Baseball in Chicago and White Public Space
I was recently given the opportunity to go on a trip to Chicago to study the interplay between race, baseball, and white public space (overview of the weekend). Those 30-odd hours were intellectually intense and emotionally exhausting, and I’m still trying to process much of what I encountered. Two of the most striking sets of ideas I ran into in practice as well as theory were critical race theory and white public space.
Critical race theory (CRT) provides the academic underpinnings of many conversations about race. Though there are quite a number of different trains of thought in CRT, there are a few basic principles which most adherents would agree on:
- Race is essentially a historical and cultural construct, a product of social thought and relations. That is to say, race is not biologically or genetically based.
- Racism is ordinary, not aberrational.
- “Whiteness” is an economically/socially valuable commodity, resulting in the existence of “white privilege.”
- The “Interest covergence principle”: Whites will tolerate/support the advancement of the racially underrepresented particularly when it promotes their own self-interest.
[Note: CRT is a super far-reaching lens for looking at American society, culture, and history, so I won’t go into any more of that now. Look it up for sure!]
The concept of “white public space” flows from CRT fairly easily. Helen Page and R. Brooke Thomas define it this way:
“White public space is comprised of all the places where racism is reproduced by the professional class. That space may entail particular or generalized locations, sites, patterns, configurations, tactics, or devices that routinely, discursively, and sometimes coercively privilege Euro-Americans over nonwhites. Its material resources are formindable institutions that include the territories they claim or the markets they control. Perhaps most formidable are the symbolic resources available to the … establishment that [people of color] do not normally share (i.e. the power to decide; to enforce; to register or certify; to model; to publish; and to individualize rather than examine the social order.”
White public space therefore is directly related to white privilege, the interest convergence principle, and the cultural-ness of race.
That’s kind of a lot, so my working definition going into the weekend in Chicago was more along the lines of: “A specific space in which white/majority privileges, ways of thinking, and customs systematically dominate to the exclusion of people of color.” I wasn’t sure quite how accurate that was, or what it looked like, but it was a start.
Uffda. Ok. So. Where actually is white public space?
It was clear to me after watching both the White Sox at US Cellular Field and the Cubs at Wrigley Field that both of those locations were white public space, though for different reasons. There’s a full discussion of how/why this is in the DeLorne/Singer article at the bottom of the post, but here’s what I noticed: US Cellular was strongly segregated from the surrounding community, surrounded by concrete parking lots and was a generic destination for baseball rather than a place to encounter people and interact. There was a fairly diverse crowd, but the atmosphere felt stale, austere, and forced rather than integrated and welcoming and genuine. Wrigley Field had little to no diversity in the patrons (though much more in the service workers). It was integrated into the surrounding neighborhood, however. This neighborhood happened to be historically white, so there were naturally a lot of white patrons, right?
The last part of this hit me hard: Wrigley felt integrated with the community and loud and tightly packed and positively energetic and even had some players of color on the field for the Cubs. All these emotions and intensity I associate strongly with my interactions with communities of color rather than with white communities, so my instinctive reaction was, “Everyone is welcome here, they just don’t happen to be present because this isn’t their area of town.
…. Ooooohh. That’s what white public space means.”
As I tried to apply this realization, my train of thought went like this:
If historically white areas also count as white public space, since they are dominated by whites and therefore white rules/systems… and if lower quality and lower status spaces primarily used by people of color (like public transportation) are still bound by historical discrimination and therefore white rules… and if “normal” integrated public space follows white rules by default…
My gut response was strongly negative – how can this be accurate/even possible?? But, really honestly looking at America today, how can it not be?
Surprise! I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. References:
“The Interest Convergence principle and the Integration of Major League Baseball” – Joshua DeLorne and John N. Singer, Journal of Black Studies July 2010.
Critical Race Theory: An Introduction – Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.
“White Public Space and the Construction of White Privilege in U. S. Health Care: Fresh Concepts and a New Model of Analysis” – Helan Page and R. Brooke Thomas, Medical Anthropology Quarterly March 1994.
“A Tale of Two Stadiums: Comparing the Economic Impact of Chicago’s Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field” – Victor Matheson, Robert Baade, and Mimi Nikolova.