We Get it, Donald Sterling's a Racist, But Have You Looked in the Mirror Lately?

On Wednesday someone asked me if I felt happy that Donald Sterling has been banned from the NBA for life.

Sure, Sterling's comments were horrific. Yes, it's great that the league took firm and decisive action. Mmm hmm, I hope the rumors of Oprah buying the team actually turn out to be true.

But, happy? Quite frankly, I worry less about racist Donald Sterling and more about what you are doing and saying.

Yeah, you.

You, the school administrator who will swear up and down that you're not a racist... but then you suspend or expel black children at the drop of a subjective dime. They're disrespectful. They have attitude. They rolled their eyes. They do science. Last year, Florida teen Kiera Wilmot found out that being a black teen who conducts a science experiment on campus will get you expelled AND arrested.

According to the U.S. Department of Education report, "students of color are suspended more often than white students, and black and Latino students are significantly more likely to have teachers with less experience who aren't paid as much as their colleagues in other schools."

You are the community members, the school board members, and the mayor that will shutter 50 schools that serve predominantly low income black and brown children on the South and West sides of Chicago. Because, budget cuts. And then, mere weeks later, you'll turn around and authorize pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into building a private university's sports and entertainment complex.

You are the citizens, politicians, and law enforcement entities that really want me to believe that gentrification's a good thing. And you even sometimes whine that you just don't know what really can be done to stop the violence in Chicago and other cities. (But it sure would help if black men pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, right?)

How about starting with not gutting the economy to satisfy corporate greed? Jobs that pay a living wage and enable folks to support their families could go a long way toward changing things. But nope, a minimum wage increase got blocked on Thursday.

Am I not supposed to remember that we live in a nation that took over Iraq? That we found Osama Bin Laden hiding in a random building? Bottom line: if what's happening in Chicago, (or Detroit, or Killadelphia) wasn't actually okay, it wouldn't be going down.

Seriously, ask yourself, if 40 shootings happened every single weekend in Kenilworth, Wilmette, Glencoe, or Winnetka--Chicago's wealthier and whiter northern suburbs--would America just tsk-tsk and then go back to reading about George Clooney's engagement?

You are also the boss who prefers to employ someone that your racially and ethnically undiverse friends and colleagues recommend. As the title of a recent Harvard Business Review article put it, "White People Do Good Things For One Another, and That's Bad For Hiring."

The article's author, Nancy DiTomaso, puts it this way: "Whites don’t have to do bad things to minority groups in order to maintain a racial advantage in employment and wealth. They only have to do good things for one another. And they do good things for one another all the time."

You are also the hiring manager who will chuck a resume with an ethnic sounding name into the garbage in favor of a "white" sounding name. That's why people of color have taken to "whitening" their names--Jamal Tyrone Harris has to morph into J.T. Harris--to at least get a phone interview.

You are the boss who interviews a person of color and then says things like, "I'm just not sure if he is a good cultural fit for us." And by fit and culture, you mean that you fundamentally agree it might be good to have some color in the office... as long as they don't have any diverse ideas or perspectives that may make white folks uncomfortable.

But, it's 2014, so you go ahead and offer the job to the person so there's at least one spot of yellow, brown, or black in your office. It makes you feel like you're not a total racist. "I believe in diversity, look at J.T. over there. He's just so articulate!" you say.

Similarly, Sterling doesn't think he is a racist since he employs black men and had a relationship with a half black, half Mexican woman. The term "slavemaster mentality" comes to mind.

I could go on. Housing, our enduringly segregated cities, health care access, stop and frisk, being followed in stores, calling Quevenzhane Wallis a cunt, the fact that two years after Trayvon Martin was killed, my sons will still be seen as "suspicious."

The Captain Obvious racists of the world, like Donald Sterling, help make America comfortable with its status quo.

We tell ourselves that Sterling is merely the modern equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross on a black family's lawn. And if we're not doing that, we're not racist. After all, we elected a black President. Twice. That gives us leave to float terms like "post racial." Of course, we also conveniently forget that the first black U.S. senators were elected after the Civil War, during Reconstruction. Was America post-racial then, too?

I grew up going to AA meetings because, like many American families, there was an addict in my home. The first step in AA is "we admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable." It's a big deal to take that step.

I believe that we Americans are addicted to racism, and if we're ever going to heal, the first step is to admit the problem: If you live in the United States, whether it's conscious or unconscious, whether it's overt or manifested through microaggressions, you're racist.

It's not our fault--we're trained to think and behave in racist ways. However, here's the good news: Admitting that we're all racist defangs the label. I'm a racist, and you're a racist, too. Boom. Let's work it out.

Alas, like an addict, we're in denial. We can't even admit that racism actually exists. As Junot Diaz brilliantly described his MFA writing program over at the New Yorker:
In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that “race discussions” were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.
At AA, you say the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Maybe I can't directly change all of the larger structural ways racism plays out in our society, but I can change myself. I can change my heart.

This only gets better through love. If you live in a diverse area and you don't have close, personal friendships with someone of another race or ethnic background, the kind where you all are chillin' on the weekend watching the Clippers play while talking about George Clooney's engagement, ask yourself, why not? And while we're at it, add not asking if you can touch my hair to your how-not-to-be-racist list.

It's not easy to swim upstream on this, but I know it's possible. All I have to do is look at my own family for proof.

Ah, cute parental units!
Don't get fooled into thinking that now that Sterling is banned from Clippers games, racism is handled. Don't go back to your regularly scheduled color blind programming.


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