If I wanted someone to read my article, I might have put Donald Sterling in the tag line. Seems that seems to do the trick these days. Put the known racist in the tag line, and people might gravitate to the article. It's as though we can't get enough. When I said, 'we' I mean society, and of course, it's not as though 'we' all fall in that category. Some of us have had enough. I'm one of those people, but as much as I'd like to focus on something other than Mr. Sterling, it's probably a bit ignorant of me, if I truly want to focus on social issues in sports. So I've accepted an invitation to be on a radio show tonight to discuss Mr. Sterling. I will probably be asked questions about the constitutionality of the lawsuit, my thought about his wife, and a myriad of other questions. The conversation will be interesting, I'm sure but what do I really know about racism? Up until this morning I thought I knew a lot.
This morning I had the privilege to have an engaging conversation with a very intelligent man, who helped me to open my mind. Here I go again, finding out just how little I truly know about something I thought I knew a lot about. In defense of me, I do know a lot about racism when 'a lot' is defined in a manner that means 'great deal' and measured in a manner that allows my having earned undergraduate, graduate degrees in Criminal Justice and having completed my PhD education in Public Policy Administration / Law. I say that because I probably would not have earned those degrees without having studied several classes that involved racial disparities that exist within our prison system, and/or various other issues involving race in law enforcement etc., I have also studied the socio-economic issues that involve racial matters. All this coupled with my life experience which I have touched on in other articles that involves first hand knowledge of seeing prejudice and discrimination of people of color at places I've worked, in my love life, and in ordinary dealings in life.
You know what I've never experienced? Having someone clutch their purse when I've gotten on an elevator. So what do I really know about racism? Years ago I remember going to see my father's wife who was dying. Well that was random, huh? Why did I bring that up when I'm writing about someone clutching their purse when a black man gets in to the elevator? You know why? Not because I've done that, but because I've never really thought about it. Hearing someone tell me that he experiences that on a regular basis caused me to stop dead in my tracks, and ask myself, "What on earth do I know about being hated just because I'm a black man?" The truth is, I know very little if you measure my knowledge on experiencing the prejudice and hatred that exists.
Does it matter if I tell you that I grew up in a home that had feces in the toilet that any true health inspector would have condemned? Does it matter if I tell you that I grew up without my mother, and that my father was arrested for horrible crimes? Does it matter that I spent time in two foster homes, and that I spend my life trying to give to those less fortunate than me? Nope, not really. I still will never know what it's like to feel that hatred. I have felt hatred when I've been sitting with a black man, and people might have thought he was my boyfriend, but other than that I've never felt hatred or prejudice like that.
In fact, years ago I recall when I went to visit my father's then wife, who was dying at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, I locked my doors when I got into the neighborhood. I saw a group of men, and I felt scared and although I was not alone, I felt scared. I locked my door, and the men saw me do it. They formed a ring around my car and started screaming at me. I have little doubt they thought I did it because I was prejudging them. Was I wrong to lock my door when I saw them? What made me do that? My brother, who happened to be with me at the time, got out of the car and said, "Guys, she didn't mean anything by it. We're going to visit my stepmother at the hospital and she just locked the door because the neighborhood is notorious for crime. It wasn't personal." I never forgot how my brother was so brave, and how the men ended up apologizing to me. I must have made them feel horrible though, just by my action.
Sometimes I open my window when I head into New York City now, and I freely engage in conversations with men who wish to wash my window. I don't know if that's wise, and many would say I'm foolish to do something so dumb. Yet, I don't feel threatened and I want to show them that I've learned. That being said, if my 'gut feeling' told me that I should be afraid, I would not open my window. I'm not recommending anyone should. What I am suggesting though, is that we all take a moment to examine our own learned behavior and our own innate feelings.
Many would call me a 'nigger lover' for respecting black people. My ex-boyfriend used to say that I took it so personally when people were racist. He would say, "What's wrong with you, it's not like anyone is offending you when they use the word." Years, later my son's friends would use the term freely and I would have to tell my son, that he would need to be careful because not all would see him using the term as a term of endearment. I would have to tell him that if he ever said the notorious 'N word' that some might think he hates people, and I would suggest he never use it. He would say, "Mom, that's so stupid. We all say it. It doesn't mean anything." He's never experienced being hated because of the color of his skin, as far as I know. I don't know if he ever will.
I guess many of us have to have talks with our children about the reality of how life can be sometimes. I like to think that the world is changing, and that there are more people in the world who are accepting of multi-cultural ways. Who knows though, maybe there have always been good and bad in the world. We are, of course, only human and some of us might gravitate toward hatred and violence, while others might not.
So I learned a lot this morning about all I do not know. I do know a lot about racism. I've seen things that would blow people's minds when it comes to the reality of racism. That's why Donald Sterling's comments didn't phase me much. That being said, as much as I do know, I realize that I know very little when it comes to experiencing it. I suppose it's always good to be reminded and humbled. I am marveling this morning about all I do not know . . . that being said, I'm also marveled about how far some of us have come. I will remain open minded with a willingness to have my mind altered. I learned that after studying about Malcolm X. I think many of us have lots to learn, there are those of us who will accept that and others who won't. I'm grateful to be among those who know I still have so much to learn.