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The Issue of Racism in The Movie '42' and Ralph ellison’s 'Battle Royal'

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Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohammed Ali, Fredrick Douglas, Rosa Parks, all just a few African Americans who contributed to trying to change discrimination and racism in the United States. In Invisible Man, written by Ralph Ellison, the first chapter is the beginning of “The Battle Royal.” In this chapter, the narrator is a black male trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs. Ralph Ellison states “I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer.” (Ellison.) As well as many other African Americans, the narrator just wants to see what he can do in life and be the best he can. African Americans went through humiliation, name-calling, bullying, abused emotionally and/or physically just for trying to be who they wanted to be. Although racism may not be as big of an issue of this present day, there was a huge battle in the past and sometimes still a struggle today.

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Ralph Ellison’s ‘Battle Royal’ story symbolizes all African Americans and their struggle for equality. The narrator endures a lot of pain, suffering, and humiliation within this story. The narrator — who is not given a specific name because he symbolizes and represents the entire black community — was considered to be the brightest of all the blacks. In “Battle Royal,” the young man was given the opportunity to earn a scholarship by presenting a graduation speech to the upper individuals in the white community. All the top bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, pastors, teachers, fire chiefs, and merchants were in the room waiting for the speech to be given. All the African Americans were invited to the speech, but only the narrator was giving the speech. As most would expect, he went in thinking the white individuals would give him respect and their undivided attention while he was delivering his speech. Instead, he got the exact opposite. As all the colored graduates entered the room that was filled with cigar smoke, they were each handed a pair of boxing gloves and brought out into the big mirrored hall. Whispers and confused looks arose. The African Americans could tell something was weird about this situation. The whiskey had already taken over everyone in the room. The narrator has to undergo severe humiliation while presenting the speech to receive a scholarship to achieve his dreams. He went in thinking this was going to be a positive environment, instead he faced something he never imagined. Ellison explains how the African Americans were pushed into the room and forced to watch a blonde stark dance naked. They were forced to watch even when they begged not to, and faced public humiliation.

“On my right I saw one boy faint. And now a man grabbed a silver pitcher from a table and stepped close as he dashed ice water upon him and stood him up and forced two of us to support him as his head hung and moans issued from his thick bluish lips. Another boy began to plead to go home. He was the largest of the group, wearing dark red fighting trunks much too small to conceal the erection which projected from him as though in answer to the insinuating low-registered moaning of the clarinet. He tried to hide himself with the boxing gloves. And all the while the blonde continued dancing, smiling faintly at the big shots who watched her with fascination, and faintly smiling at our fear.” (Ellison.) This is just one of the instances of public humiliation that these African Americans faced. The narrator was just going to deliver a speech to receive a scholarship, so he could follow his dreams and see what he could achieve with his life. This is like pure torture for these poor innocent young men. These boys got treated like this just because of their skin color. No one would have ever in a million years thought to do this to a white man or woman, especially if it was a black man or woman on the opposite end. This just goes to show how white and blacks were not equal. Inequality of whites and blacks did not just stop with public humiliation, it continued on to other events in life. “Public schools and water fountains and lunch counters and swimming pools hadn’t been integrated. A lot of people in white America liked that just fine–and yet it was far enough along in the arc of history that a lot of them knew they shouldn’t like it just fine.” (Kluger.) At this point in time, most things were not segregated. A big inequality and non-segregated situation between whites and blacks were sports. A good and probably most known example of inequality in sports would be, yep that is right…. JACKIE ROBINSON.

August 28, 1945, Branch Rickey — Brooklyn Dodgers Manager — had a meeting hours long with Mr. Robinson because he wanted to sign him onto the team. Rickey wanted to break the color barrier and had also seen Jackie’s talents and knew he would be the right person to fight through it. Branch mentioned to Robinson that he needed to be prepared to face all the humiliation and harassment that no players had ever faced. Jackie agreed and kept the secret of his signing until Branch would release it. Two months later, Branch released the news of Jackie’s arrival onto the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers were in Montreal, which is where their main farm was, when the announcement of Jackie’s arrival was made. Jackie played phenomenal is Montreal in 1946. Later in 1947, he was promoted to the Dodgers. Rubinstein stated that “Robinson’s presence produced a barrage of racial insults and name callings, especially from the Philadelphia Phillies, a club notorious for taunting opposing players.” Despite everything that was said, Jackie never fought back or argued back. The heroic act put Jackie and Branch in the firing line of public, press, and other players. Jackie faced a lot of harsh criticism and words being thrown at him, but never once did he lose courage. He showed significant restraint by not retaliating. He chose to let his talent speak for him. No matter how bad he wanted to stick up for himself or his family, he just had to sit down and breathe to stay calm. If Robinson would have yelled at one of the mean people who were calling him names, he most likely would have been just another halfway washed up track star. A really interesting movie about Jackie Robinson’s life and journey of his baseball career and growth of family is called 42 on Netflix, and it is a MUST SEE! Jackie Robinson was not the only African American that faced racial issues within sports.

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The movie 42 and the entire story of Jackie Robinson’s journey of his life/career in baseball relates very well to the story of “Battle Royal” because both stories have black males trying to find themselves and prove themselves. In the process, they were getting harassed and humiliated. They all took it like champs and just worked harder. In both stories, nothing could stop them from finding themselves and getting what they want. In “Battle Royal,” people are cruel and rude to the people that have a different skin color from them. In the popular movie 42, everyone throws racal slurs at Jackie as he is going onto the field to play the game he loves. In both stories, the racial slurs, snarky comments, rude outbursts, and just plain harassment are all taken way too far. In the movie, one of the Philadelphia teammates (a white man) called out to Jackie as a “Nigga” as he was on his way to the plate. The whole time Jackie was up to bat the cruel white teammate was saying things like, “Nigga you don’t belong here” and “Nigga go home”. In ‘Battle Royal”, the white men wanted the boys to stay and suffer. It seems as though in both stories the white men knew that the African Americans Ould not fight back for themselves, so they just had to take it. The white men took advantage of the colored men/women in both stories. It is important to know about racism back then, even though in present day it is not the same, it may still be a struggle. We are all people and we should all be equal.

Works Cited

  1. Rubinstein, William D. “Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Major League Baseball.” History Today, vol. 53, no. 9, Sept. 2003, p. 20. EBSCOhost,
  2. “Famous Black People Who Changed the World:  .” Biography Online,
  3. Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man: Ralph Ellison. Spark Pub., 2002.
  4. Kluger, Jeffrey. “Jackie Robinson: More Complex That You Knew.” Time, Time, 16 Apr. 2016, 

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