The recent controversy concerning Donald Sterling and his racist remarks, which occurred during a discussion with his girlfriend, who came forward with some recordings, has led to some much needed discussion on the topic of racism. Notably, there are plenty of people breaking down the things he said and analyzing his words, using the recordings as an insight into the psychology of racism. However, there are also many people who are standing up for him, trying to explain their way around what he said and prove that the things he said were not racist at all, but instead were simply misinterpreted by listeners. But, the truth is, Donald Sterling is racist – proof aside from the recordings is that he’s been taken to the Department of Justice for trying to prevent black people and Latinos from living in real estate he owns – and anyone defending the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, by extension, appears to be racist, too.
If statements have to be explained so deeply that the intended meaning is nowhere near what was said, then it is likely that the speaker’s intentions were exactly as the words they uttered meant them to be.
There is a strange practice among some white people, to try and clear the names of people who are supposed to be admirable members of society, when they are confronted with clear evidence that these people hold fundamentally terrible beliefs and have harmful, negative opinions. It has happened time and time again: Mitt Romney with his comment about how 47 percent of the population doesn’t matter to him because they benefit from government financial aid, Paula Deen saying the “N-word,” and now the situation is no different with Donald Sterling saying several negative things about black people to his girlfriend.
With each of these instances of clear racist, sexist, homophobic, or classist prejudice with definite, irrefutable evidence to support them, somehow people like Donald Sterling, Paula Deen, and Mitt Romney manage to talk their way out of the scandal with a weak apology with the support of willfully ignorant backers defending them along the way.
Here’s the thing about racism in particular: white people don’t get to decide what is racist to other races. The members of minority races get to decide what is racist and what is acceptable. Sterling saying out-right that he doesn’t want black people attending Clippers games is undeniably racist. His comments to his girlfriend, who is half black, that she is “delicate,” but doesn’t seem black, invoking not only the idea that a woman’s worth is based on how soft and dainty she is, but the idea that a black woman is inherently incapable of being “delicate” – undeniably racist and misogynistic.
There is more to racism than just holding preconceived notions about a race; everyone does that to some extent, as it’s impossible to truly understand the experience of a person of another race without actually being their race, so people must come to conclusions on their own terms. No, the thing that makes racism so detrimental and harmful is that when a white American says something racist about black people, they not only perpetuate the existing racial stereotypes about black people, but they also call upon centuries of oppression, of white people stepping on and using black people to get ahead, of white people killing black people in cold blood, then punishing them for reacting. That is why Donald Sterling and the people defending him in spite of his comments are racist.
Opinion by Robin Syrenne