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An Analysis of Racial Bias in Fences, a Book by August Wilson

Color is a major issue of focus in discussions about America’s dynamics, because an individual’s color can influence his experiences in various realms of life including participation in sports and success. Abdelsamie and Abdallah article “The Image of the Afro-American in Fences” opines that during the 70s and 80s, black footballers in America were frequently subjected to numerous cases of racial abuse. It was not unusual to see bananas being thrown at the players a practice that continues to this day in America and mainland European countries with footballers still bearing the brunt of this archaic practice.

The discussion about race is evident in the context of August Wilson’s book “Fences” that shows how major league baseball is used to limit the protagonist’s, by the name Troy, ability to achieve success or the American Dream because he was black. Specifically, Wilson writes that although Troy was a talented man, who played in the Negro baseball leagues, he had to move from town to town as the only way to achieve success as a black baseball player. This means that Troy experienced economic deprivation due to his exclusion from the major baseball league.

According to August Wilson, “sports can be used as a tool for driving change and make a huge difference in the lives of the people by unifying different communities, particularly in terms of national success stories.” Nevertheless, it can also cause conflict and create tensions based on race. Wilson chooses to focus on baseball because the sport had become a symbol of all that was good in American life: “Fair play, the rule of law, equal opportunity and the brotherhood of man” (Wilson). In Wilson’s book, Troy was denied all these good American experiences, because he was limited to Negro baseball leagues. In fact, he almost despaired but reconsidered his goals and decided to continue pursuing his dreams as he is observed saying “I stood on first base for eighteen years and I thought…well, goddamn it…go on for it!” due to the racism that he faced in the league, Troy created Fences around his life which he believed would keep his family and himself safe but the reader finds that these fences to some extent overwhelms him. (Abdelsamie and Abdallah).

According to the New York Times, “one of the most famous cases of racism cases in sports includes the racism incident where Majak Daw, a Sudanese-born player in the AFL was abused from across the fence.” Most observers believe the act of racism reduces the targeted person to the status of becoming a second class citizen and that it prevents communities and individuals from achieving their potential.

Around our world, achievements in the sporting world are still perceived in racial terms. In fact, success or failure can be explained just by citing a player’s skin color. Most studies show that the white color of any athlete is rarely addressed and is for the most part invisible to fans and sports journalists alike, whereas “the black or brown skin color of other athletes in the same sport is often cited as a determining factor of the individual’s ability.” (Wilson).

This behavior has for a long time been written off as idle banter or fans devotion to their team this acceptance of racist sentiments as a part of sport is indicative of deep-rooted societal issues. Major League Baseball has for a long time been associated with historical notions of “Americanism” and there is a lot of evidence that most modern fans continue to hold on to these traditional views when choosing who is and is and who is not “American”. In this regard, the MLB has attempted to mend the fences that divide fans along racial lines by appealing to non-traditional markets. To these end, the body has recruited several players from varied racial backgrounds to act as multicultural sport ambassadors (Wilson).

According to Abdelsamie and Abdallah major baseball league is used as a tool to support the economic deprivation of talented black players. “Major baseball league gives players opportunities to achieve success through sports.” (Abdelsamie and Abdallah).Therefore, by excluding black people from major baseball league, the chances of success are also limited. In a way, major baseball league supports the concept of segregation, by ensuring the black players are excluded from the “engagements” of white people.

Another argument made by (Abdelsamie and Abdallah) is that “major baseball league is used as a tool to support the economic deprivation of talented black players.” Major baseball league gives players opportunities to achieve success through sports. Therefore, by excluding black people from major baseball league, the chances of success are also limited. Specifically, major baseball league is used to limit back players’ abilities to achieve the much revered American Dream

“The increased focus on the individual heritage of black players is actually detrimental to their reception by traditional MLB fans due to the constant egocentric culture of American baseball.” (Wilson). These black players are regarded as outsiders by white fans, and therefore they become easy targets for abuse on and off-pitch. Photos used by several media outlets and baseball clubs often emphasize the athletes’ heritage, trying to make them an acceptable ambassador of a certain minority group who is depicted as being a role model for this community and a potential hero for the others. Nonetheless, this endeavor simultaneously restricts their aspirations and dreams to play the sport especially given the fact that there are only a few opportunities for them in terms of management and coaching.

Clearly, the major baseball league is a sport that is used by white people to subject black people to racism, and to limit their ability to use their talent to achieve success. These arguments are demonstrated by Troy’s case but remain useful to the American context, because racism is still a major problem in America. This is perhaps because the issue of racism has been deeply rooted within the very foundation of the American nation ever since it was created. Just as the nation has continued to struggle with the issue of race, baseball as a national sport has continued to face the same struggle. Although there have been huge strides in terms of increasing cohesion between players, it would be irrational to suggest that the issue of racism has been entirely wiped out of this sport.

At the end of the day, there is a need to come up with measures that unify rather than create “fences” in sports. Wilson believes that as long as unchecked bigotry and racist rhetoric continue to exist in the American society and in sports, racism will find a way to rear its ugly self across all American institutions and sports.

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