As a white person, I was raised to be racially illiterate. On the rare occasion in which race came up in school or professional development, we typically studied “them,” not “us.” I learned about their histories, struggles and triumphs. But consistently left off the table was the question: “Histories, struggles and triumphs in relation to whom?”
Take the Jackie Robinson story. Robinson is celebrated as the first African-American to break the so-called color line and play in Major League Baseball. While Robinson was certainly an exceptional baseball player, framing the story this way depicts him as racially special. The subtext is that Robinson was the first black athlete strong enough to overcome the barriers preventing blacks from competing with whites; no black athletes before him were skilled enough to do so. While this tagline elevates Robinson as an individual, it implicitly positions African-Americans overall as inferior. It also falsely propagates the belief that racism in sports ended with Robinson, implying that current struggles against racism in sports are unnecessary.