Please let me preface this article with a few things: First, when it comes to sports I’m totally ignorant! I didn’t know if the L.A. Clippers was a football, basketball or baseball team, I’m pretty sure it’s basketball because I think Magic Johnson is a basketball player, and Sterling said some ignorant things about Magic. I know even less about the business of sports; how teams are bought and sold (for ungodly amounts of money), who would buy a team and what the rules are when one owns a team? Therefore, I have absolutely nothing to offer as far as whether the Clippers can legally be taken from sterling or not. I leave that to those who know the business of basketball.
Second, I’m not black or gay, so I don’t intimately know that type of oppression, but I can empathize with the pain that ignorance brings to being a minority, since I belong to three other minority groups: a woman, chronically unemployed (poverty most of my life) and the worst of my oppression has come from being born severely disabled.
Third, what I do know is people. I’ve watched many interactions in my 55 years of life, and have 2 college degrees, and am well read. I have a strong working, growing faith in God that changes as I get older. I hope I will keep growing as I age, but someday I may seem stuck in some foreign mindset that is archaic to that current time, and I hope people will be kind and respectful of me. This is where I’ll start with Donald Sterling.
The media, well CNN specifically, often says, “We need to have a discussion about race in this country”. I would say that’s not possible under the current climate. People are too “Ouchy” and for a legitimate reason, because it hurts! It’s like a festering boil under the skin that needs to be lanced, so it can heal properly. But lancing it will be messy; it will squirt pus and some may be affected by it. To look inside and see what caused this boil to develop in the first place, might be gruesome, but until we actually have a look-see, we’re only guessing what actually caused it. It may not be as bad as some think, or it may be an irreparable cancer, but we will never know if we are too afraid of the pain and possible cause to open it up. I’ve never cringed at pus or pain so in this article I will just tenderly scratch the surface of this festering boil.
Yes, there needs to be “game rules” people follow, but they can’t be so stringent that when someone states what they honestly believe about race, they are dealt with harshly. However, a respectful tone and demeanor should always be adhere to when delving into the exploration of race in this country. When looking at actual verbiage one uses, we should take into consideration one’s age, education level, extreme wealth and demography. Although we are all created equal, we have different life experiences depending on some of the above factors. Those experiences affect our vocabulary and the analogies we used to describe our feelings and perceptions. Feelings and perceptions are personal, and therefore in themselves are neither “right” nor “wrong”, they just are.
What was once “acceptable” is now “offensive”. Let’s take something I know like the oppression of people with disabilities which has been around in various forms since the beginning of time. I’ve lived long enough where I’ve seen the language used to describe people with disabilities change drastically. Also let’s put it into the context of my family who all love me and would only want the best for me.
My grandmother, if alive, would be 105 years old. She died at age 94 in 2002. She was around me all my life, including seeing me on the news protesting and being arrested for the rights of people with disabilities. My grandma, who was a Godly woman, at heart was not an ableist (Ableism is a form of discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities), but the constructs of her thoughts about “caring for” people with disabilities screamed ableism! Why? Because that’s what she was taught to be “kind” and “good” from a young age, she meant no harm. My grandma was 51 when I, her first grandchild was born with Cerebral Palsy. I would often hear her tell her friends that I “was crippled from birth” which caused me to cringe a few times no less. When I was a teenager, which would have made her close to 70, I convinced her to use the word “handicapped” as a nicer “word” and that was the Word used in the 1970’s to describe people who had a physical or mental functional limitation in ambulating through this world.
When the Word changed to “disabled” or “people with disabilities” in the ’80’s, she was kissing 80, those language brain cells were engraved in neural pathways and just could not build new ones to learn a new language. Sometimes I would even hear her revert back to archaic language in describing herself as she aged; “My hands are so crippled up with arthritis”. My point is, people who are very elderly often are not prejudice in their heart, although their archaic language stings with the realities of times past.
To further exemplify the difficulty elderly people have in changing their preconceived mental constructs of some minorities, in 2000 I was 6 months into a permanent full-time job. Part of my job was assessing apartments to see that they met accessibility code. Long story short, an elderly woman who was managing the front desk of an apartment complex claimed I had no right to be out without my social worker, kicked me out of the building (during a thunder storm) claiming I was a liability and calling the police on me! Try explaining that to a boss, although my boss was tremendously supportive when I explained what happened, I was awake all night the night before I told him because I thought he’d think I was incapable and fire me. The Ohio Civil Rights Commission settle my case in my favor with the local public housing authority. Part of the settlement was this woman would apologize to me, but she refused reiterating I had no right to be out by myself. She lost her job rightfully so, but that preconceived idea about disabled people was so deeply rooted she could not understand. Although people are free to have and verbally express those beliefs in a respectful manner, it crosses the line when the exercise of those beliefs tangibly intrudes on the life of the intended minority.
Another construct is extreme wealth. There are always exceptions to this, like Oprah and Princess Diane, but in general the extremely wealthy live in a bubble. So whatever was constructed for them, especially if they were born into extreme wealth, is their reality. Especially the fact they are usually surrounded by “Yes men” – people who never challenge their beliefs, or have serious open discussions with them. Now it will be even more difficult to change core beliefs since one can be audio taped in the privacy of the home discussing their honest feelings, and suffering a severe loss for it. Do we really want just lip service, people learning politically correct language and memorizing by rote the correct things to say about minorities out of fear of repercussions, while still harboring those isms in their heart?
If we truly want to understand the constructs and have a discussion about racism, ableism or any other kind of “ism” in this country, we need to listen to the very elderly to understand that time and reality so we can start to deconstruct the ism at their core. We can’t just simply say “That’s wrong now. We no longer talk like that” (which is true), we have to also teach how this came to be by looking into the past and discovering some of those things that were intended to help people out of oppression, but may have reinforced the stereotypes that were present then, therefore carrying on the prejudices and discrimination. Things like shelter workshops and busing. Just as we shouldn’t just tell our children that they are “wrong” about whatever, we should try to listen to what people are saying about minorities and understand it from their perspective. Listening and understanding why they feel or believe such things, doesn’t mean we agree or support their view, but it’s a respectful way to begin. “Seek not to be understood, but to understand” – St. Francis of Assisi