SXSW and the Segregation of Baseball
Everything relates in some way to baseball. I take this as a fundamental organizing principle of my world view. (This is why “42” is retired as a uniform number by every Major League team.) I might, in an incautious moment, admit that sometimes this world view requires a bit of stretching. But sometimes it doesn’t. The recent controversy about SXSW cancelling panels is an example.
I have never paid much attention to SXSW. I have long been aware of it in a vague sort of way: a music festival, which is cool, but far away and so not anything I am likely to personally attend. So even though I got that it is a big, prominent music festival, it is just one of many such events that I have little reason to devote consciousness to. Somewhere along the line it became a bigger deal, with panel discussions on a wide swath of modern culture. I have no idea how that transition occurred, but still: cool.
Until, that is, the last couple of days, when it has been in the news for cancelling some panels, including “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” on how to use design to stymie harassment in the gaming community, with an obvious eye to Gamergate. Then SXSW received some threats of violence against the panel, and cancelled it. They also cancelled a panel coming from the other side, thereby maintaining apparent balance.
The balance bit is risible enough. Suppose I have four cookies and am divvying them up between my two children. If one of the kids demands all four, while the other only asks for two, then giving the first kid three cookies and the second only one is not an equitable compromise. What struck me, however, is how much the affair reminds me of the segregation of baseball following the limited integration of the 1880s.
I have written previously about the various groups in these discussions. There was, in the baseball context, a small group that believed on principle that blacks should be allowed to compete; another group that opposed blacks on white clubs due to racism; and a large squishy middle group that didn’t much care either way. The racist faction was able to persuade the squishy middle by making it more trouble than it was worth to hire a black player. The squishy middle didn’t want the hassle, so the racists won.
We see the same thing in the current controversy. The pro-harassment faction threatened to create a scene, so the panel was cancelled, placing the SXSW organizers solidly in the squishy middle. I expect that if you asked them, they would unanimously insist that of course they were against sexual harassment. But not to the extent of risking someone putting on a scene. That’s too much hassle.
We, from our modern pedestal, look back at the squishy middle that acceded to baseball’s segregation and regard them with contempt. We enjoy imagining that we, of course, would have been in the minority standing up for black rights. Maybe we would. Maybe we wouldn’t. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. But sometimes hindsight isn’t necessary.
[Image: Negro League team Detroit Stars, via Wikipedia.]