Neuendorf: The truth about racism as told by a white guy

Zachary Neuendorf

These past few weeks, the nation has borne witness to multiple accounts of pure racism by two older white guys — Cliven Bundy, a libertarian rancher from Nevada, and Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Clippers basketball team who is wealthier and more accustomed to the media — although I will admit I had never heard of a Donald Sterling prior to the leaking of a tape to TMZ where  he condemns his girlfriend for socializing with black people.

Bundy remarked that he wondered if “the negroes were better off as slaves, picking cotton, and having a family life.” The racism is unmistakable, and both have faced the deserved consequences. Bundy has been demoted as the nation’s mascot of leftover, isolated Americana racism, a title in which no sane person would take pride.

Sterling, being more powerful and prominent in culture, was required to pay a higher price for his bigotry, which makes sense when his position in the sports world is considered. The NBA slapped him with a $2.5 million fine and he also received a lifetime ban from all NBA activity — including games, practices and meetings.

The media were shocked and took offense with both of these incidents, which is interesting because their levels of racism are not all that unfamiliar to any of us. Many have been on the receiving end of such prejudice or have had a white great-grandpa who looks and talks an awfully lot like Bundy after he has tipped back one too many beers.

What is clear is that racism has changed from its extreme extroversion and action-oriented days of decades and centuries past to a word-driven hate that existed a generation or two ago. Today, it is a more introverted, internalized and kept-in-thoughts type of racism that lives in more of us than we would care to admit. In short, racism exists.

I am a white guy, as are Sterling and Bundy. We are from different generations, of course, but we share what is seen as a gendered and racially privileged upbringing, which I will not repudiate. Sharing these birth traits with the two fellas, I likely internalized a similar sense of superiority at a young age over those who are minorities. Thanks to the times in which I was raised, however, I was able to identify those prejudices and shame them to death or at least to a feebleness I can control.

An ordinary, yet magnificent, ability we all possess is to use our heads and think outside of the constructs that society has lodged into our perception of the world. This allows us to form an opinion that contradicts other’s ill moralities.

Sterling and Bundy did not have this luxury or have not exercised it. Their misconceptions about race were reinforced by their environment. Their comments remain inexcusable, but understanding this gives us a way to understand their racism and how, amidst the disturbing reality it brings to focus, the two incidents can be interpreted as being so absurd that it is laughable.

Racism is a choice, one that many of us face inwardly on a daily — maybe even hourly — basis.i It does the issue a great injustice to treat the occasional outburst of racism like it is some exotic feeling that only the most evil men in the world have. By writing this article to align with the relevance of the Sterling and Bundy stories, I am being a perpetuator of the subject of my criticism. It is a tricky cycle to break.

Sterling was punished because he was caught — his punishment on behalf of the NBA was to save face. What is unbelievable is that Sterling has never expressed these opinions before now in a setting in which people from the NBA would take notice and be able to punish him. There is no way Sterling has been careful enough to veil his racism since 1981.

Oh, yeah that is right — he hasn’t. He was found to have been practicing in discriminatory housing by refusing to rent to black and Hispanic families and he is no stranger to racial slurs.

It is a sad day when we have to rely on TMZ to get the ball rolling on social progress.