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Ask a Negro Leaguer Column

Week of March 9, 2006


Hey Joe: Do you think Shani Davis was unsportsmanlike in the Olympics by not competing in the team speed-skating event and snubbing the media?

Norm dePlume, High Ridge

No matter how terrible slavery was, it overwhelmingly generated white support, though all Southern whites did not own plantations or so-called slaves, and some did not agree with the slavery system. From this group was born the phrase "nigger lover," which applied to any white voicing sentiments favorable to blacks. Abe Lincoln was killed because of this reason and was later to become the most revered president in American history. The word "nigger," however, failed to desist.

I say this to shed light on the controversy surrounding black speed-skater Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick, a white speed skater. According to a sensational story written by Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald, the dispute stemmed from Davis' decision to sit out of the team-pursuit event, which included Hedrick, in order to concentrate on winning his first individual race. This was viewed by many as a selfish, unpatriotic move designed to undermine Hedrick's quest to win five golds and perhaps kept the Americans from another medal.

"It can get lonely being the only black person in an entire sport, hearing snickers on the starting line, opening your website to find racist messages, always feeling just a little out of place," Kaufman wrote. Said Shani of his own Web site: "There are a lot of derogatory remarks in the comments, wishing me to break my leg and fall down, using the N word, a lot of ignorance out there."

He is right — beginning with the founding fathers when they contrived the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both seething of hatred. But I would advise Shani: Never be ashamed to speak the word "nigger." If so, you've acknowledged defeat.

The term meant to depict blacks in the lowest form possible. Those who derived it didn't have the slightest inkling that they were referring to the greatest psychologists to ever set foot upon American soil. And their education didn't come via Harvard or Yale. It came from actual experience (the kind acquired at these schools and others is purely conjecture). Anyone desirous of earning an authentic Ph.D. in psychology should consult blacks' assistance.

Blacks mastered the art of psychology by appeasing their oppressor. Saying "yes" when really meaning "no" and vice versa. This, along with a multitude of other strategies, entailed a loss of principle in order to survive. That's what is called psychology. In other words, it takes a wise man to play the role of a fool. With the assistance of whites (called "nigger lovers") who refused to be what other whites wanted them to be, wisdom has guided blacks from bondage up to the time of Shani Davis — whether a so-called slave, colored, negro, black, African American or nigger.

I say right on, Shani. Speak your piece. Don't be suckered by that unpatriotic jazz. For every contribution whites have made to America, blacks have been there, done that. And the beat goes on.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

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