Yesterday, I was both shocked and pleasantly surprised when I heard NBA Commissioner Adam Silver say he had decided to ban Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life.
I'll admit, I'm a bit of a cynic, so I had braced myself for the league to slap Sterling with a fine -- the kind that looks like an impossibly large sum of money to regular folks, but is likely just gas money for a billionaire who owns a professional basketball team. I was maybe even expecting Silver to indefinitely suspend him. But to ban Sterling for life was, in one word, impressive.
The last few days in media have been what I've come to accept as those few moments throughout the year when we all experience reoccurring mainstream racism. The kind that makes every person at every media outlet, not just the black ones, stop and rub their eyes to be sure they read something correctly or clean their ears just in case they imagined the disgustingly racist sentiment that just came out of someone's mouth. It's the good old-fashioned racism we read about in history books when we were kids -- overt, grotesque and outright discrimination that makes us cringe.
In the past few days, everyone has appropriately shaken their heads and expressed outrage over the racist remarks both Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy have expressed. They have called for change and withdrawn support and financial association. They have dedicated hours of cable TV time mulling over the issue, and plastered the story on the front of newspapers everywhere. But what we haven't acknowledged, is just how much our country needs men (and women) just like Sterling and Bundy.
People like Sterling and Bundy are the boogie men who perpetuate the only sort of racism most people are willing to admit still exists. They make white people feel safe because white people can look at them and say "I'm not a racist, because I'm not like that." And they give black people gratification because black people can point to them and say "And you white people think we live in a post-racial society." Sterling and Bundy restore world order around America's idea of what racism is supposed to look like.
After being confronted by these sort of "monsters" we can all come together, fight them down and ultimately proclaim that "we are one" -- a message that I admire the NBA for attempting to spread. The same way Mommy and Daddy used to turn on the lights and prove the boogie man wasn't real, and the monster under the bed didn't really exist. But at the end of the day, not only does racism still exist, it's has evolved into a chameleon that can take on multiple forms. There are a lot more people just like Sterling and Bundy out there, they just might not look or act anything like them.
While both these men should be admonished for their remarks and their behavior, and while it's beautiful to watch society unite against the forces of evil, we cannot ignore the fact that racism happens everyday, and it's rarely acknowledged in mainstream media. Racism doesn't have to be someone saying "black people were better off as slaves," or not wanting black people at their games. It could be housing discrimination -- an offense Sterling has ironically been accused of in the past. It could be the reason why African-American males are more likely to have encounters with law enforcement and are three times more likely to be searched during traffic stops than white motorists. It could be the cause of the glaring racial disparities in school disciplinary practices.
Racism isn't a big bad boogie man that everyone can see. It's a silent killer like cancer that most people never see coming, or simply choose to ignore.
Let me be clear, I admire our nation's response to these horrifying incidents, and I think we have made incredible progress in this country. But as we all return to our regularly scheduled programs, sleeping well at night because we know the bad guys have been caught, let's remember there's still a lot of work to be done and the bad guys won't always be as easy to point out as Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy.