Monday, April 28, 2014

Again With the Race Remarks?

Seriously, again? First there was the media circus surrounding Paula Deen who said that she would like to experience the old Antebellum South. Well, that resulted in a court case, cancellation of her shows, endorsements, and countless tearful apologies. Then came the good old boy and Patriarch of the Duck Dynasty empire, Phil Robertson, who was stated that he wondered if blacks were better off before the federal government got involved, starting in the 1960s (and he went on to say that homosexuality was contrary to God's laws). Then came Cliven Bundy, the Texas rancher who became a mini-folk hero within the Patriot Movement for standing up to the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy, made a similar comment when he too wondered out loud if "the Negro people" weren't better off as slaves rather than depending on government subsidies.

Now comes the owner of the Los Angles Clipper's basketball team, Donald Sterling. Mr. Sterling's comment had nothing to do with nostalgia or economic wellbeing. Nope. Sterling allegedly told a female friend to stop bringing blacks to his team's games. Apparently, this isn't the first time a comment like this has been made, but it sure looks like it will be the last time, at least as owner of the LA Clippers. The players reacted just like one would expect them too---not well. First there was the pre-game warm-up without the team's jerseys. Then during the game, they wore black wristbands and black socks with the team's red uniform. By the way, they lost 118 to 97 to the Golden State Warriors. The player's union is investigating to see what action can and should be taken, and the NBA is looking into a suspension and forcing Sterling to sell the team. Can't say I blame them can you?

But, what I'm interested here is what is behind these comments. What would make these celebrity types make such inflammatory comments? Frankly. I can at least understand, but certainly not agree with, the comments of Deen, Robertson, and Bundy. All three individuals are from the deep South where things are slow to change and comments like they made are still far from uncommon (Deen is from Albany Georgia and lives in Savannah Georgia. Robertson is from Vivian Louisiana, and Bundy is Western Texas, though the standoff was at the family ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada). Secondly, they are all in the age bracket where they would very much remember the pre-Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. Deen and Bundy were born in 1947; Robertson in 1946, and just for the record, Sterling is 80. All three members come from small towns and fundamentalist backgrounds. They experienced a very different South at an age and time which has left a certain impression on their personalities.

The comments made by all three weren't intended to be hurtful or spiteful. Though crudely put, they were actually attempting to show some compassion. What do I mean? All three were making comments about whether federal subsidies---handouts to some---have actually done more to hurt blacks (and poor whites, Asians, and Hispanics for that matter) by creating a sense of dependence rather than encourage independence and promoted fatherless families because the families without a male head of household could receive more benefits than one with a male head of household. Dependence breeds a sense of decreasing personal expectancy but also an increase in a sense of "entitlement".

Yes, some have done well and have broken the cycle of poverty, but many more haven't, and it's more prevalent in the Old South than anywhere else in America. Look at Appalachia. When Robert Kennedy and President Johnson visited in the 1960's, we as a nation were shocked to see the level of poverty people were living in; the lack of proper housing, including electricity, plumbing, poor nutrition, lack of adequate medical and dental care, mediocre education, the lack of infrastructure, and most of all, the lack of jobs. The ones that were available usually paid little and were dangerous. In other parts of the South, many of the same conditions applied. This, of course, was reason behind LBJ's "War on Poverty". Here we are in 2014 and not a lot has changed. Education still lags in the rural South. Unionization, which usually brings better pay and benefits, is non-existent while unemployment across all racial lines remains high. While there has been some improvement in medical care, it's still woefully inadequate. Housing and infrastructure such as roads have improved, at least in places, but there's much more to be done.

Finally, there is still that deep dark secret which lingers in the hearts of many Southerners of the Old South; of plantations, shady trees, large verandas, elaborate socials, delicious home cooking, and a strong sense of family and tradition. Much of it is myth. Only 4% of the Old South ever owned slaves, and of those, it was 2 or less with the owner working shoulder to shoulder in poor soil and sharing the same hardships and even the same meals. Only 1% were living the "Gone With the Wind" dream. The War of Succession and subsequent imposed Reconstruction devastated the South and its institutions, both the bad ones and the good, and 150 years on, the Old South still hasn't fully recovered. Perhaps it never will.

Could they have said it better? Without a doubt. In fact, in this era of hyper political correctness, they should have simply kept their little ole cotton pickin' mouths shut (Robertson's comment extended to beyond race to include his religious views about gays and Bundy referred to blacks as "Negro", which is an old Spanish word meaning "black" and is the proper racial designation but not considered "PC"). Is it right that that they have to curtail their comments while those of other races, religions, or sexual orientation don't get called for making similar comments? No, of course not. We need to accept that discrimination in any form, either overt or subtle, is not a one way street, and despite what Attorney General Eric Holder has said in the past, hate crime laws work both ways, and should be enforced accordingly.

As for Sterling, this will be played out for at least the next several months. The outcome will not be good, at least for him. The Clippers will survive as a team, and may go on to win more games and maybe a championship or two, but under new ownership. And while this editorial was meant only as a possible explanation, the fact that I'm having to add a disclaimer clearly indicates that we as a society are sadly far from "post-racial". But, perhaps too this will give us an opportunity to have a open and honest discussion about not just a differences, but about our similarities.

David Sterling's Alleged Racist Comment

Clippers Stage Silent Protest

For Silver, removing Sterling as Clippers owner easier said than done

The Instagrams That Sparked Sterling's Rant

Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy: Is Age a Factor?

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