Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Unpacking the Issue: Sterling and Race

The decision to write on a topic that has been covered ad nauseam by journalists over the last few days stems mostly from the fact that the topic taps into an area that I can only describe to you as a passion of mine. Since the moment I could formulate logical thoughts, my dad and I discussed an array of political and religious matters. One of the topics that always pierces my heart is racism. Because my dad grew up playing competitive basketball for over a decade, he had a front-row seat to bussing and the racial struggles of the day. I knew my city was just as guilty of racism and segregation as many in the South, if not more. It always felt like I was missing something...it never made logical sense to me. Here we are in a country of people, many of whom call themselves "White", but are some combination of other ethnicities. And somehow a skin color and a link to Africa somehow altered one's humanity? I'll be honest with you...I still fail to find the logic.

Growing up in the "Bible Belt", I had to face the fact that some of the most racist among us were the ones that preached their Christian faith the loudest. "But dad, I thought the whole point was that Jesus loves everyone and demands we love everyone too?" Certainly I wasn't in law school yet, but I was smart enough to notice that there wasn't an exception to that rule. There wasn't an escape valve in the contract. Quite simply, we are to love each other. Goodness, I thought. I would hate to be around when some of these folks realize the people in the Bible aren't exactly "White". It did not matter much to me, but it was obvious that skin color mattered to a lot of people.

So, when college rolled around, I had plenty of electives from which I could choose. I gravitated toward Black Politics, Civil Rights Movement, Ethnic African Conflict, Race & Reconciliation, and Black & White Women of the American South. Yes, these were classes offered at my beloved Rhodes College, and every single one of them changed my life. I don't care how many articles, texts or novels I read during those years, I still felt like that little girl talking to her dad about how none of it made any sense to me. From where did these prejudices come? I mean, scientifically speaking, after the layers of skin peel back, we all contain a similar skeleton with some organs. Those of us living contain a beating heart and functioning brain. We all bruise and bleed. We all have emotions. Why the hell were these arbitrary distinctions being made among people?

So, there. That's a little history on why this has been a soapbox issue of mine. You can imagine that when I heard about Donald Sterling's comments, I could make little sense of them. Was it altogether shocking that a man of that generation might harbor racist views? Not so much. But I thought to myself, interesting industry you find yourself in, Mr. Sterling. I sure wonder if you would mind sharing those views with the players to their faces. Racism is alive and well, and I think we all knew that. It evolves and takes on different forms, but it hasn't gone anywhere. What has changed (and I find heartening) is society's response to it. There were times when segregation was a norm. It wasn't just tolerated, it was sanctioned by the government. Today, if someone with stature makes a racist comment and it gets out, it can ruin a career and reputation. The tolerance for it has evaporated. Millions of dollars cannot shield Mr. Sterling from the fallout he is receiving for his "private" comments. Advertisers are holding on to their dollars. Players are mutinying on the basketball court. Mr. Sterling has every right to say whatever his views may be to whomever he feels like saying them, but Mr. Sterling also gets to cope with the ensuing consequences of being an idiot.

It's no secret that I love Memphis. It's certainly no secret that I love the Grizzlies. Unless I really make myself pay attention, I have grown immune to the fact that the Fed-Ex Forum is probably the most diverse place I go in a given week. It's a patchwork of people held together by a common interest, and the differences simply do not matter. No one is perfect. Trust me, I am not always the beacon of tolerance on every issue, but I am conscious of it. I recognize when I need rethink my views on things. Mr. Sterling isn't a young man, but I hope he is capable of changing in the privacy of his own soul. I'm not a journalist. He will never read this blog. But I hope the ripples of his downfall reach people far and wide with one message - we now live in a society in America where it is no longer socially acceptable to be a racist. You don't have to read too far into the history books to recognize the beauty in that.

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