Donald Sterling has the name of a rejected “Mad Men” character and alleged views that would seem as regressive and backward in the 1960s as they do now. Despite earning millions from owning the Los Angeles Clippers, a basketball team with many African American players, The New York Times reports Sterling allegedly told his girlfriend, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people.” After these comments were made, the NBA banned him for life and fined him $2.5 million.
Cliven Bundy, a rancher who doesn’t recognize the federal government, has also recently been in the spotlight for his racist remarks. In an interview with the Times, Bundy openly wondered if African Americans were better off under slavery. In lieu of the response over these extremely incendiary comments, Bundy released a press release stating, “I am trying to keep Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream alive” and “I am standing up against (the government’s) bad and unconstitutional laws, just like Rosa Parks did when she refused to sit in the back of the bus.”
Both of these examples border on cartoonish. They showcase the absurdity of racism in the U.S. But they do very little to advance the dialog on race in America.
I’m white. I have the privilege of being able to pretend that racial problems in the U.S. don’t exist, or that they are the products of our nation’s past. When I do have to confront the racial tensions in America, they are usually presented to me in a way that separates me from the problem and makes me feel superior.
When I’m shown examples of people such as Bundy or Sterling, I can immediately say I’m not at all like them. I don’t have to examine the prejudices I have and the micro-aggressions I may use around minorities. I can pretend I’m not part of the problem.
Also, when I hear stories about people such as Bundy or Sterling, I pretend I’m one of the “good guys.” That somehow I deserve a pat on the back for simply being a decent person. As though by simply not being a racist, I deserve a medal.
You don’t deserve praise for being a decent human being, and you don’t forward the discourse by just talking about cartoonish examples.
While we’ve been talking about the antics of two rich white racists, two African American men were subject to a botched double execution. Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner were scheduled to be executed last night using a new secretly acquired drug cocktail. After the administration of the drug, Locket gasped saying, “Something’s wrong,” according to witnesses, and died of a heart attack. Warner’s execution has been stayed.
Instead of TMZ articles about Sterling’s girlfriend or Fox News segments on Bundy, we could have talked about the injustices of our execution system – how death row inmates are being used to test secretive drugs that the state won’t disclose the source of.
Beyond this botched execution we can look to a 2013 study by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which found that African Americans make up 41 percent of all death row inmates, despite being only 13 percent of the general population.
I’m against the death penalty, and even if it was somehow equal, I still wouldn’t want it to occur. But it’s also unjust to say we should disproportionately kill black murderers but let white murderers live.
These facts force us to examine race in ways the white U.S. population normally avoids. It’s avoided for the simple reason that it’s a difficult discussion that doesn’t give white U.S. citizens an easy out or easy answers.
We can’t pretend that laughing at the ignorance of people such as Bundy or Sterling actually does anything. We have to be willing to do the difficult work of examining the United States’ problems in ways that make us feel uncomfortable – but in ways that will lead to progress.
Walker Edwards is a junior philosophy major. Reach them at email@example.com.