THE ALL TIME, ALL AFRICAN-AMERICAN BASEBALL TEAM (According To Me)

(From left) Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Jackie Robinson, a trio of great Dodgers who are also three of my choices for this all-time team. Photo courtesy of si.com

 

LISTING SOME OF THE GREATEST PEOPLE WHO EVER PLAYED BASEBALL

This is a conjuring of an all-time team that I have wanted to do for a while.

As Major League Baseball is still struggling to increase the number of African-Americans among its 30 teams – the percentage is currently at 8% (which is an improvement from last season),

And as an African-American for whom baseball has been my favorite sport for pretty much my entire life,

I thought it was only appropriate, and a long time coming, for me to list my all-time African-American baseball team.

There will inevitably be some outstanding legends who will be left off my 25-man roster, which consists of Negro League stars who never got the opportunity to play in the Majors as well as big league legends whose names are all over the record books.

But that’s OK; I welcome the debate.

So here it is, my list of the 25 greatest black men who ever played baseball, by position – including a ten-man pitching staff and reserves as well as starters (listed below)…

 

  • Catcher:   JOSH GIBSON.   The Greatest Catcher Ever.  A lifetime batting average of over .350. Hit nearly 800 home runs in his career according to his Hall of Fame plaque (though with all the barnstorming I’ll bet it was well over 800),  while playing for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords.  I would personally take him over Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, or anyone else behind the plate.
  • First Baseman:   BUCK LEONARD.   Called “The Black Lou Gehrig”. Played for the Homestead Grays for 17 years, with a lifetime average of .320.
  • Second Baseman:  JACKIE ROBINSON.   For reasons that are SO obvious, if I have to explain…
  • Shortstop:  JOHN HENRY “POP” LLOYD.   Considered the first black baseball star, started with the Negro League’s Cuban X Giants in 1906 and played on various teams for 27 years. Was called “The Black Honus Wagner”, which Wagner stated he was honored by. None other than Babe Ruth said that he was the greatest ballplayer ever.
  • Third Baseman:   JUDY JOHNSON.  Played SO well in the Negro Leagues for 17 years, mostly for the Philadelphia Hilldales. The Philadelphia A’s’ legendary manager Connie Mack stated that he would have gladly signed him up if not for his skin color.
  • Left Field:   RICKEY HENDERSON.  The Greatest Lead-Off Hitter Ever.  Stole more bases (1,406), hit more lead off home runs (81), and scored more runs (2,295) than anyone who ever played the game. How could I possibly NOT include him in this all-time starting lineup?
  • Center Fielder:  WILLIE MAYS.  My choice for the greatest baseball player who ever lived. In the top ten in almost every hitting category. The reason why, as a longtime Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I don’t hate the San Francisco Giants – and considering the big Dodger-Giant rivalry, I’m probably the only Dodger fan who feels that way, because this legend was THAT great!
  • Right Fielder:   HENRY AARON.  MLB’s all-time RBI leader (2,297), and still in the eyes of many baseball fans the true all time home run leader. I personally consider Hank Aaron the classiest ballplayer of all time, for all the racist hell he went through in breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers.
  • Starting Pitcher:  SATCHEL PAIGE.   The Greatest Pitcher Ever.  His fastball was said to reach 105 miles an hour in his prime. Was SO extraordinary, he was able to win Rookie of the Year honors as a 42-year old with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 after having such an epic run with (mostly) the Kansas City Monarchs.

 

“The Father of Black Baseball”, Andrew Rube Foster. Photo courtesy of espnfrontrow.com

 

All right, having listed my starting nine of this all-time black baseball team, here’s the rest of my 25-man roster, starting with the rest of the pitching staff…

Starting Rotation:

  • BOB GIBSON – The St. Louis Cardinals’ best pitcher ever. Recorded the lowest earned run average in a season with his 1.12 in 1968. Was arguably one of the meanest pitchers for how he intimidated batters. Was so tough, he once continued to pitch after a line drive broke his leg.
  • DON NEWCOMBE – The best pitcher from the Dodgers’ Brooklyn days, and along with former manager Tommy Lasorda the Dodgers’ last links to that era; I had the honor to meet this man and get his autograph a few years ago. It’s an utter outrage that he’s not in the Hall of Fame!
  • VIDA BLUE – Arguably the biggest pitching star of the early 1970’s. Was one of the leaders of the Oakland Athletics’ dynasty of that period when they won back-to-back-to-back World Series.
  • FERGUSON JENKINS – One of only four pitchers to ever record over 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks, this Hall of Famer for (mostly) the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers is perhaps the best ballplayer to come out of Canada, and certainly the best pitcher.

Relievers (yes, I know they were starters, but this is to fill out the staff):

  • Closer:  LEE SMITH – One of the dominant closers of the 1980’s for mostly the Cubs, he had the all-time save record (478) until first Trevor Hoffman and then Mariano Rivera broke it.
  • JIM “MUDCAT” GRANT – The first African-American pitcher in the American League to win twenty games and to win a World Series game, done with the Minnesota Twins in 1965.
  • DOCK ELLIS – The Pittsburgh Pirates’ best pitcher in the early 70s, an essential part of their 1971 championship. Was particularly famous for pitching a no-hitter while on LSD against the San Diego Padres in 1970.
  • JAMES RODNEY (J.R.) RICHARD – One of my favorite pitchers as a kid! One of the guys that put the Houston Astros on the map in the 70s; imposing at 6′ 8″, threw blazing heat to the tune of being the first National League right hander to strike out 300 batters in a season. His career-ending, life-threatening stroke, suffered in 1980, was tragic.
  • “CYCLONE/SMOKEY” JOE WILLIAMS – Next to Satchel Paige, Williams was the greatest Negro League hurler, mostly for the New York Lincoln Giants in the 1910s and early 20s, and the Homestead Grays from the mid-20s to the early 1930s. SIGNIFICANT FACT: The only time Williams and Paige faced each other, in 1930, he beat Paige 1-0.

 

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Matt Kemp playing on Jackie Robinson Day, wearing his number. Photo courtesy of likrot.com

 

These seven guys make up the rest of my all-time black baseball team.

Most regretfully, there were plenty of players that I was forced to leave off as if I listed every deserving star, there would be at least fifty men on this team.

I do have an “honorable mention” list;  guys that, though there was no room on my 25-man team, it would have been a crime to not give them a shout-out.

They will be mentioned after I list the remaining players on this all-time black baseball roster…

  • Catcher:  ROY CAMPANELLA – A true legendary Dodger along with Jackie Robinson, winning three National League MVP awards in a five-year span from 1951-55 and, along with Jackie and Don Newcombe, was a leader of those “Boys of Summer” in Brooklyn.
  • First Baseman/Shortstop:  ERNIE BANKS – “Mr. Cub”. “Let’s Play Two!” The greatest Chicago Cub of all time, starring at two positions. A Hall of Famer, hitting 512 home runs, it was a shame that he passed away before his Cubs broke that 108-year drought and won that unforgettable World Series in 2016.
  • Second Baseman:  JOE MORGAN – Along with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, the Cincinnati Reds would not have been the “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s without this two-time MVP. Bill James, in his Historical Baseball Abstract, named him the greatest second baseman of all time ahead of legends like Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby.
  • Shortstop:  OZZIE SMITH – “The Wizard”. The greatest fielding shortstop ever. Wowed St. Louis Cardinal fans in particular with his incredibly acrobatic plays in the 1980s. His work with the leather – 13 Gold Gloves won between 1980 and 1992 – alone puts him on this all-time team.
  • Outfield:  FRANK ROBINSON – No way I could leave this Hall of Famer out; The only man to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues. The last man to win the Triple Crown, leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in while a Baltimore Oriole in 1966. The majors’ first African-American manager, making history with the Cleveland Indians in 1975. Enough said.
  • Outfield:  JAMES “COOL PAPA” BELL – The fastest baseball player of all time. Playing with (mostly) the Negro League’s St. Louis Stars over a 26-year career, it was famously said that Bell was so fast, he could turn off the light and be in the bed before the room got dark. And it was also reported that he once scored from first base on a sacrifice bunt.
  • Outfield:  OSCAR CHARLESTON – Was widely considered the best all-around player in Negro League history with a lifetime batting average of .357 over 28 years, including a .326 average against white major leaguers in exhibition play. Charleston was a center fielder and had a reputation as a most intense player who didn’t take any mess. He was listed as the fourth best ballplayer of all time by Bill James, behind Mays, Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976.

 

 

A nice pic of (IMO) the greatest baseball player ever. Photo courtesy of biography.com

 

 

Manager:  ANDREW “RUBE” FOSTER

“The Father of Black Baseball”. Not only was a standout player and manager for the Chicago American Giants in the first couple of decades of the 20th century, he started the Negro National League, the first real black professional league, in 1920.

 

HONORABLE MENTION – Four more players and one player/coach/manager/ambassador that I regretfully had no room for on this 25-man roster…

CURT FLOOD – It’s impossible to not include this center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinal teams of the 1960s.

And not just because of his seven Gold Gloves, as his stand against the indentured servant-like reserve clause, when he refused to be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and asked to be a free agent in 1970, eventually taking Major League Baseball to the Supreme Court, more than opened the door for players, like every other worker, to choose where they want to work and ultimately make millions.

In essence, he sacrificed his career for player freedom.

KEN GRIFFEY, JR – 630 home runs. A ten time Gold Glove award winner, with his Spiderman-like acrobatic catches. Basically saved baseball in Seattle. One of the newest Hall of Famers, elected in 2016. How can I possibly not mention him?

TONY GWYNN – ” Mr. Padre”. The greatest player in San Diego Padres history. The greatest pure hitter in the past 35 years. An eight-time batting champ. Came the closest to being the first man to bat .400 since 1941, hitting .394 in 1994. Had over 3,100 hits in a 20-year career with a lifetime batting average of .338. I don’t think I need to say anything else.

WILLIE STARGELL – “Pops”. The leader of the Pittsburgh Pirates throughout the 1970s, particularly during their “We Are Family” championship run in 1979. Also one of my favorite players and a true class act along with being a tremendous slugger.

BUCK O’NEILL – After watching him spin so many wonderful stories about his playing and managing days with the Kansas City Monarchs on Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary miniseries, he simply had to be given a special mention on this team; he was also the first African-American on a coaching staff, joining the Chicago Cubs in 1962. The fact that he has not been elected to the Hall of Fame despite being baseball’s ambassador and starting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is very upsetting.

OK, there you have it – my all-time African-American baseball club.

Though I know that there will be disputes over players that I left out a and gave honorable mention instead of putting them on the team outright – believe me, there were some very tough decisions involved – I hope this is enjoyed by those who read this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

 

One of the greatest Negro League teams ever assembled, the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords, featuring three members of my all-time team: Satchel Paige (top row, 3rd from left), Josh Gibson (top row, 4th from left), and Oscar Charleston (top row, far right). Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

 

 

 

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Why Are There So Few African-Americans In Baseball – My Thoughts On This Issue

KANSAS CITY, MO – JULY 10: National League All-Stars Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Michael Bourn #24 of the Atlanta Braves pose for a photo during batting practice before the 83rd MLB All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium against the American League on Tuesday July 10, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

 

ONE AFRICAN-AMERICAN’S OPINION AS TO WHY THE NUMBER OF BLACKS IN BASEBALL HAS DRASTICALLY DROPPED OVER THE PAST THIRTY YEARS

I’m something of an anomaly in the sports fan universe.

I’m an African-American who prefers baseball over football and basketball as his favorite sport, not only to play but also – with college football and women’s college gymnastics in second place – to watch.

Granted, I’m in my fifties and from a generation where baseball was more popular among blacks.

But considering the fact that the percentage of Black Americans playing Major League Baseball was at 7.73% last season compared to 19% in 1986,

I sometimes feel like a pink poodle in the African-American sports world.

TONS of stuff has been written and said regarding the factors contributing the number of blacks in America’s pastime falling; the talking heads on ESPN and the MLB Network has covered this issue to death at around this time every year, but,

After noticing this trend and listening to the talking heads, I reckon it’s high time for this longtime baseball/softball guy to officially offer my one-and-a-half cents as to why black kids are poo-poohing baseball for football and (particularly) basketball…

 

  • Lack of Interest

Contrary to what some may be thinking, there’s definitely no color line being redrawn, in the majors or at any other level.

If that were the case, the significant number of Latinos, especially from the Dominican Republic, wouldn’t ever see the diamond; indeed, there were and are plenty of players from the Caribbean whose skin is darker than mine!

Rather, I agree with the notion of African-American kids largely losing interest in baseball the past few decades, much preferring to be like LeBron James or Stephen Curry than Ken Griffey, Jr. or Tony Gwynn.

It also seems to me that baseball is seen as a “white” thing in the inner city communities in particular, a sport that’s “goofy” and not “cool”, too slow and “boring” for them due to the constant standing around and slower pace compared to football and basketball.

I think such would be the case even if there were an abundance of leagues and programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball In The Inner Cities) and the MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, CA, entities that are striving to increase interest and participation in baseball among black youngsters.

 

 

INSPIRING: Mo’ne Davis mowing down batters during the Little league World Series. Photo courtesy of variety.com

 

 

  • $$$$$

Not only has the oftentimes lack of necessary funds – gloves, bats and cleats as well as registering in Little League and travel ball programs are not cheap – stopped many African-Americans in the inner city from getting involved in baseball,

For the athlete who sees sports as a way out of a struggling life and into prosperity, a way to make his fortune and take care of his family, football and basketball are much more attractive.

Even though a successful career in “The Show” is safer and twice as long as an NFL or NBA career, the fact that aspiring football and basketball players can make big money right away out of high school or after one to three years in college,

And unlike their baseball counterparts not have to ride the buses in the minor leagues for an average of three years making next to no money –  with a minuscule chance of making the big leagues on top of that,

Is a significant incentive, as in the minds of I reckon many young African-Americans from the “hood”, why should they play in rinky-dink ballparks in teeny little towns in (oftentimes) the reddest of states full of folks who may not necessarily see them as equal human beings,  making peanuts and eating McDonald’s food when they can make HUGE bank playing in gigantic paradises like Jerry Jones’ AT&T Palace (I mean, Stadium) in Dallas?

Or at Los Angeles’ Staples Center with those three rows of luxury boxes?

Or that new state-of-the-art Heaven being built for L. A.’s Rams and Chargers in nearby Inglewood, CA right now?

Until MLB changes the way things are done in their farm systems in that context, this mindset will continue.

 

 

Hunter Greene (5) of the Notre Dame High School Knights pitches against the Alemany High School Warriors at Notre Dame H.S. on April 7, 2017 in Sherman Oaks, California. Greene is expected to be a high first round pick in the 2017 Major League Baseball player draft on June 12. Notre Dame defeated Alemany, 2-1. (Larry Goren/Four Seam Images via AP)

 

 

  • It’s a “Generation Gap” Thing

Related to baseball being seen as “uncool” among many African-American kids, I think it’s also a case of the game being seen by today’s millennials – of all races – as something that their parents and grandparents were and are into.

A big proof of this sentiment lies in the Negro Leagues, which were a pronounced part of black life and culture in this country in the years before Jackie Robinson’s debut with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Stars like Satchel Paige, Oscar Charleston, James “Cool Papa” Bell and Josh Gibson were just as big among blacks as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio were among whites, and contests like the annual East-West All-Star Game in Chicago’s Comiskey Park (the White Sox’s home) often drew sellout crowds of 50,000.

The kids who saw those games – and later Robinson and legends ranging from Willie Mays and Henry Aaron in the 1950s and 60s to Willie Stargell and Reggie Jackson in the 1970s to Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s to Frank Thomas in the 1990s and 2000s – were undoubtedly influenced by those players.

Much like they were influenced in a major way by Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in the 80s.

It’s no coincidence that baseball’s popularity factor among young black children started to significantly decrease, while basketball’s popularity began to greatly increase, in the 80s as black baseball fans grew old and passed away, leaving a vacuum that the NBA and the NFL – with guys like Walter Payton and Jerry Rice – filled quite neatly.

Personally,  as another illustration of this gap my affection for baseball came from my grandparents, who had Dodger games playing on the radio and TV, with the great Vin Scully doing the play-by-play, seemingly every day during the spring and summer.

I’m not sure if I would have embraced the game the way I did if not for that.

 

  • My View Of What’s Being Done About This Issue

Despite baseball making every effort to increase interest and participation among young African-Americans with RBI and the MLB Youth Urban Academies, I firmly believe that it comes down to this, as illustrated by this old saying…

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.

In other words, you can’t force a child – black or of any race – to like baseball or to play it.

For the same reason a Canadian kid who’s obsessive about hockey can’t be persuaded to eschew the diamond, an African-American kid who’s crazy about hoops – and for whom Kobe Bryant is next to God – cannot be persuaded to give that up to play baseball.

Or even add that sport in addition to basketball.

Which is why I sadly don’t expect the percentage of blacks in Major League Baseball to ever approach what it was in the 1980s again, as the best I can expect that percentage would be around 10%.

That would be my minimum goal if I were the MLB commissioner.

However, I do remain hopeful that the efforts to change this unfortunate trend produces moire positive results.

After all, I still regard baseball as being the best sport in the world.

 

 

One of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled: the Negro League’s Pittsburgh Crawfords, featuring icons like Satchel Paige (top row, 3rd from left), Josh Gibson (top row, 4th from left) and Oscar Charleston (top row, far right). Photo courtesy of diversity.appstate.edu

 

 

BLACK PANTHER: A Belated Review and Musings About The Smash Hit Movie

Photo courtesy of rogerebert.com

 

MY IMPRESSION OF THE MOVIE DEPICTING THE MARVEL COMICS SUPERHERO

When I read the rave reviews of Black Panther in the Los Angeles Times,

And when I saw on the news that the movie, directed by Ryan Coogler and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole and starring Chadwick Boseman as the title character, was an absolute smash hit, breaking box office records,

My prevailing thought was, “Looks like I’m gonna have to see it.”

It was just a matter of finding the time.

The time which I found yesterday as I went to a movie theater a few miles from my house to check out Black Panther for myself.

 

The Verdict (or my official review in other words)?

BLACK PANTHER WAS EXCELLENT.

SPECTACULAR.

OUTSTANDING in all aspects – story, plot, scenery, cinematography, art direction, costuming, acting performances.

 

 

The official trailer from “Black Panther”, courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

And a significant accomplishment in the sense that as Black Panther is, well, Black and from an African country whose technology, advancements, and standard of living matches any so-called “First World” country and then some,

Unlike the unfortunate images we get of emaciated refugees, tyrannical despot rulers, and extremist religious groups that slaughter entire villages and kidnap/enslave/rape scores of young girls and thinking nothing of it (read: Boko Haram in Nigeria) from that continent.

And even more significantly, this movie smashes the notion in mainstream Hollywood once and for all that a “Black” film can’t do well in the box office, particularly overseas.

Though I don’t expect Black Panther to win any large number of Oscars next year due to the fact that superhero movies rarely get any love from the Academy – because of when it was released, it’s not eligible for this year’s Academy Awards – I do expect it to get quite a few nominations, including best picture, director and actor/actress (both lead and supporting),

As well as more or less all the technical stuff; special effects, cinematography, art direction, costuming – which I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t win at least a couple of Oscars in those areas.

My thoughts regarding Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, Black Panther/the ruler of Wakanda who inherits the throne and, well…I’m not going to spoil the plot for you in case you haven’t seen it yet:

 

 

Lupita Nyong’o (left) with Chadwick Boseman in a scene from Black Panther. Photo courtesy of cnn.com

 

 

First Jackie Robinson in 42,

Then James Brown in Get On Up,

Then the great former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall,

Now this!

I certainly hope that this actor is enjoying his A-List status, as I consider him in that league now.

Especially since he’ll be playing Black Panther in several more movies in the coming years.

By the way,  I have four words for Coogler and Cole…

Start writing the sequel.

As for the other actors besides Boseman…

 

A VERY cool movie poster! Image courtesy of amazon.com

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt9UZo32KMk

An extended trailer for Black Panther, courtesy of YouTube (click on the link).

 

 

Michael B. Jordan as the villain/enemy Erik Killmonger was the standout among many standouts such as Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as General Okoye, and Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s ballsy, tech-savvy sister Shuri.

He was a true bad guy (I won’t spoil it and reveal what he does), but you also see the reasons why he’s bad.

And, in a way, you end up understanding the factors going into his evilness.

At least I understood it as I watched the film.

I particularly loved the scenery and the costumes; it has seemed that the beauty of Africa’s mountains, terrain, and the elaborate clothing that is worn there has never really gotten enough attention and due in Hollywood.

That, along with everything else, was busted with this production.

The bottom-line thing that I felt as I watched this movie was that Coogler (in this case) is doing an excellent job continuing what filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton were doing twenty and thirty years ago.

And of course it needs to go without saying that I’m very much looking forward to the sequel in two or three years.

I’ve got four more words to anyone and everyone who has not seen Black Panther…

GO SEE IT.

NOW.

 

The cast of Black Panther, including Chadwick Boseman as  the title character (fourth from right), Forest Whitaker (far left), and Angela Bassett (third from right). Photo courtesy of  bostonreview.net

 

 

 

 

Random Musings About Black History Month, 2018

Two of the most famous black people of African descent in history, in their only photo taken together. Photo courtesy of the odysseyonline.com

 

I’ll be honest, as always…

I can’t really think about anything original to write about to commemorate this year’s version of Black History Month, because I’ve already written a lot about the various topics and issues concerning African-Americans in blogs – mine and others – over the years.

I didn’t want to do what every other blog and site is doing and has done every year at this time and tout/laud the first Blacks to do this and the first blacks to invent that and the first blacks to stand up for whatever oppression.

As important as all of this is,  and as proud as I am over the MANY accomplishments and contributions  that Black people in this country and abroad have made to this world,

To me it’s simply a case of been-there-wrote-that and been-there-know-that.

And I’m sorry, but that’s just boredom-inducing to me.

One thought is prevalent in my mind, however…

It seems that it’s a terrible time to be an African-American right now, what with the President that we have, and all the alt-right movements and the blatant bigotry that has been abundant these past couple of years.

Come to think of it, it seems like it’s a terrible time to be anything but white, male, wealthy, conservative, straight,  Christian, or a combination of those six attributes, right now in America.

And it also seems that until our President-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is voted out in 2020 – the way he is and has been to anyone not like him, I’m confident of those chances – things will get worse for people who are not any of the six attributes named.

HAVING SAID THAT:

It’s nice to celebrate Black people of African descent this month, and I completely concur that it will always be necessary to have a focus on Black history – and the history of all people of color as well as women, non-Christians, and gays – every month of the year.

Not just February in Black history’s case.

But I firmly believe that we must also focus on the current realities of the bulk of African-Americans, who rather than having a dream ala Martin Luther King are having a nightmare of pronounced proportions, in virtually every possible way.

We must, once and for all, focus on how my fellow African-Americans who are living in misery, want and need can get out of such.

I have some thoughts on that, but I’ll save them for another time soon.

That’s about all I have to say right now…

 

I like this picture, for what I hope are obvious reasons. Image courtesy of bestwishesandgreetings.com

 

THE FOURTH EXCERPT OF “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” – Being Rejected By People Who Looked Like Me

While I can’t draw anything like this guy and am higher functioning, I can certainly relate to him. Photo courtesy of intersecteddisability.blogspot.com

 

THIS EXCERPT FROM MY UPCOMING BOOK – “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” – FOCUSES ON MY FEELING ALIENATED AND REJECTED BY SEEMINGLY TOO MANY PEOPLE IN THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY, SPECIFICALLY IN THE INNER CITY AS MY FELLOW BLACK KIDS, QUITE SADLY, BULLIED ME MORE THAN ANY OTHER GROUP AS A CHILD, SEEING ME AS A “GOOFY MARK” BECAUSE OF MY ASPERGER’S TRAITS.

HERE IS PART OF CHAPTER FOUR: “The Black Alienation”…

 

Mom and I went to celebrate the…festivities at a (place) which was located in a pretty much all-black (at that time) mid-to-lower income neighborhood full of people whom the only thing I had in common with – quite honestly and regretfully – was the color of our skin.

To a nine-year old boy on the Autism Spectrum who had interacted almost exclusively with white kids up to that point, I’m being brutally honest when I say that the folks in that neighborhood seemed loud, aggressive, crass, and just not very nice.

I won’t lie; it intimidated me.

During that late afternoon, I was sitting on a front porch when I was asked something about knowing how to fight.

I fully understand today that (the guy asking) was trying to toughen me up, to teach me how to defend myself and to not be so vulnerable, but he may as well have been speaking Sanskrit as I had absolutely no clue whatsoever of what he was getting at.

The next thing I knew, all these fists were landing on various parts of my body, mostly my arms and shoulders, but it seemed like a lot more body parts than that.

My attempts at fighting back at the seemingly dozens of people who by now had joined in were quite pathetic and futile as it culminated with some big thuggish-looking girl, who looked about 17 and had a big cast on her arm, clocking me with that cast, leading to some hysterical crying from me and much unhappiness as I went home that night, that traumatic memory ingrained into my gray matter for all time.

Being a sheltered Asperger’s boy, in my mind I was being bullied and abused by people who looked like me for no reason.

In retrospect, that beat down was symbolic of my alienation, ostracization, and rejection from African-American inner city culture, though in fairness I have to emphasize that nobody knew anything about me having Asperger’s Syndrome – I wouldn’t know for another twenty years – and I don’t blame anybody for any conflicts that might have stemmed from our background and socialization due to the fact that they were so different from me…

Getting back to that incident:

That episode set the tone for many of my future experiences in (Santa Monica’s) Pico Neighborhood.

Because of where I came from, I had absolutely no knowledge of what was considered “cool” as I was now living in an area where there were four liquor stores in a ten-block radius, seemingly large apartment buildings, five times the number of children running around, and alleyways with strange-looking writings on them; what the hell did I know about gang-banging and tagging?

I had no clue that among many, if not all, black youth in the lower-income hoods, being academically intelligent and getting good grades was considered a nerdy “white” thing, nor did I know about having a good part of being “cool” depending on how tough and “hard” you were; your brawling ability and how many kids you could beat up.

I was likewise ignorant of needing to have good gross motor skills, needing to be able to catch, throw, dribble, shoot, and hit a ball to be accepted, and woe be to those who didn’t wear the “fresh” fashions as to not dress like the dancers on that TV show “Soul Train”, seemingly, was a crime punishable by social death.

In those areas of “Blackness”, I failed miserably and fell way, WAY short of the mark as with my autistic tendencies, it was sort of inevitable that I would.

…when my toughness or “hard” factor was tested by the other black kids in school (Marlon* mostly, but there were others) and elsewhere by being punched all of a sudden, I either ran to a teacher or I cried like a little so-called “bitch”.

(* = not his real name)

One can imagine how that went down, my reacting the way I did instantly relegated me to being “scary” and an easy “mark”, and being made fun of accordingly. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just leave me alone or accept me as a young brother in the name of that Black Unity concept that was still all the rage in the 1970s.

 

This sort of says it all. Image courtesy of ollibean.com

 

This “mind-blindness” aspect of the Autism Spectrum Disorder rendered me as more or less incapable of knowing how to do what was necessary to be accepted and liked among too many of my fellow black kids in Santa Monica’s inner city community.

Another prominent word that too many of my young black peers in the Pico called me on a regular basis was the same name as one of Walt Disney’s iconic characters, a certain tall, skinny long-eared black dog going by the name of…

“Goofy”

That two-syllable epithet was something I heard from various kids – some of them white and Latino as well as many of the black kids – for years as “Big Goofy” “Goofy-Ass Mark”, and (pardon the expression) “Goofy Faggot” were just some of the taunts directed to me at school, on the playground, in the street, and pretty much everywhere else in that part of town. Being that I fell well short of the Pico’s coolness standard, I suppose it was inevitable that I was treated the way I was.

I imagine that some people may read this and think that I’m blanketing all African-American youth, over generalizing and saying that every black I encountered treated me like shit, bullying me and calling me all those bad names.

That, I need to emphasize, was NOT the case as I want to make crystal clear that there WERE some African-American children in the Pico who treated me well and became my friends, three of them living upstairs from me and Mom.

A prominent root of this general black social rejection and alienation (as a youth), besides having Autism Spectrum Disorder, was that being from a rural community where I was the only black kid in the immediate area that I knew of, having exactly one African-American classmate in the four years I attended school there, I was essentially an “Oreo”.

This was exacerbated by the fact that because I acted so “white” upon moving in with my mom, the white kids, by and large, were the ones that were friendly and accepting to me, and it pretty much stayed that way all through junior high and high school.

The social rejection and alienation was something I felt even as an adult as for example, during my mid-20s there was this young dude who lived next door and taunted me by shouting “Like a virgin!” (you know, that Madonna song from the 80s) every time I walked by him When I called him on it after enduring months of his ignorance he very tellingly said, “You act white!”

Along with everything else, this showed how much it hurt to have people who looked like you socially reject you.

It actually hurt a lot, to the point where I don’t feel like I’m a real part of the black community nearly enough of the time, as I feel that Black American inner city culture in particular doesn’t want me, a so-called “Goofy Mark”, around.

The pain that was put upon me during my childhood and over the years was deep, lasting, and though I know it shouldn’t has stuck with me as an adult, which is why – most unfortunately I must emphasize – don’t feel as naturally comfortable in the inner city African-American community (I feel more comfortable among the black middle class and elderly, probably because I didn’t suffer any bullying and “Goofy Mark” taunting among them) as much as I could and should, sad to say, because among my fellow blacks in the ‘hood I was shown too many times that in too many of their eyes, I was “Goofy”.

A “Mark”

A “Faggot” (sorry for the term).

An “Oreo”.

“Scary”.

“Retarded”.

 

COMING NEXT MONTH:  Excerpts from Chapter Five, detailing my rough times in high school.

 

No, I did NOT dress like this, and I was not nearly as clumsy or had his high nasal squeak, but I reckon that more than enough of my African-American peers during my childhood saw me as similar to Steve Urkel here. Photo courtesy of chron.com

 

 

 

TURNING FIFTY: Personal Musings About A Milestone Birthday

 

 

THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS FROM AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN WITH ASPERGER’S AS I APPROACH MY 50th BIRTHDAY

18, 263 days old – at least as of this coming Sunday.

I’ll be honest, as I usually am…

Anytime anyone reaches fifty years of life, it needs to be celebrated.

Particularly – considering the sometimes extreme tension and polarization that we are currently in – those who are Black males in America.

And on the Autism Spectrum to boot.

Which is why I’m celebrating my 50th birthday this weekend with something that I haven’t done in decades and won’t do again…

Throw a big party.

I can’t imagine being fifty years old, and I probably won’t be able to imagine it even after the fact as when I was a kid – and throughout my life, really – I saw fifty as being, for lack of a better way to describe it, on the border between regular adulthood and senior citizen status.

What’s more, it’s hard to imagine the people I knew as kids, who I went to school and grew up with, turning fifty.

Yes, I know what people say:

“50 is the new 40 (or 30 or whatever)”,

“Age ain’t nothing but a number”,

And I don’t disagree with those sentiments as save for a gout condition and the hypertension that I’m controlling quite nicely with medication, changing my diet and exercise as well as playing pick-up softball on a regular basis for over twenty years, I think I’m in pretty good shape.

 

 

I like this mug – shows the year I was born and the fact that yes, my parts are original! Photo courtesy of amazon.com

 

 

However,

It’s still weird to think of myself as a fifty-something.

Especially when I look back on my life, as I reckon folks commonly do when they reach a milestone birthday.

When I think about it, although there have been some struggles in my social and emotional development due to having Asperger’s as I was bullied and shunned as a young guy in school and have had troubles working for someone else in subsequent years, not being able to hold a job for longer for three years,

Which is the reason why I became a writer and online blogger with a book describing my experiences as an Aspie, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”, nearly done with a target date for (self) publication at the end of the summer,

And although I have missed out on some of the stages of life considered normal in American society such as marriage and opposite sex relationships as my behavior has for the most part rendered me as “not boyfriend/husband material” – which I have accepted as marriage is not for everyone,

I can honestly say that I have had a blessed life to this point, a life for which I am grateful.

I have a family, friends, and particularly a mother that has loved, understood and supported me, which considering my place on the Autism Spectrum hasn’t always been the easiest thing to do,

Grandparents who gave me an idyllic childhood, who I’ll always love and, as they are no longer with us, dearly miss,

And have enjoyed a relatively middle class life.

In other words, I have been quite lucky and fortunate that God has blessed me this way.

Especially since there are SO many people whose lot in life hasn’t been close to being how they would like as living in the Los Angeles area, the nation’s homeless capital, I see plenty of the less fortunate.

 

 

This is really cool; a list of things that happened the year I was born, including celebrities who will like wise be celebrating their 50th birthdays – though they spelled Kurt Cobain’s (RIP) name wrong. Image courtesy of Pinterest.com

 

 

My Biggest Birthday Wish (Besides the usual good time at my big shindig):

I want to spend Sunday – my actual birthday – in the place where I was born and spent my early childhood…

Riverside, CA, as that was where my grandparents gave me my idyllic childhood, living in a rural area (more suburban today) outside of town where my neighbors had horses and I had cows for a time; there’s even a picture of me at eight years old feeding one.

As there’s a heat wave approaching the area this weekend and my tolerance for 90 to 100 degree-plus weather has waned in recent years, I won’t be devastated if I don’t get to be there as I’ll do something else special.

But it would be fitting if I was in the town where I spent my early formative years fifty years to the day that I was born.

Outside of that, I just want to have an enjoyable weekend.

And if someone came up to me and said that I could have one wish, I would say to be in good health as a friend of mine puts it quite well,

“The best wealth is health.”

 

Summing Things Up As My Big Day Approaches:

The first thing I’m going to do when I wake up the morning of June 18th is say a big prayer of thanks to God for letting me see my 50th birthday.

I see it as a gift a there’s quite a few people I knew and grew up with who are tragically unable to have a 50th birthday as they are no longer here.

That’s why my overall feelings are those of appreciation and gratitude.

I won’t take this birthday, or any subsequent birthdays, for granted as being an African-American with Asperger’s, I am very thankful that my life has gone the way it has.

I hope that I feel the same way, and be able to say the same things I’m saying now, in the next three decades.

 

 

I certainly hope this birthday is a happy one for me. Photo courtesy of monicahswe.wordpress.com

 

 

 

LOS ANGELES REBELLION (or Riots) 25-YEAR ANNIVERSARY: Where I Was On That Day

 

REMEMBERING ONE OF AMERICA’S LARGEST RACIAL UPRISINGS FROM A PERSONAL STANDPOINT

 

I’ll get right to the point:

I was living (figuratively speaking) pretty far away from the infamous flash point of Florence Ave. and Normandie Ave. in Santa Monica, CA the day those verdicts in the first Rodney King trial in Simi Valley came down, setting those bigoted policemen free despite that tape showing the most obvious incriminating evidence of all time.

Though I was never brutalized like Rodney, as a African-American male in his mid-20s I could certainly relate to being racially profiled, being stopped by the Santa Monica police a number of times; there are two instances of this that stand out in my mind:

 

* I was getting some food from Campos, a Mexican place two blocks from my house whose food I grew up on, loved, and still love to this day.

As I was walking out with my order a policeman, out of the blue, stopped me and began to ask me questions, saying that I “fit the description” of someone they were looking for.

If it wasn’t for another guy walking across the street that yelled out, “That’s not him!” I would have most likely been arrested for something I had no knowledge of.

 

* One day in July of 1997, a month after my 30th birthday, I had left my house to get a newspaper when a plain clothes policeman stopped me when I was literally across the street from my home, exiting his car.

“Get your hands up!” he said, putting me in handcuffs.

Thankfully I was able to convince the cop to let me into my house so I can show him my ID, proving that I wasn’t a stalker.

To the cop’s credit, he apologized, but that did nothing to ease my irritation.

 

Being that I lived in the Pico Neighborhood, Santa Monica’s inner city for all intents and purposes, I knew deep down that being a young black man in that area, I was both a target and would be suspect for anything that went down.

The irony in all this? Santa Monica had an African-American police chief in those days, James Butts, who’s now the mayor of Inglewood.

 

 

TV news footage of that fateful day at Florence and Normandie, courtesy of YouTube

 

 

Anyhow…

I remember the day everything went down on Florence and Normandie quite well;

My mother and I were watching it all go down live on the local TV news. I specifically recall seeing a van ram into the front bars of a store, breaking the bars and leaving that store ripe for the looters, which we likewise saw.

I believe I saw Reginald Denny get smashed by that brick as well.

The other memory I have of that uprising – I’m making it a point to not call it a riot anymore – was the next couple of mornings as I was leaving the house to go to work; though no fires or looting happened in Santa Monica or the Westside, I could smell the smoke drifting from the many fires in the rest of L.A.

I was a physical education assistant teacher at a couple of elementary schools at that time, and the kids at both places, most of them white, were quite upset not only with what was going down, but also with the cause of it as being the liberal town that Santa Monica was and is, pretty much everyone felt that those four cops who beat Rodney got off scott-free.

At one of those schools there were a couple of African-American kids, both 4th graders, who lived in what was then called South Central L.A. (they were able to attend the Santa Monica school because their mothers worked in the town and were able to acquire permits) and were subsequently adjacent to all the chaos if not in the middle of it.

I knew that those two youngsters would be at least a little stressed and traumatized, so I made it a point to ask them if they were OK.

Things went more or less back to normal in Santa Monica and the Westside after the so-called “riots” ended, but you know what?

 

 

Rodney King’s famous “Can’t we all get along?” speech, courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

After 25 years, I think everyone – at least every one of color, especially Blacks and Latinos – would say that nothing has changed as far as young African-American men getting profiled, targeted, and killed by the police across America.

If you don’t believe me, ask the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and the many other young men who are no longer with us.

And ask the black folks who live in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, MO, if things are better.

To be honest, particularly under the still relatively new leadership of our President-Whose-Name-I-Will-Not-Mention, I’m surprised that “riots” like what happened in L.A. in 1992 don’t happen twice or three times a year.

And the worst part of all of this?

Considering the polarizing climate in these United States, racial and otherwise, I honestly find it difficult to see any light at the end of this pick black tunnel.

At least for the foreseeable future.

As Malcolm X once said, it’s going to take God himself to solve this dilemma.

Which I wholeheartedly agree with.