Ira Smolensky


Celebrating Jackie Robinson


       Major League Baseball (MLB) has designated this coming Sunday as Jackie Robinson Day.

       On that day, various Major League players and managers will wear Robinson’s #42.  These gentlemen, in my opinion, will not merely be going through the motions to put over an annual promotion.  They will be paying heartfelt homage to a gritty pioneer in the journey to social and political justice, not only in the United States, but also around the world. 

       Jackie Robinson was truly a great American and a great human being. 

       Of course, Robinson had spectacular athletic ability.  As a youth, he excelled at track, football, and basketball as well as baseball.  He went on to become a vital cog in the great Brooklyn Dodger teams of the late ‘40’s and ‘50’s. 

       I loved to watch Robinson play for the Dodgers.  He was a smart player who hated to lose.  Nor did he ever seem to be afraid.  Whether in the field, at the plate, or on the bases, Robinson always played with terrific daring and boldness. 

       But, even as a young person, I knew that Robinson was more than a star ballplayer on my favorite team.  Thanks mostly to my parents, I knew that Robinson was integrating baseball and helping to integrate the United States, a nation that had come home from the war against Nazi racists only to find that we could not, in good conscience, look ourselves in the mirror.

       Jackie Robinson helped us to deal with this sobering realization, one which divided Americans in a way that could not be glossed over.  Either we were going to grow toward the noble destiny foreseen by our most enlightened founders, or succumb all over again to the curse of racism.

       With the help of Jackie Robinson’s exceptional fortitude and self-control, we took a leap forward in national consciousness, one that helped to pave the way for groundbreaking civil rights legislation of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.

       And, so, it is a truly fine thing that MLB and others are honoring Jackie Robinson.

       But it is not enough.

       We have not yet made it to the promised land of racial equality and harmony.  Our country is still divided between those who basically embrace the dream Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. imparted to us and those busy with explicit or tacit backlash against perceived threats to white male Euro-American dominance.

       In some ways, things are better now than when Jackie Robinson was alive.  But they are not nearly good enough to become complacent. 

       To truly honor Jackie Robinson we should, once again, be taking a long hard look at ourselves.  We may not like what we see.  But how can the truth hurt us if we are willing to do the right thing?

       There is a lot of talk about “cutting and running” nowadays, mostly in regard to the war in Iraq.  We just can’t just “cut and run,” the war’s supporters tell us.  Even some folks who now think the war was a mistake, believe, as one Zephyr letter-writer suggested last week, that you have to finish what you start, now matter how screwed up things may have been.

       What kills me is that I can’t find any of these same folks telling us to finish what we started when we passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

       Why is that?