Sunday, April 27, 2014

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE? - Donald Sterling and other bad conversations

Those of you who have read my work and/or followed this blog know that I am not at a loss for opinions on things.  Some are solid opinions, sometimes I've been too quick to the trigger and sometimes there's just way too much to say to even comment on it.

This feels like the latter to me.

First off, before I begin, let me start by telling you what I think of TMZ and TMZ.com.  This is a site not out there to protect the real news as they would have you believe.  To me, these people and this organization are about ruining other people.  They publish things often before they're confirmed.  False photos, stories released that were just untrue.. this is just as terrible an organization as all the other petty gossip sites.  So before I can even address their release of Donald Sterling's conversation, I feel obligated to do something the phonies on sports talk radio won't do --decry the fact that TMZ released  a conversation recorded IN PRIVATE.  All of us, no matter who we are, have said things in private we would never want our employer or employees to hear.  And if you think I'm wrong, when's the last time you told an offensive religious joke, or a joke that picked on the polish people (which Americans do relentlessly)?  TMZ is not a respectable newsgroup.  They're a bunch of hacks who love to create media firestorms and sit back and watch the explosions go off.

So the first question I had was how they obtained this recording? (I have since heard that Sterling's twenty-something girlfriend is in a lawsuit with him and may have released this -- lovely, he's eighty and married --maybe with an arrangement-- and she's in her twenties.... the whole thing wreaks of a lover's quarrel now turned ugly, but she's pretty classless to take a trusted conversation and release it to the public).  Leave it to TMZ to do whatever causes the most issues.

Before any of you have misgivings about my feelings about Sterling's comments, let me tell you they were and are horrendous.  Considering we also had the rantings of Cliven Bundy grace the New York Times pages, racial issues are once again at the center of everyone's mind this week.  And why shouldn't they be?  It's  been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed he had a dream and over 150 years since the Gettysburg, and yet we're still not past the racial inequalities and ugliness in this country's past, nor can we seem to deal with it in the present.

Which brings me to the real point of this blog.  Today on talk radio everyone who was anyone took to the airwaves to lambaste Donald Sterling.  Some went so far to say he should even be arrested.  Others simply want his entire career derailed.  And while Sterling's comments are despicable and have no place in basketball, I want to point out he wasn't making them as a basketball owner.  He wasn't extolling the virtues of racism as a matter of policy, or a matter or his hiring practices.  He was having a conversation that was never supposed to be heard by the public, expressing sentiments he was most likely raised with.

That leads me to really one of the things that is never discussed: We say in this country we want racism out in the open.  We want it to be done with.  Well America, welcome to what is the only way to stamp out racism: it's to bring those awful thoughts and biases out into the open.  I mean, wouldn't we rather know what someone really believes then find out who we think they are in a drunken rage like we did with Mel Gibson?

Which is it America?

What Donald Sterling said didn't even touch on some of the more awful things we've heard from larger and more prominent bigots than he.  Because if we want bigots to change, if you really want to see the world transformed to one that is colorblind, you had better accept there are still a whole lot of white people, particularly of the older generation, who were raised with the N-word as part of their regular vocabulary.  And it isn't just White America either.  Plenty of Americans have biases that are rooted in prejudice.  Yet here are Americans leaping on this bandwagon and saying that Donald Sterling should be arrested or kicked out of the NBA for sharing his thoughts privately with someone he was dating.

Arrested?  Really America?

Kicked out of the NBA?

Has he discriminated against his employees?  And with the answer being yes, where was all the protesting and screaming about this man then?  I hate to be the one to spout it, but what he said was awful, not illegal.  And look, I get this is an emotionally charged subject, and I get as angry as anyone over bigots and racism.  But I get equally incited about hypocrisy.  And every single talk show host today made me nauseous.  They of the high and mighty, judging and yelling from their moral thrones that Sterling should be booted from owning a team while these guys in private have undoubtedly said something they probably would want to take back at one point in their lives or another.

I hate what Donald Sterling said, but I also can understand that even a big jackass has a right to have private conversations that don't see the light of day. He also has the right to feel a certain way even if that way is outdated and wrong.  And instead of the entire world casting him aside and dishing out punishment to a man who will learn nothing from it, we instead might want to consider approaching this from the responsibility we have to show him where he is wrong.  He should be brought into the same conversation that we all claim to want to have, that of where racial thoughts of inequality begin and how they're reinforced.  Because sending Sterling away by making him sell his NBA team now valued at hundreds of millions of dollars simply hides he and his thoughts in a closet.  It removes him from the conversation by putting a scarlet letter on his chest and proclaiming he's a bad man.  Which solves absolutely nothing.

You want to really discuss race?  Then let's have a frank conversation, allowing all of us who have been brought up with some sort of racial prejudice whether it be a statement we heard from our father or grandfather, witnessed from a teacher or an employer (and I say us because even I've heard racially charged jokes in my time and said nothing about it -- there's a lot of us out there), and let's talk about it.  Let's embrace those who were less fortunate to have grown up in intolerant families who sought to segregate differences instead of recognizing and respecting them.  Let's have that talk without declaring people who have horrible thoughts need to be chastised and cast out.

Because if you expect racism to disappear without being willing to hear the awful things ignorant people are brought up to believe it is my estimation you are doing progress a great disservice.  You can't sweep dirt under a rug and call a room clean.  You can't kill a few termites and expect the problem won't come back.  To exterminate racism the likes of which Donald Sterling has inbred, you need to be willing to hear it.

To listen to it.

To tolerate the intolerable.

And then bring that person into a fold where the racial differences between cultures is embraced and teach them a world that is wholly new to them; one where all folks, no matter what they look like, believe, or whatever sexuality they practice, are equal.

Then and only then will you see racism dissipate and the carpet will be clean.

You may judge Donald Sterling from where you sit.  You have that privilege.  Heck you may even judge me, thinking that somehow I'm misinformed about how to deal with such things.  And for that I have an amazing story for you....

One of my best friends, also Jewish, went to the public schools I avoided and got picked on because he was a Jew.  He was called names, taunted and even roughed up a bit from what I understand.  And he addressed the issue by having the perpetrators over to his house to join our weekly all-day Saturday basketball games with all his other Jewish friends.  Never did he mention to us that these guys were victimizing him on the bus.  Had he, me and the others would have pushed them away too.  Instead, through our weekly game, all but one of these kids changed their minds for the better about Jews.  One even dated his sister for awhile. He was wise beyond his years.  He changed almost all of those boys, not by indicting them with us, but instead inviting them to join us.

Yes, what Donald Sterling thinks and says is horrible.  But if you keep sweeping he and his ilk under the carpet, the room will never be clean.  The problem will continue to fester in private.

I, for one, think it's time we clean the room for good.  What about you?