Jackie Robinson West Is A Lens On What's Happening On The South Side

Illustration for article titled Jackie Robinson West Is A Lens On What's Happening On The South Side

This post is in reply to a post we ran earlier today, criticizing a recent column of the author's.


This is a response to Daniel Kay Hertz's article, which is a grotesque distortion of what I have been writing and arguing about Jackie Robinson West and the South Side of Chicago. His entire piece is based around taking four sentences of my article entirely out context to accuse me of saying that the South Side is now—as we speak—in a state of gentrification, which I did not argue. This is all done to serve his greater purpose, to rail against "people who cannot discuss issues of urban inequality without using the lens of gentrification."

Let's start by returning to reality. Last week, I wrote a piece about Jackie Robinson West. The point of the article was to discuss the ways that urban America, because of both racial and economic segregation, disinvestment and neglect on one hand, and its partner gentrification, have created a situation where urban baseball is at an inherent and perpetual disadvantage. The playing field simply isn't level. Much has been written about the ways in which JRW has had to endure fears of violence, travel miles to the suburbs to practice, and deal with an absence of basic infrastructure that their suburban counterparts have not had to confront. I argued that they should not have been stripped of their title because punishing them for recruiting players "out of boundary" is obscene when one considers everything a team that Jackie Robinson West has had to face when assembling a squad in the first place. (For people who prefer video, I voiced this on "The Melissa Harris Perry Show" on Sunday.)

Since writing the piece, I have received a tonnage of hate mail from people saying that I am an apologist for cheating, "playing the race card," and basically filling out all the imagined squares if you're playing Fox News bingo. This has been remedied by hearing from parents on Jackie Robinson West saying that they appreciated the piece. Seeing it circulated by leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union, community activists, and the Black Youth Project has also been very gratifying. I also appeared Sunday on Jesse Jackson's Chicago radio program "Keep Hope Alive" along with family members of JRW players. Rev. Jackson has tweeted out the article encouraging people to read it. I know that for a lot of people, getting support from Rev. Jackson, the CTU, and the BYP is only proof that this is "playing the race card," blah blah blah. I hope that Mr. Hertz can concede that these are all people who perhaps can teach him something about what is happening outside his door.

The South Side of Chicago suffers from the neglect, disinvestment, and "vulture capitalism" prevalent in far too many cities. This kind of conscious neglect, effectively making sections of a city unlivable, as we have seen over and over again, is a precondition to gentrification and what has become the equivalent of a 21st century goldrush: urban real estate. The center of Mr. Hertz's argument—other than accusing me of saying that the South Side is now in a state of gentrification now, which I did not argue—is to say that the South Side cannot gentrify. Why can't they gentrify? Because, as he writes, "white people refuse to move there." One could laugh at this, if there wasn't such a legacy of policy brutality, evictions, and wholesale transformations of areas around the country that show otherwise. People said this in the 1980s and 1990s about Harlem, Fort Greene, Bushwick, Greenpoint … let's just say most of New York City. People said this about Washington, D.C., Chocolate City, which for the first time in a generation is no longer a majority black city and the area known as Black Broadway is now a place where working class black residents cannot afford to live. People said this about neighborhoods in Chicago that—as Mr. Hertz concedes—have undergone profound transformations in the last generation. Poverty in the suburbs—as well as police brutality—has spiked in the last decade. Is this the future of the South Side? People are fighting every day to make sure that it is not. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a different agenda for the city. I don't know what the future will bring, but it will probably be a combination of hyper-development of some sections, while leaving others to rot without resources.


Mr. Hertz accuses me of "making up some fictional events." The only thing "made up" is this unprincipled analysis of what I wrote. For all the insults thrown at me during the piece, only one was actually upsetting. That was the snarky caption on a suburban-looking home with the caption, "JRW territory: Pretty scary, huh?" This was done to argue that the JRW players were all middle class kids. Given that some members on the team have had to deal with evictions, home insecurity, with even one of the players, Jaheim Benton dealing with homelessness, that was kind of gross.

Either way, I wish Hertz had responded to the article I wrote and not the one he thinks I wrote. But hearing positive feedback from a mother whose son just had his Little League title stripped, is worth 1000 snippy articles. Beyond that, it is critical that we keep discussing and trying to figure out just how our cities are changing and who is paying the price. Little League baseball is a terrifically important lens for figuring that out.


Photo by Jonathan Gibby/Getty