Here’s the problem with the Black Little Leaguer getting fake cotton put in his hair

OPINION: Whatever the intent, malicious or not, the outcome is problematic: a viral video that supports and reinforces standard tropes of white supremacy.

A general view during the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles at Bowman Field on August 21, 2022 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Look at his face. That young Black Little League player, suffering aggressions large and micro from white peers, was all of us Sunday night. As his hair was littered with cotton puffs (technically fake cotton, but whatever), his facial expression varied, morphing between the pain of abuse and the numbness of acceptance. 

That’s the emotional daily double we must endure—attempting to fit in and play nice—while America continues to mess us over and act like it’s not. 

“That’s just Little Leaguers being Little Leaguers right there,” ESPN announcer Karl Ravech said as the incident unfolded in the stands during Sunday’s Orioles-Red Sox game. A fellow announcer was equally clueless. “Why not, right?” he said. “When in Rome.”

Christians were fed to lions in Rome, so who’s who in this scenario? But don’t worry. Those little white boys didn’t mean anything by sticking cotton in that Black boy’s hair!

“We have spoken with the player’s mother and the coaches, who have assured us that there was no ill-intent behind the action shown during the broadcast,” Little League International said Monday in a statement. LLI, hosting the Little League Series where the scene occurred, said multiple members of the Midwest Region team (mostly from around Davenport, Iowa) took part in the activity “while enjoying the game. As only one player appeared on the broadcast, (we) understand that the actions shown could be perceived as racially insensitive.”

Perceived as? My ass. 

Everyone involved—including parents and coaches who should know better—is guilty of massive insensitivity and gross offense. Whether it’s done out of ignorance or hate, playing with cotton and Black hair is like lighting dynamite along racial fault lines; major fissures grow deeper and spread. 

It doesn’t matter if the kids thought it was fun; they’re 10-12 years old. It doesn’t matter that a white teammate had cotton in his hair, too. It also doesn’t matter that the Black player’s mother wasn’t offended. Maybe she’s in a sunken place or maybe she ain’t skinfolk.

Leslie Jones posted about the incident on IG and Holly Robinson Peete commented, “I don’t GAF” if the mother was OK with it. “My sons were the only black kids on their baseball teams and I wish a player would have even thought about doing something like this,” Peete wrote. “Ida rolled up in that dugout and there would be cotton flying everywhere!”

{Screenshot/Instagram)

Whatever the intent, malicious or not, the outcome is problematic: a viral video that supports and reinforces standard tropes of white supremacy. “We understand the sensitivities and are in touch with Little League organizers about the situation,” ESPN said in a statement Tuesday.

I wish we could see video of teammates getting a similar hairdo. The roster appears to be composed primarily of white players, who might’ve been totally fine with the treatment. After all, their history isn’t replete with negative symbolism that makes cotton in their hair a painful image. 

In a perfect, non-racist world, all kids could simply laugh and joke about such silliness. So could adults who act like kids.

But even if you subtract racial connotations, the Black player looks like he’s being hazed. Unlike the teammates, he doesn’t appear to enjoy the moment. He might not be in touch with the discomfort, but we are. As a baseball player, he’s used to standing out like raisins in flour, but we know he’s just learning how ugly flour can be.

Those boys can get the benefit of the doubt because their home training is unknown. I propose three lessons on being anti-racists, just in case. The untrustworthy parties are in the parents’ and grandparents’ generations, the legions of white folks who feign ignorance and commit to gaslighting at every outbreak of racist behavior (granted they admit the existence of racism).

Asking us to view this incident as pure and innocent could be fine if we weren’t asked likewise for most actions not involving sheets and crosses.  

Too many white folks shrug at blatant racial disparities and conclude that the problem is us and about us. We’re the problem for pointing out injustice and intolerance. We’re the problem for tying words and thoughts to harmful actions and policies. 

We’re the problem for suggesting something’s wrong with little white boys surrounding a little Black boy and putting cotton in his hair. 

He’s not old enough to realize it, but we’re like him, hit with flagrant fouls as violators and witnesses claim the acts were unintentional and meant no offense. Even if that’s true, the damage is done, leaving conscious and subconscious impressions on old and young.

Look at his teammates’ faces. Sweet youth being sweet youth. However, odds are a couple will grow older and fall captive to messaging—subliminal or overt—that promotes anti-Blackness and they’ll smile at this viral memory.

I don’t see the young brother smiling about it. 

Like him, we see nothing funny about “racial insensitivities.” Like us, he must endure such nonsense and worse.

Yeah. Nothing to it.


Deron Snyder thegrio.com

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron

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