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Another Symbol of Racism, Sexism, Transphobia, etc.
For the reader not from my city of Richmond, Virginia or not familiar with the specifics of Richmond politics:
The mid-sized city of Richmond as a microcosm is a great example of the multitude of problems that come with professional sports and public spending. Our issues are likely your town's issues, or have been before, or will be in the future.
Our experiences with the racism of the NFL team from Washington, D.C., which began using Richmond grounds as a training camp this past summer, are a part of a national discussion being had about their name. And Richmond's potential to disrespect a site significant to African-American history in the name of development is also a tale told in many towns. And the institutionalized racism, sexism, cissexism, homophobia, and transphobia of the whole thing is not specific to just Richmond. I hope that what you get from this op-ed is not some self-satisfaction that your town is somehow less racist or sexist than mine, but rather, an understanding that the intersectionality of all of this oppressive behavior and spending is happening where you are—and perhaps you can and should do something to stop it.
Pushing the discussion
There are plenty of reasons to be down on the amount of public money that has gone into the Redskins Training Camp and the potential for more public spending to go into a new baseball stadium for the Richmond Squirrels in Shockoe Bottom. (Again, for non-Richmonders, Shockoe Bottom is one of the oldest sections of the city, as well as the site of a slave burial ground.) There is the obvious economic failure of such investment of public spending. But there are other significant issues to be addressed.
For me, the racism of both of these moves is the most salient point. The name of the team, Redskins, is racist and offensive to indigenous people. (If you don't believe me, I suggest you take a look at a recent article from The Onion to gain a better understanding). Taking money from the Richmond City Public Schools budget to finance the training camp stadium is also racist, when you address the issue of an 80% black student population (2012).
Race as an issue with public spending is incredibly important. Institutional racism exists from the micro levels of the City of Richmond to the macro. I would consider public spending on a new baseball stadium anywhere to be an indirect form of racism. That money is needed elsewhere to create better schools and neighborhoods for people of color and low-income people (and Richmond has a disproportionately high level of low-income people of color). However, if the site chosen is the Shockoe Bottom site in question that would be direct racism. The Virginia Defender has excellent coverage of the Shockoe Bottom Stadium issue. I recommend you check them out for more in-depth coverage, but basically, building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom on the African Burial Ground and numerous other historic sites relevant to the history of the slave trade in Richmond is pretty messed up. No one's ever suggested a baseball stadium on Hollywood Cemetery—where famous whites like John Tyler and James Monroe are buried.
So where does the patriarchy come in? (Some might ask where does it ever not.) Patriarchy means a system in which men control a disproportionate amount of power. A system of patriarchy behaves in ways to reinforce itself, and to maintain control over the money/power of the society.
This isn't some white feminist agenda where I'm glossing over the importance of race to jump to the issue that affects me more directly, gender. This is me trying to draw out yet another salient point about why our public spending on sports arenas, specifically these sports arenas, is oppressive. Intersectionality means not looking at singular aspects of an issue as if they can be isolated from larger context; it means at looking at all aspects of an issue.
When I began writing this piece I was only thinking about how sexism was an additional aspect surrounding public spending on sports. But after thinking about the whole deal for a bit longer, I realized that there are heterosexist and cissexist (a.k.a. transphobic) things going on as well. Where is the visibility of queers in the NFL? Where are the trans folks? What about genderqueers in baseball? Any genderfluid people visible in any professional sports?
I'm against public spending that devotes more money to activities that only men can participate in than activities only women can participate in. And that is a problem I have even just keeping it within the gender binary. We aren't even addressing the failure of professional football and baseball to include people of all genders and gender expressions. I'm against public spending that supports patriarchy.
I've not heard of Richmond spending public money on a sport that features predominately female participants or allows for trans and intersex and other gender queer folks to visibly participate. Maybe I'm forgetting about some glorified public sport that features female athletes. I think it is pretty clear that the sports women do play take a backseat to men's versions of those sports.
There are few sports where women dominate and those aren't the ones our public tax money is being funneled into. The same goes for college and high school sports. I remember hearing stories about how intersex Olympic athletes were harassed and publicly scrutinized and humiliated and bullied for their existence within professional sports. Everyone in Richmond is expected to financially support entertainment industries (let's just call sports what they really are), that have little to no room for women, queers, transpeople, genderqueers, intersex or genderfluid people. That's the case for our American society as a whole, too—not just in Virginia.
This needs to stop. Our public tax money is OURS, and to spend it on racist, sexist, transphobic, cissexist, superflous programs like sports is atrocious.