Image: Cliff Wildes (license)
Donald Sterling is the latest figure to find himself in the midst of racial controversy. When a celebrity foolishly puts their foot in their mouth and it happens to be offensive to certain ethnic groups, the media is all too thrilled to engage in a ratings bonanza. And for that matter, many people from the mentioned group and general public are all too willing to supply them with the precious viewership they hope to capitalize on. This then leads to one very valid question; “is this ever really helpful?” To be more direct, do we deal with these situations in ways which create even a remote chance of moving race relations forward? For the following reasons, the answer is a resounding “no!”
What is shallow vengeance? Well I am so glad you asked. This is when some celebrity or other well-known individual does something which sparks racial controversy, and we demand retribution to satisfy our cry for blood. But what many fail to realize is this leads to a lose-lose situation. Should the person be fired or convicted, now what? We got our pound of flesh and have now successfully shut down nearly all roads to push the conversation further. Most of the media leverage is now gone and to demand much more would be met with a, “did you not get what you wanted already?” On the other hand, should the demand of termination or conviction fall through, it now comes off as a major blow to the group who put so many eggs in that basket. Besides, when a group of people place vengeance as the number one criteria for rectifying a perceived wrong, we typically call them a lynch mob. Just take a moment or two to allow that irony to sink in.
Jesse Jackson & Al Sharpton
Depsite the rhetoric they spout about seeking justice and equality, they are arguably responsible for more damage than good at this point. The battles they pick have been pegged by many as more about personal publicity than bringing attention to the situation. They regularly make issues which are fairly trivial in the grand scheme of racial equality out to be pressing matters in need of action. And even when there is a legitimate issue of discrimination or injustice, the mere presence of their camera-chasing ways discredits it. But what really gets under the skin of many blacks, is many whites actually treat them as the appointed spokespersons for black America.
As the saying goes, sometimes the best place to hit someone who offends us is in their pockets. And there are legitimate situations in which such an approach may be appropriate. But in recent years, too many people put the cart way before the horse. When something happens, the first move they make is to seek damages of some sort (even if they were complicit at an earlier time). Therefore, what may truly be a valid situation of discrimination is now painted as all about the money. And unfortunately, many times it is. Let us not even mention the effect of involving Gloria Allred; who could have just as easily been in the previous paragraph.
Indulging the Scorned
There have been several instances of racial controversy which involve an angry ex, disgruntled employee or opportunistic loved one exposing the person to the public. While it is clear the person clearly knew about the person’s attitudes or behaviors towards certain groups beforehand, we only focus our critical gaze on the person they outed. But quite frankly, should we not be more upset with the bitter person taking cheap shots? After all, they sat on this information for years with absolutely no problem, yet now play the victim or righteous crusader after being kicked to the curb. And even worse, they usually do so in the most passive aggressive of ways such as recording phone calls or leaking private videos. Whether they are a 6 year old bratty kid or a 26 year old gold digger, a tattletale is still a tattletale and should be ignored to deny them the satisfaction of the spite they obviously crave.
Do not get me wrong. There are certainly times when social media has been a great way to bring about social change; such as Facebook’s role in the Egyptian revolution. But let us not forget that spark was in fact, a spark. The actual fires of activism ignited as people took to the streets and risked their lives to fight for what they believed. But in our current society, we have become strong proponents of 1-click activism. Standing up and speaking out has been reduced to like, share and click this petition. People rage on in pointless online “debates” in which they merely take turns regurgitating talking points they heard somewhere else. But nearly every conflict will boil down to one basic decision. Do we want to win or solve the problem? Social media can be an enormously powerful tool for bridging racial divides, but can be just as powerful at widening them.
The Leader Trap
When looking at history, major movements which led to social change often had an iconic leader at the helm. Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Caesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. are nearly synonymous with social action. But in recent years there has been an unfortunate side effect. Instead of most people taking action when they believe something is not right, they instead wait for an acceptable leader for them to rally around. This leader is expected to then fix the social ills plaguing us from a podium and we then benefit from their efforts. If there is any doubt about whether or not this is actually true, merely recall the expectations many had when Obama was first elected. Real change comes from the bottom up and not the top down. When those of us upholding the higher levels of society decide to strategically confront the structures holding us down, only then can we rise above our current situation.
Lack of Cross-Sectional Unity
One of the most frustrating realities of discrimination, is the discriminated tend to divide and attack each other. Every group wants to win the trophy for “Who’s had it the worst.” And in that process, we minimize and dismiss the plights of others struggling for the exact same things we also desire. We scream and yell when the boots of establishment and institutional racism step on our toes, yet walk away whistling when someone else gets kicked by that same boot. But just imagine a world where those in the midst of their own racial controversy, are aided and supported by other groups who want the same equality? As the the old adage goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
If a racial controversy takes place and your first response is, “see, racism does still exist,” this section is all about you. The idea behind this reaction is should enough in-your-face evidence be presented, the skeptics and nay-sayers will finally have to acknowledge racism and white privilege really exist. However, can you ever sell a truth to someone who is walking wholeheartedly in willful ignorance? Think about that woman who has all the evidence in the world of infidelity, yet will not accept those findings unless she catches him in bed with three women he admits are not his cousins. Consider the addict whose life is a stinking hot mess, yet passionately denies they have a substance abuse problem. Those who do not want to believe, will not believe. The best course of action is to cut our loses and focus on those who have no intentions of moving the goal post. Continuing to wait for most people to be convinced before taking action is akin to getting in good enough shape to go to the gym. We must forget about how we look to the doubters and pursue our goals to the fullest. There is no need to prove a change needs to come, when we simply get to bringing it about.
By Corey Dorsey