Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Regarding Donald Sterling

I am relieved and encouraged that NBA commissioner AdamSilver handed Donald Sterling a lifetime ban from the league. How that ban plays out and whether Sterling will be forced to sell the Clippers and whether the NBA will ever see any of the quarter of a million dollars Sterling has been fined are all issues for another time, another discussion.

For now, I just want to comment on racism in America.

I hate to say it, but Mr. Sterling has done me a solid. For decades, I have had to listen to white people tell me, "Thank God we're past all that." For decades I have responded, "Racism hasn't stopped; it's just gone underground." Sterling's despicable remarks to his mistress have validated the point I have tried to make to my well-intentioned but very naive white friends. Putting on the mask of acceptance and tolerance is not the same thing—definitely NOT the same thing—as embracing diversity.

As the white mother of children who identify themselves as black, I could tell you stories of racism and discrimination that would make you feel the burn of shame, from the Bank of America employee who lied to my son to keep him from opening a checking account to the smog inspector who asked him if he stole his car to his boss (at his high paying white collar job in Los Angeles) who suggested he 'stick to dating within his race' to the countless cops who pulled him over for DWB. These aren't incidents that occurred in the 1950s or the 1960s. These experiences have all happened in the last twenty years. Racist remarks by his boss are on-going and as recent as last week.

Of course, I have my own stories. White people who are close to my age feel safe making bigoted comments for two reasons. Either they assume I am going to be in agreement with them, or (and this is the more insidious of the two) they assume that if I disagree, I will keep quiet about it.

Because this is what we do. We hear someone say something and we may cringe, but in keeping with this facade that has us all 'going along to get along,' we don't confront the person. We don't make a scene, we don't accuse. We may keep our heads high and walk away but we fail to point the finger and call a racist a racist. We stop short of embarrassing people. We stop short of shaming them. And what a shame that is.

Thank you, Adam Silver, for not sweeping this under the rug, for not using evasive language about this being a personnel matter or one the league would deal with privately. Thank you for pointing the finger at the exposed racist and saying with such great determination and fortitude, 'You, sir, are a racist.' Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from your example.


  1. Right on, Kay. I too have heard things people assume I'd agree with far to often, and I only challenge them sometimes. I wish it were always. Post-racial indeed. Now let's see how the NBA owners vote. Fingers crossed.

  2. I've spoken to more than one person who has confessed difficulty in challenging the behavior of bigots. I understand this. Kind folks find it hard to direct the conversation toward ugliness. And let's face it; most racists deny that they are racist, often prefacing their discriminatory remarks by saying, "Don't get me wrong, I'm not racist, but...." As I have told my children, it may be necessary for an entire generation to pass before we can finally celebrate a more tolerant, inclusive world.