Little league baseball officials are denying racism played a role after a Black player from Iowa was shown live on national TV having his hair covered with pieces of cotton being placed on his head by smiling white teammates.
The questionable instance came Sunday night as ESPN televised a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles as part of the MLB Little League Classic game played annually in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. That’s when the camera flashed to the players from the Iowa little league baseball team who appeared to be using pulling cotton pieces from inside small stuffed animals before placing them on the Black player’s head, covering up all of his hair.
At worst, the young Black player had a look of dejection on his face. At best, his countenance suggested ambivalence while being subjected to treatment he may have experienced at their hands before.
Either way, the optics were jarring, especially for Black people who are aware of the history of the micro-aggression that is white people touching Black people’s hair.
However, Little League Baseball insists that there was nothing racist about what it dismissed as youthful indiscretion.
“During the broadcast of the MLB Little League Classic, a Midwest player was shown with filling from a stuffed animal given away at the game on his head. After speaking with the team, as well as reviewing photos, multiple players on the Midwest Region team were taking part in this while enjoying the game,” Little League Baseball said in a statement as shared on Twitter by HuffPost’s Philip Lewis. “As only one player appeared on the broadcast, Little League International understands that the actions shown could be perceived as racially insensitive. We have spoken with the player’s mother and the coaches, who have assured us that there was no ill-intent behind the action shown during the broadcast.”
The Iowa team was at the game celebrating a win from earlier in the day that allowed it to stave off elimination and advance in the 2022 Little League Baseball World Series.
The issue of white people touching Black people’s hair is not a new one. There has been no shortage of think pieces addressing the phenomenon and listing extensive reasons why it shouldn’t be done.
But then you take the hair issue and couple it with the cotton, which evokes imagery of slavery, and then put it on national TV for the world to see… the combination enraged viewers of all races, especially Black ones.
In fact, it was only last week when a Black mother sued a Los Angeles school district because a teacher assigned a controversial history lesson about cotton picking that trivialized slavery.
Associating Black people with cotton, especially picking it, is a social faux pas, to put it mildly. These white kids may or may not have known that, but their coaches and other adults around them certainly should have been aware of the racist trope, regardless of whether they live in Iowa or a different state with a higher population of Black people. (Iowa’s population is 4.3% Black, according to Census data.)
Iowa’s little league team plays next Tuesday afternoon. The game will be televised on ESPN.
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