation), you and your children do not qualify for Head Start, food stamps, welfare checks, subsidized housing, subsidized childcare, or any other federal aid program.
Task: Based on that information, create a monthly budget for your family. Be sure to account for the following: • groceries • rent (in town, $700 for a two bedroom house/apt; out of town $450.00 for the same deal—if you choose to live out of town, you have no option but to own a car and incur in the expenses associated with it as listed below) • car payments/maintenance (if you wish not to have a car, you will need a bus pass—monthly expense $14 for you and $10 per child, a total expense of $408.00 a year). • car insurance • health insurance (no less than $3,000.00 a year for the three of you) • life insurance • gas • child care • utilities • electricity • phone/cell • garbage collection • water • cable • Internet connection • clothing for you and the children • entertainment • school supplies for older child • savings account • children’s College 529 Plans • retirement for you ‘
Things to consider: (1) Some of the things I listed above are optional (e.g., entertainment and cable), but others are definitely not. (2) Although things like clothing and school supplies are not needed on a monthly basis, you still need to budget for them, as this is a yearly salary. Even if you only buy them once or twice a year. (3) Give realistic numbers, for this is a real budget and a real situation for way too many people in our state/country. Finally: That is all the money you have. No “my parents sent me money,” and no “I won the lottery.”
For most people in this situation, those are not real options. In space below, provide a budget and provide explanation for what you spent money on, why, what issues you thought about; reflect on process
Thanks to Carmen Lugo-Lugo, who created this assignment
Last day to participate April 25
Watch the film below and write a 1-2 page reaction, review, and analysis. Opportunities ends April 20 – 25 points