Can We Please Hold Blacks to the Same Standard as Donald Sterling?

The NBA has banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life, and fined him $2.5 million for allegedly making racist statements.  (Sterling’s antipathy for “people of color” has long been known, but his latest diatribe was evidently too much, even for those who previously liked his money.) 

With Sterling’s come-uppance, America has witnessed the reality that for a white person openly to express negative feelings about blacks is virtually “the kiss of death.”  As former CBS television journalist, Bernard Goldberg, observes, Sterling’s near-universal condemnation is “good news” about racism in America these days.

A white guy uttered what are perceived to be hurtful words, and the virtual roof fell in on him. 

If American society needs any more vivid demonstration of how it treats whites’ racist comments, I’m hard-pressed to know what it would be.

Did America go too far?  Subsequently, Goldberg has warned that if Sterling can suffer for racist comments made privately, others may also.

Question:  If an overwhelming majority of Americans condemn whites who make racist statements, when are we going to hold blacks to the same standard?  

Are blacks perceived to be racist?  Although polls cannot readily plumb actual racist sentiments, they can tell us if there is a perception that this or that group, or society as a whole, is racist.

A poll of American adults that was reported in Rasmussen Reports (July 3, 2013) provides helpful information.  According to this poll, 37% of American adults think “most blacks” are racists, compared to 15% who believe the same about “most whites,” and 18% who say that about “most Hispanics.” 

 Blacks in the poll were more likely to say that “most blacks” are racist (31%), compared to 24% who harbored this view of “most whites,” and 15% who felt that way about “most Hispanics.”

The list of prominent blacks whose racist comments are on record is too long to be adequately cited.  Some blacks have uttered far more egregious racist comments than others.  Calling for the murder of white babies, for example, is a far graver breach of civil talk than asking for the creation of an all-black professional basketball league.

Nevertheless, the “conventional wisdom” among academic social scientists is that blacks cannot be racists.  Only whites are racists.

The popular notion in Academe that blacks can’t be racist can be traced to the development by the late Harvard law professor Derrick Bell of “critical race theory” in the 1970s and 1980s.  Critical Race Theory has several facets, but three are of especial relevance.  First, the theory posits that racism is a collective, not an individual, phenomenon.  Second, and more important, racism is endemic in American society.  Third, blacks cannot be racists.

Professor cum radio talk show host Eric Michael Dyson, denies that blacks can be racist because they lack power.  Dyson allows that individual blacks may be prejudiced, or even bigoted.  But, they cannot be racists.

Assertion that blacks can’t be racist because they lack power is an odd claim, considering that Barack Obama is president, Eric Holder is Attorney General, blacks are among Obama’s key advisors, can be found throughout the federal and state judiciary system, occupy federal, state, and local public offices, and are mayors of many big cities.  Major electronic and print media outlets employ increasing numbers of blacks.  Oprah Winfrey was the nation’s leading TV talk-show hostess for over 20 years, and blacks are increasingly present in the entertainment industry.

If “racism” requires a combination of prejudice, power, and the ability to influence media bias, don’t blacks now fulfill these requirements?

Think again about the claim that “blacks can’t be racist.”  Isn’t that a racist comment?  Google defines “racism” as “the belief that all members of a race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”  By that definition, the assertion that “blacks can’t be racists” IS racist.

A different approach to blacks’ hostility toward whites sees it as a justifiable reaction to America’s legacy of racial oppression.  As one blog notes, “black racism is rooted in the notion that African Americans are justified in hating (or even harming) white people as a form of reprisal for the latter’s historical, and continuing, transgressions against blacks.”  The same source asserts leftists believe that blacks who express hatred of whites are “agents of retributive justice against their white tormenters.” 

If contemporary black hostility toward white people can be justified as a form of “retributive justice” against America’s racial oppression, what are we to make of its seemingly increasing prevalence in the wake of profound changes in how the U.S. has dealt with race since World War II?  As Shelby Steele notes in White Guilt (2005), between the 1955 trial of Emmitt Till’s murderers and the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson, the era of white supremacy gave way to the age of white guilt, and neither has been a boon for the cause of civil rights.

The black grievance industry (BGI) has a simple explanation for blacks’ continuing antipathy toward white people:  when it comes to race relations, there has been no significant improvement in recent years.  The BGI believes that America remains an irreparably racist country.  Again according to the BGI, racial injustice remains the defining characteristic of U.S. society.

A charter member of the BGI, and one of two “Justice Brothers”  (Jesse Jackson being the other one), Al Sharpton, recently blogged that “[w]e as a country are far from a post-racial society, and anyone who thinks otherwise needs to simply open their eyes.”  Referring to blacks, Sharpton declared that “we might not be in the back of the bus, and we might not drink from separate water fountains, but racial discrimination is very much alive in 2014.”

If a series of 15 nationwide polls conducted for the Times Mirror/Pew Research Center for The People & The Press between 1987 and 2012 can be credited, most blacks share the BGI’s belief that there have been few real improvements in blacks’ position in America in recent years.  Among other questions tapping opinions about race, the Center asked respondents to agree or disagree that “[i]n the past few years there hasn’t been much real improvement in the position of black people in this country.”  Agreement among blacks has consistently been at least two-thirds.  (As recently as 2007, it was 70%.)  Interestingly, even after Obama was elected, 61- 63% of blacks agreed that African Americans’ position in America had not improved.

Until blacks are held to the same standard (regarding racism) as whites and others, one may be pardoned for wondering whether the oft-heard charge of “Racism!” is a ploy by the PC police and the BGI seeking to score political points and/or achieve certain political goals. 

Unhappily, the tactic works.  Very few people want the label “Racist!” attached to them.

To paraphrase a sentiment made by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District no. 1,551 U.S. 701 [2007]), if you want a level racial playing field, level it!