Friday, May 31, 2019

Books: "Reclaiming 42" On Jackie's Legacy

Reclaiming 42: Public Memory and the Reframing of Jackie Robinson's Radical Legacy
By David Naze
Nebraska; hardcover, 234 pages; $45.00; available June 1

Jackie Robinson is one of the most celebrated figures in American sports, and a new book takes a look at the legacy of the man who broke baseball's color barrier.

In Reclaiming 42, David Naze examines the forgotten aspects of his cultural legacy. Since his retirement in 1956, and more strongly in the last twenty years, America has primarily remembered Robinson’s legacy in an oversimplified way.

The mainstream commemorative discourse regarding Robinson’s career has been created and directed largely by Major League Baseball. It has been sanitized into narratives of racial reconciliation that celebrate his integrity, character, and courage while excluding other aspects of his life, such as his controversial political activity, his public clashes with other prominent members of the black community such as the actor Paul Robeson, and his criticism of MLB.

Naze writes, "Jackie Robinson has often been examined, understandably, in a baseball context, a context in which politics, or any political edge for that matter, has not been constructed for public consumption."

MLB’s commemoration of Robinson reflects a professional sport that is inclusive, racially and culturally tolerant, and largely postracial. The dominant version of Robinson’s legacy ignores his political voice during and after his baseball career.

"In contemporary, mainstream America, Robinson is often remembered as a black man who endured many obstacles on and off the baseball field," writes Naze. "In short, Robinson is remembered as a baseball player. Granted, he is remembered as a very significant baseball player, but his identity, and therefore his memory, has been relegated to the boundaries of a baseball diamond and to the context of a sport. As years pass, he is remembered more and more as an icon of civility. Frankly, this is where we have failed Jackie Robinson. We celebrate, correctly, Robinson's social impact, we praise his pioneering spirit, we admire his ambition, and we revere his reticence in the most tumultuous of times. What we fail to do, as a culture, is call attention to his political voice during and after his playing career, and we certainly do not call attention to the negative repercussions that his inclusion in Major League Baseball had on many factions within the black community. Understandably, many Robinson admirers are not completely comfortable with an emphasis on Robinson's controversial and political endeavors during and after his baseball career...

"After seventy years of celebrating Robinson's inclusion in baseball and forty-seven years of remembering his life it is easy to forget the details of one's individual legacy. Unfortunately, it is even easier to construct a memory that depicts the positive attributes we want highlighted and to leave out the negative attributes we want forgotten, such as his willingness to challenge the very institution - Major League Baseball - that gave him access to mainstream society that was otherwise denied to people of color. To reiterate, the ease with which we have chosen to remember Jackie Robinson in a general sense makes it a convenient legacy. Robinson's memory should be anything but convenient."

Reclaiming 42 illuminates how public memory of Robinson has undergone changes over the last sixty-plus years and moves his story beyond Robinson the baseball player to open a new, broader interpretation of this complex man.

Naze, with this incredible researched work, makes a compelling case that Robinson’s legacy ultimately should both challenge and inspire public memory.

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