OPINION – Another old man had his chops busted the other day for spewing racism and hatred.
There were no cattle involved, there was no beef with a federal agency, no cowboys or friendly militia riding in from the hills to bail him out of his jam.
Instead, he had the comfort of his billion-dollar bank account to keep him safe and warm from the ensuing storm he created with his own words.
Donald Sterling, the soon-to-become-former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team, is the latest to get caught after a tongue wagging diatribe against people of color.
Will it ever end?
As in the case against anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy, who also posted numbers on the racism scoreboard with comments about how African-Americans were perhaps better off living in slavery, Sterling is being written off by some as a stupid old man who simply doesn’t know any better because he was raised during an era when racism was maybe not so much more prevalent, but much less disguised than it is today.
How many times have apologists said about Sterling and Bundy and Paula Deen and the many others who have made insensitive, racist remarks that they are just “old people and that’s how they were brought up?”
That argument doesn’t cut it. Whether the words were uttered in the privacy of one’s home or a luxurious owner’s box in a National Basketball Association arena, they are just as offensive.
In the case of Bundy, his 15 minutes of fame continues to grow as he was mentioned in several news reports of the Sterling incident. His name appeared in numerous stories, most notably a piece published on the ESPN website, a CNN blog, and in a thought-provoking opinion piece written for Time magazine by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a gentle soul and the epitome of class and poise both on and off the basketball court, who worked for Sterling as coach of the Clippers for three months after retiring from the most successful professional basketball career ever.
Some of us lived through the era of the Civil Rights movement. We may have been wee little ones when Rosa Parks made her bold stand on that Montgomery, Ala. bus in 1955, but we were coming of age in later years when we thought true progress was being made to stamp out racism.
We remember watching Ku Klux Klan rallies reported on the evening news; Alabama Gov. George Wallace standing in the doorway to block black students from entering the University of Alabama and then repeating the repugnant gesture at elementary schools in Huntsville.
We remember Dr. Martin Luther King pleading for equality and justice, only to be cut down by an assassin’s bullet; activists like Dick Gregory taking a stand from public oratory to hunger strikes to make his point; and Medgar Evers, a decorated World War II veteran, who took a bullet in the back from a white supremacist for his activism in 1963. Even then, things were so bad in Jackson, Miss. that Evers wasn’t allowed to be brought into the emergency room until hospital officials were told who he was. He died from the wound less than an hour after being admitted.
We remember the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Freedom Rides, the voter organization drives of the ‘60s, the killing of Dr. King in Memphis, Tenn.
We remember Robert F. Kennedy’s valiant fight for equality that ended tragically when he, too, tasted the assassin’s bullet.
We saw schools become integrated, we saw voting rights instituted, we saw restaurants, hotels, and other public services open their doors to people of color.
But, what we still haven’t seen is the demise of racism in the human heart.
No matter how many lives have been lost or how many pieces of legislation have been passed, racism exists still in the hearts of men and women like Cliven Bundy, who think African-Americans might be better off as slaves, and Donald Sterling, who looked down at his Clippers basketball team from his owner’s box at the Staples Center, much like the plantation owner gazing out upon his cotton fields.
It exists still in the hearts of men and women of regular stripe who are not endowed with homesteads bought and paid for decades ago or money earned off the backs of poor renters and shady real estate deals.
It is often shrugged off as excusable because “that’s how they were raised” or “they don’t know any better,” both tragic and illegitimate responses because, well, many of us learned that how we were raised wasn’t, in the arena of social equity, always proper, and understand that if you simply don’t know any better, you are guilty of ignorance and neglect of our social and cultural responsibility to be unrelenting in our quest for fairness, kindness, and equality. In other words, just because Mommy and Daddy used the “N-word” doesn’t give us license to do so.
But, we here in Southern Utah don’t have much to draw on.
We are an empty desert when it comes to social and cultural diversity and the deck is stacked so tightly that these errors of humanity go largely unchallenged. We are, as one former reporter of mine once said, “a bologna sandwich with mayo on white bread,” unable to discern between the arbitrary ‘politically correct’ and morally absolute ‘correct.’”
Many do not understand that racist remarks and name-calling take a toll. They don’t understand how a word or thought can be devastating.
“Don’t be so sensitive,” I have heard many say.
“Don’t be so insulated from another’s deepest feelings,” I respond.
Unless you have been the target of racism or bigotry on one level or another, you cannot fully comprehend the harm that can come from such offensive words. Remember “Do unto others”? I don’t think many do.
“(Racism is) something that’s still part of our culture and people hold on to some of these ideas and practices just out of habit and saying that, ‘Well, that’s the way it always was.’ But things have to change,” Abdul-Jabbar said during a visit with ABC-TV’s George Stephanopoulos Sunday morning.
Indeed, things have to change. But, haven’t we said that for decades now to no avail?
Besides, how can we expect a man who hides his own heritage – Sterling was born Donald Tokowitz – to show respect for another?
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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