April 29, 2014
How to defeat “The Ugly”!

April was a fast and busy month. As Spring finally began to take hold in the northern hemisphere, life began to change and events moved the news and the people. Events can be placed in three recognizable categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The “good” was surprisingly good. The “bad” was disturbingly bad. Life is full of the “good” and the “bad”; we learn to hope for the former and accept the latter.

But the “ugly” is different. It is an unacceptable game-changer that affects people in unforeseen ways, sometimes with terrible consequences. The “ugly” is not a part of life; it is an anomaly, an aberration, even an abomination.

Unfortunately, April has experienced a bit of the “ugly” as it comes to a close.

What were the “ugly” events that have disfigured April’s beauty?

 1. An ignorant comment and racist behavior

Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers and real estate mogul, reportedly made statements to his girlfriend that she should not bring African Americans to the Clippers’ basketball games or send pictures of herself with African Americans on Instagram. Herself of both African American and Hispanic origins, she protested and pushed him back against his racist beliefs.  Not unexpectedly, he clung to his beliefs and further stated that she is allowed to do “other” things with African Americans but she could not bring them to the games.

This conversation was recorded and has since gained the infamous status as the argument heard ‘round the world.

Criticisms have started. Protests have been made. Outrage was announced. Profanity was hurled. Sponsors have withdrawn. Awards were rescinded. Sanctions and fines have been considered. The jury is still out about what will, in fact, happen to Sterling. But even he must be resting uneasily tonight. Of course, this is not the first time that a powerful person has made a ignorant or racist comment.

But this time was different.

2. A prejudiced decision and an unfair change of law

Let’s turn to the Supreme Court. There is a connection, I promise.

Last week, in an extremely disappointing and revealing decision in the Schuette case, the Supreme Court struck down another affirmative action program–this time in Michigan–stating numerous times that the case was not actually about affirmative action. Of course, this is not the first time that the Court has confronted and struck down a race-conscious program.  But it is unique in that it struck a serious blow to affirmative action and to voting rights for minorities at the same time. In a killing-two-birds-with-one-stone approach, the Court decided that a majority could vote away the rights of the minority voters. Affirmative action was on the chopping block—and it got chopped away.

This was definitely different.

But this IS America and I firmly believe that people have the right to their opinions, beliefs and viewpoints—even when they differ from my own. I could never have stayed married for 17 years if I didn’t accept this right as an axiom!

I will not deny Donald Sterling the right to his viewpoint, however, offensive that I might find it.  However, he had no right to impose his beliefs upon his girlfriend.  Of course, she seemed the fighting-back type but clearly they held different and conflicting viewpoints in the situation. He certainly has no right to deny housing to people based on his offensive beliefs for which he has already suffered a penalty. And perhaps one famous basketball player was right to say that Donald Sterling has no place in professional basketball, particularly as an owner, manager or role model.

The Supreme Court is in a different position from Donald Sterling. It holds the exalted position of having people (or parties to a case) ask for its opinion and for people (or the country) actually listening to it when given. It cannot take a “shut mouth” approach to hide its ignorance or disturbing views on race.

What should the Court do?

The Court should do its job.

And its job is to uphold the principles and rights guaranteed in and protected by the United States Constitution.  Instead, it is eroding at the hard-won rights that Americans cherish: equal rights and equal representation. Perhaps this Court also has no place in a multicultural country that promotes equal rights, equal access, and equal representation for all.

Things are different now.

Remember that one person can make a difference. Sometimes, that person uses his or her energy to make a negative difference like Donald Sterling who used his power and influence to control and divide people as well as deny fair housing to African Americans and Hispanics.  Or like Justice Clarence Thomas who routinely denies the protections of the Constitution to members of minority groups.

Another person who dared to be different and actually made a difference (amidst all the rights-denying noise on the Supreme Court) was Justice Sotomayor.

Last week, she wrote a dissenting opinion in the Schuette case that will survive in the annals of courageous and brilliant jurisprudence.  She broke ranks and sought to protect the rights of the minority. She did her job. Brilliantly. Courageously. Powerfully.

What else can one person do? What can we do?

  • We can—we must–speak out against comments and behavior by racists at all levels who seek to divide, undermine, degrade, and disempower any group of people.
  • We must identify and publicly condemn them for the sake of our children, our society, and ourselves.
  • We must never remain silent in the presence of ignorance.
  • We must courageously confront those who seek to undermine the societal values that we treasure.
  • We must show compassion for those afflicted with such views and teach them other ways of thinking and living in a world of respect, equality, and human rights.
  • We must support, promote, and protect people who are working to make our society and world into a better place for all.
  • And, finally, let’s refocus our energy away from Donald Sterling’s comments on African Americans at basketball games.

Let’s focus our attention on Justice Sotomayor’s insightful commentary, which notes that racists are changing the political arena to “afford the minority the opportunity to participate, yet manipulate ground rules to ensure the minority’s defeat.”

That is where the most important game is being played.

Let’s bring the “good” back!

  1. Mellanese
    April 30, 2014 at 9:05 pm Reply

    Great article. Not only did you explain the issues, you gave us information about what we can do. I can always count on you to keep us informed about these important events which affect us all. Good work.

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