Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Race in the Twenty-First Century

Don't worry, this isn't a 698 page treatise full of data and confusing charts.  Its just a series of posts related to the recent spate of racial news and controversy in America.   Most recently , we have Donald Sterling, but before that there was Cliven Bundy, the Supreme Court affirmative action and voting rights decisions, George Zimmerman's acquittal and various lesser controversies like Duck Dynasty and Paula Dean (whose name I had forgotten, but luckily if  you google "fat racist southern chef" she comes up #1 in the results...and 2-100 also).  All this against the backdrop of our first black president and all the backlash that's entailed.  So since I bitch about it all the time, I decided to type out some thoughts more formally than my standard IM or facebook rants.

Many people, often well meaning (though sometimes not and invariably white), cite Obama's election as proof of a post racial, post-racism america.   Or at the very least, proof that despite individual racists, there is no longer systemic racism that affects minorities.  I think there's a few indications in these high profile cases showing why that's not true.  But let's start with Sterling.  One of the things that struck me in his recorded conversation is his sense of entitlement and moreover of aristocratic nobility.
I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?Do I know that I have—Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? 
What has been termed his "plantation mentality" is striking in this quote.  He feels he's giving his employees everything and they should all be grateful.  They don't work for him and make an equitable trade of their skills and effort for a fair wage. He's GIVING them something they really don't deserve and should be grateful for it.  Of course this attitude isn't limited to racists and I imagine many of the ultra-rich feel the same way about all us plebeian serfs, but I digress.   In this case, Sterling has made it clear he's talking about African Americans in particular.  The second thing, which is more significant to the idea of systemic American racism, is who exactly Sterling is talking about.  Not some poor, uneducated nobodies (which is just as bad, but carries different implications) but wealthy, famous athletes including Magic Johnson.  This American icon, entrepreneur and wealthy man isn't welcome to even attend Clippers game because he is black.  And in a sports league that leads the way in minority players, coaches and administrative staff, the NBA still has 98% white majority ownership of teams, with the only exception being Michael Jordan.  So when people point to Obama and other successful African Americans to argue racism is a thing of the past remember that the truly rich and powerful in the US (including every other past President) remain almost exclusively white men.  And at least one, and I expect many, are still racists who regard non-whites as inferior serfs.

to be continued....

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