By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) I was fortunate to be raised in a home that didn’t really condone such ignorance.
Sure, there was the occasional bad word that would slip from my dad in times of frustration. Usually in the car was when it would happen most.
But no ill-will toward them was fostered. My aunt on my mom’s side of the family married one, so I grew up around them. Just growing up on the South Side meant growing up among a lot of them. We played together, went to school together. I ate in their homes and they in mine.
There was no animosity toward them when I was very young. I actually sort of liked them even though I knew I wasn’t really one of them.
The real test of will came just before adolescence when I started hearing it from some of my friends. I was naïve like any other youngster, and I was certainly susceptible to peer pressure. So because I just had to be “cool,” I engaged in it.
Blind hatred. Irrational because there was no justified reasoning for it. It was just something that was expected when hanging out with my buddies at Kennedy Park on weekend nights sweating curfew.
When high school rolled around and my circle of friends broadened, I encountered guys from other neighborhoods and suburbs. The Mt. Greenwood, Canaryville, and Bridgeport guys were far more rabid about it. Unwavering in their ideology, really. Of course, when I met their parents I concluded that there really wasn’t a chance of those guys turning out any different or being able to be reasoned with.
My Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park pals were more subtle about it. “Polite,” if you will. But it was certainly in them. Just less vocal and less abrasive, I guess.
It was because of my friends that my prejudice grew. I’m not trying to pass the buck—it was always my choice, and I was in control of my words and emotions at all times. But I fell into it because it was easier to… embrace it, I guess you might call it.
And could you really blame me? I mean, to hear it over and over to the point that it just burns into your brain. It made me feel good to put others down and to do anything and everything to make myself and my people superior. I was filling one of the most basic needs of the human psyche.
It’s not like I chose what I was, at least not any more than a kid “chooses” to speak English or “chooses” the religious faith he’s brought up in. But that mattered not to those casting the slings and arrows of such outrageous fortune.
“They” were downright mean to me. I’d be attacked unprovoked, hit with a litany of slurs and warped logic as to why I was somehow “bad” or “wrong” for something that was more or less out of my control. Can a man control what his father is and, therefore, what he himself is?
So what had started as mere acceptance and turned to tolerance at best and indifference at worst festered into loathing. I could only be so nice for so long. They became second-class citizens in my eyes. Inherently less intelligent. Dirtier.
I would often become the aggressor, seizing any opportunity to belittle one of them. If I saw them on TV I’d automatically make some uncalled for remark as so many salty tavern patrons are wont to do.
That was not a shining period in my life.
It wasn’t until college—that bastion of open-mindedness and free thinking—that I saw the error of my ways. It was in a bar, and I made some off-color remark at what I saw on TV, hoping to get a chuckle from those around me. A stranger approached me, one of “us” I could tell, though I didn’t know him, and asked, “Was that really necessary?”
I’d be lying if I said I have ever been much of a fighter, though I decided that this guy wasn’t much of a physical threat (especially with my liquid courage). So I countered with another dumb joke, but this time directed at him.
“See, that’s what I’m talking about,” he replied. “You make no sense.”
He then began to question me on the rationale for my hatred, and I found myself unable to come up with any answers that didn’t sound blatantly bigoted or just plain illogical. This guy then started talking about how “they” had no effect on me, that there was nothing about them that made my people better or worse, that only those with whom I identified could change their situation for the better.
The conversation was fairly brief because I was trying to save what I thought was dignity by being sarcastic, and he gave up trying with me quickly and walked away shaking his head. I was angry, but not so much with him as with the beginning of the realization that I might be wrong in my ethos. Little did he know that he instilled a spark in me that wouldn’t go away.
It nagged at me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Could I really have lived so long in such a stupid manner? Could my friends all be idiots? I began to rationalize it all.
After much soul searching and application of—wait for it—logic, I decided I had been a fool. What did hating the White Sox accomplish? They had no bearing on the Cubs save but six games a year. I should hate the Padres and Phillies if six games made a mortal enemy. Hell, at least they were in the National League.
I became a reborn Chicago baseball fan. My heart was with the Cubs as it had always been, but no longer did I root against the Sox, a team in another league with a DH that had its own specific battles to fight. Realizing that the two teams had really no bearing on one another was so refreshing. A weight of idiotic preoccupation was lifted from my shoulders.
I took the White Sox for exactly what they were. When they were good, I praised their work. When they were bad, I was just as honest. I wasn’t for them or against them. They were the Blue Jays to me from then on and still are today. When the Sox won the World Series in 2005, I was genuinely happy for my cheering friends.
My assessment of the Cubs in subsequent years was better honed as well. No longer did the comeback “Well, they have a better record than the Sox” come out of my mouth. The Crosstown series was now immediate and finite, not lasting, and regardless of who took the series, the season as a whole was all that mattered.
This made me a better baseball fan, too. Watching Sox games with no emotional investment allowed me to learn more about baseball and (with no pun intended) appreciate the game. Actual analysis began to overtake “Haha, he sucks” and “I hope Frank Thomas gets struck by lightning full of hepatitis C during this at bat.”
More importantly, I now had reason. Blind hatred has no reason, no logic, and no intelligence. And that’s what Cubs fans hating the White Sox and Sox fans hating the Cubs is—blind hatred. It’s that ignorant feeding of the ego I long made the mistake of doing, the quick fix that has no tangible benefit. For many, too, it’s the unwillingness to accept that one’s parents who taught them to hate might be fools.
I’ve since preached all this to those still in the dark on both sides of town. Most respond like I did in that college bar. I can only hope that a spark grows inside of them and eventually they see the light. I associate with “them” now and enjoy for the most part having lively debates, and in the end I make sure to put aside our differences and appreciate our commonality—a love of baseball.
So let’s all hope for two fun series this weekend and in June. I’ll be pulling for the boys in blue, but these six games will neither define either team nor establish any group superiority. It’s just baseball.
The Cardinals and their fans still suck, though.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.