The post-racist society of the U.S. has taken some serious blows these past two weeks. We have Cliven Bundy, wealthy rancher from Nevada, explaining why the “Negro” was better off as a slave and we have Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team expressing anger at his girlfriend for socializing with African-Americans.
How does something like this happen when we’ve transcended the pettiness and destructive nature of racism? Is it possible that racism did not end but has travelled underground?
Michelle Alexander, in her book, “The New Jim Crow” reveals that we no longer have to force Black people to the back of the bus or to their own water fountains. We send them to prison instead, using the justice system to carry out our racist proclivities.
It is not the threat of the racist cop or the racist prosecutor that presents the major problem. We cannot legislate away their individual prejudices and hate. It is our institutions which often tolerate or encourage the expression of these prejudices.
George Zimmerman followed, shot, and killed a Black adolescent who was walking through the neighborhood wearing a “hoodie.” Clearly, Mr. Zimmerman thought, using the stereotype, that a Black male with a “hoodie” is up to no good. If it was a White adolescent, would Zimmerman have immediately formed the same opinion?
Yet, at his murder trial, the prosecutor and judge would not allow racism to be raised as a motive for Zimmerman’s actions.
We also have the Michael Dunn case where Mr. Dunn, a white man, shot and killed 17-year-pld Jordan Davis, a Black teenager. Here again, racism is left out of the proceedings. Dunn claims that Davis was disrespectful and that he had a gun. Dunn was not convicted of Jordan’s murder but instead was found guilty of attempted murder when he opened fire on the car that Jordan sat in while his friends attempted to get away. If he didn’t shoot at the fleeing car, would he be a free man today? For your information, no gun was found on the young Jordan Davis.
Both events come under the umbrella of the Stand Your Ground law in Florida. I call it the “Kill a Black Man” law. When a person feels threatened, they do not have the obligation to flee. Rather, they have the right to defend themselves whether or not the threat is real. The problem with this law is that many White folks feel threatened whenever they’re in the presence of Black folks. Therefore, they now have the legal right to shoot Black people.
The justice system is merely only one example, although one that has tremendous impact on the African-American community of institutional racism. We can also look at education, health care, real estate market, voting rights, etc.
So, getting back to Bundy and Sterling. As long as both men are not in a position to negatively affect the lives of African-Americans, their personal feelings belong to them. Bundy referring to Blacks as Negroes and living on a ranch in Nevada leads me to believe that he might not have seen a Black person for the past 50 years.
Sterling, on the other hand owns a professional basketball team that employs mostly Black athletes, owns real estate where he has been known to treat Black tenants despicably and, is, therefore, someone who must be dealt with harshly. However, it is the National Basketball Association, which I am certain vetted Sterling when he applied for ownership of the Clippers, has known about his history of racism, and yet, has allowed him to continue to own a team that bothers me most. We cannot end racism by focusing on the Sterlings and Bundys but instead on the institutions that enable and encourage these individuals to spread their hatred.
So, my friends, when I frequently say it’s about race, I say it because it is. All we need for racists to be successful, is for the rest of us to look the other way and talk about the post-racist country in which we live.
Dave Alpert has masters degrees in social work, educational administration, and psychology. He spent his career working with troubled inner city adolescents.