My normal sports journalist routine is to arrive at the ballpark or the arena at least two hours before game time. It allows me time to work without being bothered by noise or noisy people. I usually get a good start on some pre-writing details before White privilege arrives like a Billie Holiday song “Good morning (or evening) headache.”
The Only One encountered White privileged thrice last weekend and it was multi-generational, occurring in one of America’s remaining Jim Crow institutions — the baseball press box.
While the Twins-Toronto game last Friday was well underway, a local sports magazine publisher, who I might add, rarely speaks to this longtime local sports reporter, decided to stop and chat with a visiting sportswriter sitting next to me.
But instead of sitting in an open seat — and there were many on the reporter’s left side — the late-inning knucklehead decided to carry a conversation with his White privileged behind squarely in my face, intentionally ignoring my humanness. I had to shift my position in order to keep my dignity.
My late mother was my first teacher. Among the first words she taught me whenever I accidently stepped on someone’s foot, or reached over them while sitting or interrupted in conversation, especially if you wish to speak to them, was “Excuse me.” Obviously this middle-aged White individual learned to offer such simple courtesies to Whites only.
Yes, the Mindy factor was clearly in play that night during another Twins defeat.
The following day at the Gophers ballpark, I had hoped to speak to the team’s only Black player on being a member of the school’s Big Ten regular season champions. I arrived even earlier than normal, and sat in a temporary location, the television booth while a school spokesperson was going to create a space for me.
I don’t know if that created space materialized because I left an hour before the first pitch after a young White woman, not once but twice, reached over me, over my work space without again saying those two magic words.
I was a disrespectful Mindy sandwich because on the other side of me sat another young White woman, who similarly acted as her fellow generation member. Both of whom I’m sure weren’t alive when I started in this business and acted like this five-decades-plus journalist didn’t exist.
For both of ours sakes, I left not only the cramped press box but the on-campus ballpark altogether as hot as the temperature that unusually warm late May Saturday in Minnesota.
My mother, if she was alive today, would be celebrating in July her centennial birthday. She never went to college, leaving the honor of being the first one in our family to do so to her only child. But she was my first teacher. She made sure that I knew the difference between bumping into a wall and a human leg or foot, something which I have found too often that many Whites don’t know or don’t want to know the difference when they step on my foot or bump into my aging leg.
Excuse me are words never spoken. Simple non-tech words that speak volumes to make someone feel like they are human.
But it’s not just Whites not knowing these two words, and it’s not just a journalistic hazard or indignity. There are plenty of multi-generational Black people who don’t know them as well. And not hearing them is just as bothersome to me because simple human decency knows no race.
Finally, the two words my mother taught me — excuse me — seemingly is no match for White privilege, whether it’s practiced young or old.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.