Doug Glanville’s Internal Debate And The Student’s Slavery Petition

40 acres and a mule

I highly recommend this essay by Doug Glanville, an African-American sportscaster and blogger who has frequently distinguished himself with perceptive commentary on matters relating to race and sports. In a long, Mobius strip of a personal reverie—you get the impression that Glanvilles wasn’t certain what he thought until he read what he was writing, he reflected on how he would have, and should have reacted if he was in the broadcast booth when Jim Kaat made his ill-considered “40 acres” comment, which Ethics Alarms discussed here. Glanville weaves his way through several options and impulses:

  • “Faced with this reference during a baseball game, I found myself stuck on pause, wondering how we touched on reparations for slavery during the [American League Division Series] while discussing the value of a Latin player. At least, I hoped, it was done so unknowingly. For almost a week, I have grappled with whether I should say anything at all — whether the lessons from it are worth pursuing on a public scale, or if it’s just better to move on. I answered my internal debate by deciding I should at least try.”
  • “So what if I were covering that game, with Showalter and Kaat, as the field reporter or a second analyst? What would I have done? What would I have said? It is an obligation sharply felt by the only Black voice in any room, let alone during a baseball game, where you are expecting to just talk baseball.”
  • “I could have responded indirectly. I could have hit the talkback button and taken my issue to the producers off-line, in order to go through the proper channels. From experience, I know that calling a game is hard. You have to talk for over three hours, and your brain is crammed with information. Data, analytics, interviews, inside information, you name it. And every so often, it just simply comes out wrong, or you react with your mouth before your mind. You don’t have time to dissect the nuance of what someone has said without the risk of making the same kind of generalizing mistake…”
  • “I could have responded directly. I could have interjected on live television to express my consternation — even knowing how that might be taken…. how do you address it while upset, without coming off a certain way?”
  • “I could have stayed silent. I could have internalized it. There is an etiquette to broadcasting. You have to think long and hard about whether you are going to contradict someone or call them out, on Twitter or live during a game. It doesn’t have to be because of insensitive content — it could be about a mistake on a call or simply getting a player’s name wrong. The default is that you don’t do it. And if you do, you do it with care, smoothly, out of respect for your colleague.”
  • In the end, Glanville settles on the Golden Rule: “We all need to be better and more aware, more educated about history so we don’t make bad analogies. Yet we also have to see how understanding is an evolutionary process and grant people the bandwidth to grow, including ourselves. I certainly would want to be extended the same courtesy.”

That’s good, as far as it goes. In the process of getting there, Glanville still managed to blow Kaat’s comment out of proportion, writing at one point,

“In this instance and in so many others, the intent behind the statement becomes beside the point. Kaat apologized for his “poor choice of words” four innings later, but by then, it felt too late — you don’t have to be malicious to negatively impact someone….The pressure is often on Black people to bury their feelings and carry on…We can brush off slavery or we can recognize the vestiges of it and how it still plays a role in our systems. Just last week, a petition to bring back slavery circulated through a school in Kansas City, so I am not talking about 1865.”

Hold it, Doug. When someone is claiming offense, intent is always relevant. This is the great “gotcha!” game in the age of cancel culture: someone makes an innocent misstep, an a social justice mob sets out to destroy them, or at least force them to pathetically confess their sins and beg for forgiveness. Those who are so easily “negatively impacted” that an obviously botched spontaneous comment referencing “40 acres and a mule” while discussing ‘ the value of a Latin player,” want to be “negatively impacted” or at least to be able to claim to be, because it gives them power. Commentators like Glanville enable such political correctness bullies and agents of the cancel culture.

But I want to look at Glanville’s reference to “a petition to bring back slavery” circulating “through a school in Kansas City.” I had missed that episode, and with good reason: it wasn’t newsworthy, it was exploited by exactly the kind of “gotcha!” purveyors I just described, and Glanville’s facts were wrong.

A small group of students at Park Hill South High School put a petition on-line that called for the reinstatement of slavery. No petition “circulated at the school.” I have read some vague assertions that the petition was sent out “during a school activity,” whatever that means.

This was online activity, and it was by kids. The petition could have been a joke. It could have been a student trap for racist–or stupid—students who would sign such a petition. Whatever it means, a single online stunt by some students proves exactly nothing—not what Glanville implied, and not what the hysterics at the school appear to think. “It doesn’t matter their intent, the impact is real,” Park Hill South Principal Kerrie Herron said.(Huh. Where have I heard that before?) “The impact is being felt, the hurt is real and there.” 

Yes, high school assholes say a lot of hurtful things, and I don’t recall any of them (some of which were directed at me) becoming national news. Jerkish kids also also put a lot of offensive things online, and most of the time they know just how offensive it is. In this case, parents should be alerted and the school should undertake some basic training in ethics, respect and the responsible use of social media. However, the school has no right to punish the students for “hate speech” online that was not directed at the school or connected with school personnel.

The school system does need to examine how well it is teaching civics and history, which obviously is not very well at all.  High school students should know that slavery is illegal and unconstitutional, and that it couldn’t be reinstated by a thousand petitions.

9 thoughts on “Doug Glanville’s Internal Debate And The Student’s Slavery Petition

  1. I still do not see Kaat’s comment reflecting the notion of 40 acres and a mule. There was no mention of a mule and the person in question was a Latino. More to the point, the 40 acres and a mule reference does not suggest that you have slaves on 40 acres anyway. Does every reference to 40 acres such as “I have to plough the south forty” (literal) or “I’m surveying my south forty” (figurative) represent a slavery reference? The answer is an emphatic no. Do Jewish kids get offended when their teacher gives them a Gold star? I don’t think so because it has a different meaning than a star you wear to identify your place in society.

    Why do we buy that narrative. While intent is relevant, so too is meaning. The cancel culture sees everything through the lens of victimization. It makes no difference if they understand an idiom or not they will contort it to mean whatever helps them advance their agenda. I will not be one of their useful idiots who will play their divisive games. If I don’t understand an idiomatic reference I ask what someone means or the origins of that reference I don’t simply assume that I should be offended. Cancel culture exists because we allow it to exist by playing into the game and not pushing back.

    • I think the whole context made the comment toxic. Showalter said of Moncada, “We have to get one of those,” a phrasing that fairly describes how managers think of their players, but that was dehumanizing if one were looking for something to be offended by. Players used to be treated as chattel in an extreme sense—the tax system allows teams to treat them as depreciating assets. Before free agency was allowed, the reserve system was routinely described as near-slavery. So following “those” rather than the more diplomatic “We need to get someone like him,” which is what Buck meant (and pretty obviously, again, unless one wanted to see something else), Kaat free associated to a direct slavery reference.

    • That is akin to the Trump dichotomy. His detractors obsess over the literal words he says and ignore his meaning. His supporters grasp his meaning and don’t worry about the precise words.

  2. Reminds me of when Rush Limbaugh’s short-lived ESPN/NFL analyst gig crash-n-burned 18 years ago as we speak.

    He had (IMO) correctly opined that Donovan McNabb was overrated (worst start in his career/lowest rated QB to date that season), yet the league was desirous that a black QB at least “appear” successful, that appearance being artificially elevated be damned.

    While there were distant rumblings of a gathering storm, those were still the halcyon days (pre-twitter/facebook, et al) before the Cancel Culture Wokerati became the cascading ethics train wreck of today.

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