By Simone Quartey, Contributing Writer
If there is one phrase that I would like to irradiate from existence it would be, “I’m not a racist but…”
Donald Sterling, former owner of Los Angeles Clippers (AP Photo)
Why do you ask? Well, the answer is simple. It is normally followed by some bigoted and unfounded generalization about black people, gay people or any oppressed minority in general. The phrase is normally used to cloak someone from my critique regarding their offensive view point.
Another phrase that needs to burn in the depths of hell is, “Some of my best friends’ are-
I do not want to hear it. If you have to convince me of it, it is probably not true.
In the wake of the April 2014 being the month of all things racialized and race-related (i.e. Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling), I would like to bring attention to these phrases because I want us to abolish old crutches and get to the root of the issue.
I have heard a lot of commentary from friends, classmates and family about the two latest issues involving race in America. So, what better way to weed through the murky weeds of this touchy subject by taking things one step at a time? Let us begin, shall we?
Being “friends” with or “in a relationship” with a member of a historically oppressed minority does not absolve you from racism.
In light of the Donald Sterling controversy, I think it is imperative for this to be emphasized. Why? Because when the story first broke, I spoke to a few people and read commentary online that suggested somehow that Sterling may not be a racist because his former mistress is a woman of color.
First of all, deep sighs all around. Is that really a thing now? Are we so ignorant to our own history that that is a line of defense? Far before Donald Sterling became the Patron Saint of Plantation math (i.e. the profiting off black male labor+ the exploitation of black women= pray you don’t multiple), there was Thomas Jefferson and Strom Thurmond who perfected the art form.
Yes. There are many historic accounts that reveal the depths to which Jefferson viewed black people as inferior, despite fathering multiple children with his black slave, Sally Hemings. The odd part of this whole arrangement was that he owned her. She was his piece of property. Does this negate the fact that he did great things like writing the Declaration of independence, no. However, by modern standards, the man was a racist and a slave owner a thousand times over. Of course, I can understand those were different times; what can I say? Many of our great men were flawed.
Though it does illustrate the hypocrisy in the fact that a man who gave us “All men are created equal” fathered children that, in his eyes, were not his equals, either in his eyes or the eyes of the law during his lifetime.
The same can be said for Strom Thurmond, the now deceased Senator, who fathered a black woman, Essie Mae Washington out of wedlock. Mind you, Essie Mae Washington’s mother, Carrie Butler was the 16-year-old maid in the Thurmond household, but that is a different story.
Yes, the same Strom Thurmond who filibustered the 1964 Voting Rights Act for 14 hours and 13 minutes.
Interesting how that works.
That is not to compare Mr. Sterling’s relationship with his alleged mistress to these previous examples. Ms. Stiviano has autonomy over her life that Sally Hemings and Carrie Butler did not. She chose to enter a relationship with this man, even though he was sued by the Department of Justice for housing discrimination.
Nor do I mean to compare Mr. Sterling to a slave owner. However, the cognitive dissonance between being racist and having sexual relations with the very group you discriminate against are similar.
Racism is by definition the viewing of one race to be inferior to your own.
It is a loaded term that means a lot more than merely disliking someone else because they belong to another race. It means you view them as other, subhuman or not equal to you.
There is a systematic, and there has been from the dawn of our Republic, exploitation of African Americans at the economic behest of a privileged power structure. We may play for basketball teams, make a lot of money, hell even have a Black President, however that does not mean racism is dead.
This is how Mr. Sterling can own a basketball team in a league that is 80 percent black and still be racists.
Our nation was unfortunately built this way. Who do you think built the monuments in D.C and the very White House at the epicenter of our nation’s capital? It was not paid labor, that’s for sure. Yet Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher, experienced when he ponders out loud if black people would have been better off as slaves.
Like slavery was a walk in the park…ok there, pal. It’s 2014. People still talk like this. Huh. So much for that “post-racial” society talks…
Reverse racism is not a thing.
There are people in power, whether it is an admissions office, the U.S Senate or corporate America that can systematically bar people from gaining opportunities in this country. The worst part is that we may not know it publically, but they may secretly harbor these views. How many men in power with the ability to shape my destiny as a student, potential law student and lawyer think the way Mr. Sterling does? It is a frightening thought.
There are institutional facts like legacy enrollments at Ivy League institutions, a last name like Astor or Vanderbilt and generations of wealth and power that have not been accessible to oppressed minorities in any way. Oppressed minorities like gay people or women or Native Americans do not have centuries of advantages. Only recently have they gained any access to opportunities that have been afforded to others for centuries.
It is like we are all running a marathon, but some start the race a mile ahead. So while an oppressed person can be bigoted or prejudice, can they be racist? Hmm. That’s another story. Minorities are considered the inferior, while members of the dominant culture are considered the default. So calling me a racist for pointing this out speaks more to levels of your own discomfort with engrained privileges afforded by just being born than it does to my experiences or perceptions.
Just because you do not call me the N-word does not give you a pass.
You may in fact have preconceived notions of me when I walk through the door, like people have had of me before.
Yes, I listen to Bach and Mozart.
Yes, I read as a hobby and yes, I took AP courses in High School.
No, I did not grow up in the “ghetto.” Whatever that means…
Yes, my favorite band is the Beatles.
I am not a special snowflake. I am not different than “other uneducated blacks”, as I have been told growing up.
No, I did not live in a hut or swing from trees (I lived in Ghana for a time, so this was a popular question during my high school days)
No, I do not sound “white” over the phone, whatever that means.
Being uncomfortable being in a room full of black people, with no consideration of what it must be like to often be the only face of color anywhere (i.e. school, my neighborhood, and clubs) is odd. Why?
Being the “other” every day of my life is my existence. I cannot remove my gender or my race and pretend. Nor can I “get over” the fact that I had the cops called on me as I was canvassing for Environmental conservation last summer because I look suspicious. Do I?
A petite girl wearing a University of New Haven t-shirt knocking on doors for donations. Okay. What is suspicious looking about me?
However, I was harassed, had my ID checked and had to wait for my field manager to pick me up and take me back to the office. Mind you, I was canvassing in a neighborhood only an hour from my own.
Have you ever been through that? Will you ever go through that? I was forced to quit volunteering for a cause I loved due to multiple incidents like this.
So the next time you feed me a line about “reverse racism” or “Some of my best friends are…” or “I dated a black guy, so I’m not racists”, ask yourself:
Are our experiences and opportunities in life the same?
Do I view people as less than myself due to your race?
Take a walk in my shoes.
Oh! Wait, you can’t. So like I said; nope, nada, nein. I do not want to hear it.
The best way to combat racism is to acknowledge it exists and it always will. Until we actually level the playing field and face what the real issues are, the Donald Sterlings and Cliven Bundys that have deluded themselves into thinking they are not racists, will always exist.
Time heals all wounds, but scars remain. In order to move to a much more harmonious future, we must make peace with our acrimonious past.