Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy, Race and Bigotry Issues in America

Well, we've had a considerable amount of time over the past two months with these two men.  They each have a few things in common:  They are old, they are white; they are fairly wealthy, and by their words, they are presumably racists.   Mr. Bundy, whose fame is more related to his thievery by not paying grazing fees for more than 20 years recently mouthed off with the now infamous phrase "I know something about the Negro".  Mr. Bundy recently had a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency responsible for managing federal property.  Mr. Sterling on the other hand was thrust into the news when a recorded conversation of him and his alleged mistress showed he had some rather controversial views about who his girlfriends should take to his team's (The Los Angeles Clippers) basketball games.  Both have recently made some very inflammatory remarks about African Americans. Mr. Bundy, seems to believe African American's who are on government assistance would probably be happier if they were still slaves, and Mr. Sterling simply cannot believe anyone would believe he is a racist even though he has had a long history of discrimination against African Americans and Latin Americans. 

The statements made by both of these men are of course repugnant.  They have both attempted to walk back their statements and have only dug themselves into a deeper hole by doing so.  Check out Mr. Sterling's "apology" interview with Anderson Cooper here:

Now, both Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bundy are pretty wealthy, so their attitudes don't come from not having access to good education or a lack of ability to associate and mix with people from other ethnic backgrounds.  They easily could and in Mr. Sterling's case have, engaged with people of different colors, points of view and perspectives.  What they have chosen to do is emblematic of what a lot of people in this country do regardless of income, social standing or, in fact skin color.  They have chosen a perspective that those who look differently from them somehow are "less".    The concept shouldn't be lost on us, as we all have these biases and prejudices to some degree.

The issue at large though is the idea that because we look different or worship different than each other denotes that we are indeed different than each other.   This is nothing new.  Hundred's of years ago, in the play "Merchant of Venice",  Shylock said: "If you prick us do we not bleed, if you tickle us do we not laugh, if you poison us do we not die, if you wrong us do we not revenge?"   Of course, the matter at hand in Shakespeare's play was Jewish and Christian antipathy, but it nonetheless displays that probably since we have been able to think, we've decided that we should categorize people by what they look like, who they worship, who they love, how much money they make, etc. etc.

But back to Mr. Bundy and Mr. Sterling.  They are indicative of racists in the most descriptive sense:  Loudmouth people of privilege who have decided for one reason or another they are better than African Americans and Latin Americans.   These guys are easy to spot. They display their attitudes generally through words or actions.  In Mr. Sterling's defense in this matter, he was outed by a recorded phone call, which I also have a problem with, but I digress.  These types of racists are common and we see them often, whether it is someone like this or someone who parades around in a ridiculous looking bed sheet spouting idiotic terms like "white supremacy". 

The bigger problem is the subtle racism that still occurs over 50 years after Dr. King's "I have a dream speech". The job not given, the loan not secured, the cab ride not available: these are all examples of what I'm talking about and it is as prevalent today as it was in the 1950's.  No, we don't have forced segregation and different drinking fountains for "white" and "colored" people, and there has been significant progress in some areas of racial importance.  However, this stain on our collective soul is still here and we have to work hard to eradicate it.  Racism comes from hatred.  Hatred comes from fear.  Fear comes from lack of understanding and knowledge.    What we need is wisdom.  Wisdom is the understanding and knowledge through experience that we are all much more the same than we are different.  We have the same hopes and desires for ourselves and our children. We all want to be secure and happy.   We can't get there by hating.  We can't get there by classifying people as somehow being less deserving or worthy than us because of our color.

We have made some great strides in our attempts to throw the notion of racism into the trash can of history but we have much left to do.  As exemplified by Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bundy, there are still pathetic people out there.  They are to be pitied for their views as much as they should be rebuked. They are small minded people who, if they maintain their views will never have their eyes opened to the possibilities and promise of a society that as Doctor King said:  "they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"

Our country has had lesson after lesson that setting people apart because of skin color is simply wrong.  Whether it is our own history or that of countries like India and South Africa, we can see what is achieved once the institutionalized racism of policy and government is cast aside.  If we can get there ourselves by getting rid of our own institutionalized biases then we will have a much better place for ourselves and our kids.

Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bundy: you've done us a service by reminding us that racism is alive and well in this country and we need to find more will and effort to eliminate it.  So thanks for that. I pity both of you for your views, and hope that before you breathe your last breath that you come around. It's sad to go through life with points of views like those you hold, and maybe, just maybe you can change. I hope so.

Tell me what you think.  Where are you on this issue?


1 comment:

  1. Of course I agree with your overall viewpoint and description of the issues but I do disagree with one point. "The job not given, the loan not secured, the cab ride not available: these are all examples of what I'm talking about and it is as prevalent today as it was in the 1950's." Yes we have still have a long way to go in our quest for equality and tolerance but it is in no way as prevalent as it was in the 1950's or 60'. It may seem that way because we now have 24/7 news coverage, the internet and social media all either spewing bigotry and hate or railing against it and every other faux pas whether real or imagined. In the 50's, the statements of these two buffoons would not have even registered on the radar. Having grown up in those times in a southern segregated city, what Sterling and Bundy said was part of normal everyday conversation. So, it is now much better for minorities, of which you and I will soon be a part of. Of course the journey Dr. King spoke of has not ended but we are closer to the destination. Just the passage of time helps. As 80 year old racists die out, the nation becomes more tolerant. In another 25 years, most of us who were raised in the last years of institutionalized and legal segregation will be gone. Just waiting for the bigots to die out is not enough. We must continue to push for complete equality. I'm encouraged by the outcry against Sterling and Bundy (with the exception of certain news organizations). I am also encouraged by the groundswell in favor of gay rights in the last few years. There will always be bigoted jerks in our society but hopefully their numbers are rapidly decreasing.