Sunday, October 02, 2011

How Baseball Explains Modern Racism

David Sirota
September 30, 2011.

Despite recent odes to “post-racial” sensibilities, persistent racial wage and unemployment gaps show that prejudice is alive and well in America. Nonetheless, that truism is often angrily denied or willfully ignored in our society, in part because prejudice is so much more difficult to recognize on a day-to-day basis. As opposed to the Jim Crow era of white hoods and lynch mobs, 21st century American bigotry is now more often an unseen crime of the subtle and the reflexive—and the crime scene tends to be the shadowy nuances of hiring decisions, performance evaluations and plausible deniability.

Thankfully, though, we now have baseball to help shine a light on the problem so that everyone can see it for what it really is.

Today, Major League Baseball games using the QuesTec computerized pitch-monitoring system are the most statistically quantifiable workplaces in America. Match up QuesTec’s accumulated data with demographic information about who is pitching and who is calling balls and strikes, and you get the indisputable proof of how ethnicity does indeed play a part in discretionary decisions of those in power positions.

This is exactly what Southern Methodist University’s researchers did when they examined more than 3.5 million pitches from 2004 to 2008. Their findings say as much about the enduring relationship between sports and bigotry as they do about the synaptic nature of racism in all of American society.

First and foremost, SMU found that home-plate umpires call disproportionately more strikes for pitchers in their same ethnic group. Because most home-plate umpires are white, this has been a big form of racial privilege for white pitchers, who researchers show are, on average, getting disproportionately more of the benefit of the doubt on close calls.

Second, SMU researchers found that “minority pitchers reacted to umpire bias by playing it safe with the pitches they threw in a way that actually harmed their performance and statistics.” Basically, these hurlers adjusted to the white umpires’ artificially narrower strike zone by throwing pitches down the heart of the plate, where they were easier for batters to hit.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the data suggest that racial bias is probably operating at a subconscious level, where the umpire doesn’t even recognize it.

Read the rest here.

Comment:  I have always thought that studies aimed at proving racism are akin to studies that aim to prove that smoking causes cancer.

No matter how many appear there are always the naysayers.  The fact that some people do not even recognize that racism destroys lives and that it is a structural problem and well as a psychological one is worrying if even predictably so. 

Kinda made me think of this childhood friend I ran into on Friday who credits smoking as the reason why he never gets a head-cold or the flu.

He just did not see the problem.  At one point he said: "I smoke and I am healthy and you don't and you have diabetes and all of you are fat.  So start smoking to get thin and cure your diabetes."

Makes me think of white folks who can't see how whiteness has made them better off in all respects no matter their work ethic (or anti-racist commitment).

The problem is denial.  The outcome too often is death.


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