In light of the racist, misogynistic and downright disgusting comments Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling made in a TMZ released audio recording, there has been a wide range of debates throughout all sorts of media and Twitter about all forms of racism. If you follow the NBA, what Sterling said is not surprising in that he has a history of this, which is a whole other debate and sore on the NBA and it’s owners.
All of the talk (something I am glad to see) had me contemplating about racism in today’s America. I learned at a very young age racism was rampant and it was something I would have to deal with, most likely, for the rest of my life. As a little first grader on the playground who was told by a little girl that she couldn’t play with me because my skin was too dark and her parents told her she wasn’t allowed to touch or talk to dark people, I learned that lesson very quickly.
This isn’t a blog to complain about all the racism I’ve experienced in my life, because we would be here for a long time. The reason I’m writing this is, the act of keeping quiet. That little first grade me was hurt, confused and ashamed beyond belief, but I didn’t say a word. I kept it to myself and didn’t even talk about it until years later. As a ten year old walking with my cousin’s in their neighborhood and having a child yell, “Gandhi’s go home,” we didn’t say a word. It was my cousin’s wife who was outraged and went to that neighbor’s house to talk to the child’s father after we told her the story, even though we asked her to just forget about it – something I am very grateful for in retrospect.
Even now, when a high-level executive at a former company of mine mimicked an exaggerated Indian accent when talking to a co-worker describing how it was hard to understand the team working in India, I said nothing. Both in fear of the “higher-ups” and being shocked and offended that something like that could happen in this day and age at such an “international” company. Something, I regret now.
My parents have always taught me to stand up for myself, but they also taught me to be the bigger person. They taught me never to stoop to a bigoted, ignorant and racist person’s level. The question is, where is the balance in that? Personally, I think the Clippers players’ silent protest of wearing their warm-ups inside out, with black socks and warm-up bands was spot-on. I also greatly, greatly, admire the way coach Doc Rivers has handled the situation. Not shying away from questions and answering everything with complete honesty. He has been exemplary in such a difficult situation.
Here’s the thing about racism – as long as you hide behind the fake smile and act like it’s not there, it will secretly grow. While things have improved from that first grade story until now, it quite obvious the country and the world are not where they need to be. Beyond the surface level of racist statements, there are deep seeded race-based problems in this country and in the world. The housing lawsuits against Sterling are a clear example that racism goes beyond a recording of an eighty year old man telling his mixed-race girlfriend that he doesn’t want her showing the world that she is hanging out with black men. Like the President said, When people — when ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. Bigots will out themselves, but it’s our duty, whether black, brown or white to fight it.
At the very least as a society, we cannot fake a smile and move on when racist statements our made in our presence. We cannot let a man with a history of racism (who was even sued twice by the federal government among others) own a basketball team with men of color who he feels are his property. We cannot let a high-level executive exaggerate an accent and laugh about in the workplace. We cannot let a little girl’s parents get away with teaching their young daughter that dark skin is bad.
The fake smile is gone, it is instead replaced with the steely determination of Muhammad Ali, John Carlos, Tommie Smith and others. Gone is that quiet and afraid little first grader; she was replaced with a strong Fijian-Indian-American woman, who will not tolerate bigotry, racism or ignorance.
On a side note, journalist Bomani Jones was on the Dan Le Batard Show yesterday, and summed up this situation in a brilliant, passionate, truthful and real way that no one else has been able to. Listen to his speech starting about 5:30 minutes into the video for the larger issue at hand with Donald Sterling. The issues I talked about with racism are on the surface level, Bomani Jones talks of the deeper seeded, real issues that everyday people die over. Great, great listen that I highly recommend.