Commentary: Is 'Shoveling While Black' Our Nation’s Latest Bigotry?

Doug Glanville, ex-major leaguer, gets a sobering reminder of racism in America.

Posted: 04/18/2014 12:32 PM EDT

Famous, infamous or a relative nobody, all Black men seem to find challenges in front of them everywhere they turn. It might not be a bad idea for men of color to become the invisible man that author Ralph Ellison wrote about so elegantly in his seminal book on bigotry in America.

Such invisibility might have spared Doug Glanville, an Ivy League graduate and a former Major League ballplayer, of the indignity of having to tell cops why he had the audacity to shovel snow in his driveway.

In a poignant piece for The Atlantic, Glanville retold a story that, while different in its details, mirrors stories that doubtless millions of Black men have been heard telling. All are guilty of some wrongdoing associated with simply being Black and in what cops see as the wrong neighborhood.

Shoveling his own driveway, Glanville had a cop jump out of his cruiser and walk up to him and say, “So, you trying to make a few extra bucks, shoveling people’s driveways around here?”

Ignore the fact for a moment that Glanville made millions in his 15 seasons in the Major Leagues; he could afford to pay some white boy from down the way to take a shovel and clear his driveway. Forget, too, that after retirement he’d landed a broadcasting gig with ESPN that’s kept him in the public’s eye.

But in his driveway in an upscale, white neighborhood, Doug Glanville wasn’t Ivy League or major league. He was in a league of his own; he was a Black man whose very existence does more than hint how separate and glaringly unequal this white society remains.  

“In a sense,” Glanville wrote in his Atlantic piece, “the shoveling incident was a painful reminder of something I’ve always known: My biggest challenge as a father will be to help my kids navigate a world where being black is both a source of pride and a reason for caution. I want them to have respect for the police, but also a healthy fear — at least as long as racial profiling continues to be an element of law enforcement.”

Success has a way of making some Black men forget this. Glanville seemed to have forgotten it until he heard his wife’s anger over the incident. She was not willing to forgive the indignity of a rogue cop, a white one outside his jurisdiction, stepping foot on her property to confront her husband. Is her family’s blackness not safe from harassment anywhere?

Today’s America is not as accepting of differences as we might like to think. We talk about colorblindness as if it’s a punch-line in a Chris Rock joke. We all laugh when we hear another brother has been profiled for driving Black. We laugh, however, not because it’s funny but because it keeps us from crying: It’s the hurt that ongoing hate and discrimination produce. 

Luckily, the Glanville story has no tragic ending. Glanville didn’t become a statistic of white cops who fired first and then tried to justify their trigger-happiness later. His story isn’t without its sobering reflections.

For one burst of emotion over “Shoveling While Black” could have turned Doug Glanville into a mature version of that Florida teenager in the hoodie, his hands full of Skittles, who turned George Zimmerman into the poster boy for the gun nuts in our America.  

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(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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