Imagine, if you will, if the integration of Major League Baseball in 1947 had not eventually ended the Negro Baseball Leagues, as it had by 1951. Imagine if, long after Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, Willy Mays, Henry Aaron, Bob Gibson, Ken Griffey Jr, Derek Jeter and all the other African American greats now in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown or headed there had been celebrated, cheered and loved by all Americans of every color and creed as they starred for teams in the National and American Leagues, there were still professional baseball leagues that were predominantly restricted to African American players. Wouldn’t you consider that a strange anomaly?
Yet the American Tennis Association, founded in 1917 as a response to the segregation of U.S. tennis, is still operating, and currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. It is a segregated sports organization. The New York Times published a feature on the ATA this week that began, “Other African-American sports organizations, such as baseball’s Negro Leagues, faded after integration, but the American Tennis Association has remained vibrant.”
Isn’t that wonderful? We still have a vibrant racially-restricted tennis organization!
In typical cowardly Times fashion, the article never hints at or acknowledges the obvious problems: hypocrisy and anachronism. The two most famous and popular female professional tennis players in the sport are black, yet the American Tennis Association still fosters segregation by race. The ATA’s mission, according to its website, is “To Promote Black Tennis in America.” That’s pretty plain, isn’t it? There is no such sport as “Black Tennis,” which I guess would be played with black tennis balls or something. No, this is an organization that only involves black players, holds tournaments where one must be African American to compete, and to which white tennis players don’t matter.
Nice. And at this point in our nation’s existence, wrong, destructive, offensive, and promoting a double standard that cannot be defended.
“For me, it’s always going to be the Black Nationals,” Larry Atkins told the Times. Atkins traveled from Oakland for the ATA’s tournament in Baltimore this month. “For this in tennis to still continue, I’ll always want to support it. In baseball, we kind of got bought out by Major League Baseball. But in tennis, we still have this as our own.”
You know. Without having to tolerate white folks.
Daryl McClellan of Newburgh, Indiana told the Times that he appreciated the absence of “pressure from tokenism.” “When U.S.T.A. tournaments come around, as an African-American, I may be the only minority in the tournament,” he said. “There’s always this atmosphere that I’ve really got to show how good I can play. Here, it’s just tennis and camaraderie.”
Yes, isn’t integration a pain, sometimes? How nice it is to have a blacks-only tennis organization one can retreat to when dealing every day with all those annoying, racist, hateful whites! It’s like a day on the beach! Well, a blacks-only beach….
I can make this short, if not sweet.
We will never be able to rid our country and our culture of white nationalists, anti-black racists and supporters of segregation as long as there are vestiges of segregation supported by African Americans, and thus also by those who regard African Americans as critical political allies. The kind of double standard and hypocrisy represented by the American Tennis Association (and the Congressional Black Caucus, black colleges, black fraternities, The African American Film Critics Association Awards, and other all-black awards for athletes, artists, and educators) will continue to foster resentment and feed the membership of counter-weight “white pride” groups until African Americans commit to an unbiased, unbigoted, unprejudiced and undiscriminating society to the same extent they reasonably demand that the rest of American society does.
For an-all black, apartheid tennis organization to cheerily celebrate a hundred years of keeping white tennis players out—it doesn’t matter what the original need for the organization was—so soon after the ugliness of the Charlottesville riots is beyond tone deaf; it is insufferable. Naturally, the mainstream news media smothered the story as much as it could, as it has all along. (Were you aware of the ATA? I wasn’t, and I’m usually awake…) All Americans have a right to expect and demand that African-Americans reject for all time race-based membership in organizations, professions and occupations, just as African-Americans themselves have demanded of everyone else.
The existence of the American Tennis Association tells me that too many African Americans want all the comforts and privileges of segregation, but none of the stigma. Well, I want hair on my head, a billion dollars and to be able to translocate. Such organizations have served their purpose, and now they are undermining racial comity, understanding and reconciliation.
It’s time, past time, for them to go.