It’s getting easier and easier, with the Internet, to find ourselves in spaces where people don’t just disagree with one another but they do so vehemently, with vitriol, and our pointing towards “trolls” or other certifiable -isms tend to make it mainstream. Case in point is yet another wealthy person whose thoughts, commentary, and past practices have caught up with him. I present Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers, who, over the weekend was put on blast by TMZ over a taped discussion he had with his girlfriend about her taking photos and posting them to Instagram when she’s standing next to Black people.
Naturally, the Internet lost its collective mind. That’s the way these days. It’s not new. We continue to learn from the likes of the on-display racism of Paula Deen and Don Imus and Michael Richards or the on-display sexism of Rush Limbaugh or the general on-display Crazy of Ann Coulter. Some of them are caught red-handed while others leak out into the collective consciousness of a society that has said, You know what? That’s not okay. And that’s where we land on the issue of people when they reveal themselves to us.
These people are not outliers. They aren’t a part of some old guard that has determined that now that we live in an age of technology where sharing their viewpoints is fast and rampant that people will let them off the hook. What this truly does is force us to face some ugly truths about long-held beliefs that some people hold. Here’s the thing: I don’t personally know any of those celebrities, but it certainly gives me a starting point with the people in my life that could use this as a discussion starting point.
Jay Smooth brings a lot of it home in this short video on this newest blunder by Sterling and, as always, he does it with some humor.
Yet, I know that racism, as a concept, is a construct. It’s man-made and perpetuated by cultures to ensure there will always be some Haves and Have Nots. It’s lazy thinking and stereotypes and for many, a way to stay inside those self-imposed bubbles in which we live. That’s not really the point, though. The point is that when you have a platform and use it as a jumping point you may find yourself on a different sort of precipice and wishing you hadn’t stepped up to it. People in our lives constantly reveal themselves to us in their actions and words. Do we always put them on blast? No, not even me and I’ve had a lifetime of that practice. Lately, I have taken to responding with, “You just said that out loud.” and walking away as I shake my head. It’s not always an invitation to debate. Sometimes, it’s an invitation to take your leave in a conversation or a relationship. Take the advice of writer Maya Angelou who said “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
When I was a kid we didn’t use the word “racism” as much as we used the word “prejudice” and I’m not sure when or why that changed. If you were to accuse someone of being a racist in the 1980s it meant that you were on par with David Duke and most people didn’t want that association. They wanted to hold their beliefs quietly, be seen as a good neighbor and person, and not get called out on anything. Times? Well, they’ve changed.
That’s why, when we’re teaching our children about the important things, we use these examples in the media. The relatively unknown Cliven Bundy stands out in American lore because he has been such a train wreck in continuing to open his mouth and say things that many parents can use as an example of what NOT to say or do. Watching these discussions unfold as a nation is a whole new way to see modern racism and prejudice and we shouldn’t just use it to talk about race. We should also use it to protect ourselves, see our history as it really is, and realize that the myth of racism being dead is just that – a myth. And just like all good mythology, we can use it to teach.