“U.S. Race Relations Have Finally Reached The Point Where They Make No Sense Whatsoever” Sunday #1: Why Is There Still An American Tennis Association?

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.

21 thoughts on ““U.S. Race Relations Have Finally Reached The Point Where They Make No Sense Whatsoever” Sunday #1: Why Is There Still An American Tennis Association?

  1. Back in the day, my wife lived rurally & there were no places for gays to meet each other except in private underground places like grange halls. It was a space where folks could let down their hair & be among those who understood what it was like to be LGB in an “integrated” world.

    Sometimes people drove 50+ miles to gather & it gave them respite & endurance to be integrated the rest of their time outside of such gatherings.

    Today lesbians can’t have their own space to dance & gather because it offends men & certain trans folks. The very people who once had no choice about being separated, now have no option to enjoy each other in their own space. Because of this supposed evolution, lesbians simply have no where to gather openly in my town w/o people born with penises.

    Now let’s talk about race. Integration in PDX was actually gentrification and where do you think the blacks went? Further out, away from neighborhoods where they had lived for years & had the strength of each other to build resilience to deal with racial disparities. Now blacks in town live more isolated from each other than ever.

    Jack I get where you’re coming from, but on this one I disagree. When minorities get a chance to occasionally have their places & spaces (not every day or all the time) it gives many a chance to decompress & relax in a way that is harder in an integrated environment. Sometimes what I need is to be with & talk to those who have similar experiences & background because it’s a comfort that I simply cannot get from integrated situations.

    While I don’t think our society in general should be segregated, I think groups & spaces can temporarily focus on privacy & choice around the peoples who gather. I’m not offended when a barber shop says they cater to men. I don’t need to invade their space to prove “we all are one.”

    If we force people to always be integrated I believe we’ll see many go back to underground scenes, as is happening with lesbians here. We gather in secret where no one is offended…and because we have to be secretive, we feel more isolated. While a lack of integration is obviously negative, people having to be constantly integrated I believe creates other problems, ones that those who can’t relate don’t really understand, regardless of how well meaning they are.

          • Yes indeed! We have one here called “Steam” likes if you’re not a man, one who like to have casual sex w/ other men, then you can’t go in. I guess that place doesn’t have to fall under the category of “integrated.”

            • I didn’t know this was a thing, and it amuses me.

              As to your question… I don’t know… It’s an interesting thought though, isn’t it? Is it discriminatory for a gay hookup joint to cater to only gay men? I mean… Probably, yes. But I think sexual preference is going to end up being one of the very few forms of discrimination that we end up tolerating. The alternative leads to madness, and am much as I’m sure the “There are over 9000 genders” crowd very much WANTS that madness, I’m certain that in the long run they aren’t going to get their way. It’s just too stupid. The question will be if the business is discriminating by not having spaces for other mix and match combinations…. And I honestly don’t know how that falls down.

              • I appreciate your thoughts HT. Personally I don’t mind these guys having a private club to do their thing. Maybe this is an emotional stance, but like them, it would be nice for lesbians to have their own space to gather (like a bar not a sex club) & keep out, say, men. No one bothers these guys at Steam, while a lesbian bar is considered discrimination. Jack was bothered by an all black tennis club, while bath houses apparently get a free pass. When we draw lines around who can & who can’t gather, it seems there are always exceptions.

                And yeah, I really don’t want to see gay/bi folks have to acquiesce to the gender warrior set around that stuff. It’s bad enough that my wife has personally experienced homophobia from a trans person recently & that an anti-gay “beyond genitals” movement is taking over the transgender lobby. Add to that in the U.K. & I’m guessing here eventually, it’s legal for Muslims to send death threats to gays under the guise of free speech, because versions their holy book says that’s ok. Madness never leaves, it just changes faces & places.

                • I struggle with this… Despite all the assertions that “It’s different when black people do it”, it really isn’t. I’m not going to pretend that racism is over, but quite frankly, I don’t think that the experiences of the average black teen in America hold a candle in comparison to the racism their parents felt, which was still a pale shadow in comparison to Jim Crow.

                  And the answer to discrimination can not be discrimination. As we approach a more and more equitable society, eventually, we focus on smaller things, sublimalities, behavioral ticks, “microagressions” (tysrl). It’s… Hard…. for me as a white person to dig down to root out my unconscious biases when my twitter feed is a semi-constant stream of “Fuck White People”. It’s… Hard… to try to understand why female and minority special interest groups are seen as necessary and good, while male and white interest groups are demonized as racist/sexist and evil.

                  And it’s not just the tiki torch fan club… Erin Pizzey was the founder of the first battered women’s shelter in the UK, and founded a system that helped tens of thousands of women. But somewhere along the line, she realized that violence was often multi-directional, and she attempted to set up a battered men’s shelter. For her troubles, she was harassed (but it’s OK when feminists do it) to the point where someone killed her dog and left it on her front porch, following which she left the country.

                  What I took from Jack’s post isn’t necessarily that the ATA shouldn’t exist (although I’m sure he meant that point), but that the focus was that while black America continues to segregate and discriminate, they cannot be surprised when a mirrored discrimination appears, and they have no moral authority with which to combat it. If, for instance, an all white tennis association formed, no member of the ATA would be able to criticize it legitimately, although I’m sure they’d do it anyway, to the normal barking and clapping crowd.

                  • I agree more discrimination doesn’t help w/ bigotry. And yes racism is better now, and I’m grateful. But I wonder if letting groups organize based on exclusion or inclusion makes an overall society better. I don’t think the ATA or gay male bathhouses or the local KKk meeting exclusively is necessarily a threat to our country. I don’t see why upon occasion the Alamo Draft House can’t have a single Women’s Only movie night. How does one night hurt men in general or inject bigotry into our culture? I suppose it’s all about the slippery slope though.

                    I think a lot about how forced multiculturalism has effected Europe. The attacks we see there in part stem from, as some believe, over-integration. Rape there is crazy and victims are dumb enough to publicly apologize to their rapists for their privilege.

                    I live my life as a kind of in-between in ways. I’m brown/mixed race, which includes a quarter black, and I bet the ATA would say I wasn’t black enough. I’m bi not gay but married to a lady. A lesbian bar could reject me. Yet I’d have no problem w/ that, even if I wanted to join, because I respect people thinking whatever they want, without my approval. So for me I didn’t understand why Jack seemed so mad about the ATA. Maybe he can go trans-black like Rachel Dolezol (sp?) and fulfill his dream of joining them. 😉

    • Mrs. Q, this space you are talking about where you can exclude heterosexuals and any one with a Y chromosome is called “home.” Public accommodations are for all of us.

    • Even if everyone in the protected space fulfills the qualifications, there will still be unpleasant people that mere rules cannot keep out.

      There are better ways to let people self-select. Community centers, churches, conventions, clubs, et cetera, are all places where people can meet with others who share their cultural background. Even if “tourists” come in, they still have to commit to be part of the group for a while and show they share the same values before people start to take them seriously and give their opinion any weight. Malicious people are not likely to put in that time.

      In other words, letting people form these groups freely and work out their own internal power dynamics to make ad hoc decisions about people is better than making hard rules about who can join. This is, in fact, part of what politics mindset is good for.

      Politics is organization and empathy. It works in situations where the problem doesn’t have a right or wrong answer, and helps you to reconcile the desires of different groups of people. Never use semantics to do empathy’s job.

  2. “Wouldn’t you consider that a strange anomaly?”

    Just as an aside, I’m not sure that the end of the Negro Leagues was socially inevitable. They obviously took a huge hit in interest when Jackie Robinson signed with the Dodgers. That interest may have returned a bit over time (Jackie could only be in one place at a time), but the leagues were chronically under-capitalized and couldn’t survive the hit. At the same time they were folding, the white minor leagues declined from over 50 leagues in the late 40s to around 20 in 1964, with most of those supported by the majors. TV did a lot of damage to all sorts of in-person entertainment in that era. I’m not arguing about a formally segregated system, but big cities still have what are essentially black nightclubs and theaters. I’m not sure that black ballparks were out of the question.

  3. It seems to me that there are only two options here: either do away with all gender- or racially-segregated organizations and spaces, or accept the existence of all-white and all-male organizations. Allowing certain groups to self-segregate but not others is a corrosive double standard that seems to only lead to bad places.

      • Question: a distinction between ethnicity and race here? If the Sons of Slovenia have 400 lodges in the country, is the organization itself corrosive? Would sponsoring an annual national tennis tournament among the lodges? I ask because black Americans have an unusual consideration because the bulk of their ethnicity was lost to history, so the ethnicity merges into the race.

        • The concept of ethnicity is more valid than the concept of race, but even then, the efficacy of describing someone by their ethnicity disappears as a particular culture divorces from it’s originating ethnicity.

          It is USEFUL for first generation Slovenian immigrants to find Slovenian organizations that can aid in their assimilation with the greater community, it is NOT useful for the greater community nor for Slovenian immigrant descendants to find themselves still isolated within Slovenian organizations.

          So, I would think, to a degree, yes, there is a corrosive element to ethno-centric *exclusionary* organizations.

          The bulk of black Americans’ ethnicity is lost to history? OK. That’s really not a problem unless one thinks that their genetics matter (it doesn’t). The bulk of white Americans’ ethnicity is lost to history too…and the few who can identify precisely what ethnicity their ancestors are rapidly discover they are mutts like the rest of us. And that’s fine.

          American assimilation is SUPPOSED to be melting pot…not multicultural.

  4. You know… it’s funny… Right now when I think of Tennis, I think of three people: Eugenie Bouchard (A Canadian who is having a rough spot after an injury, and I feel she might be done… But alas), Venus Williams and Serena Williams. I honestly don’t think I know another tennis player’s name.

    “Black Tennis”, if you want to label it that, is well represented. People in associations like the ATA aren’t trying to foster melanin in the feild, they’re the B line not willing to wallow in complete obscurity.

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