|LA Clippers Owner Donald Sterling|
Prejudice extends to other differences as well: we harbor prejudice, some of us, against women; or we look down upon people with disabilities and laugh at their hardships; or we cultivate a fearful bigotry around gay and lesbian neighbors and colleagues. Prejudice comes in all these forms and more, a bigoted mindset that spills out in all kinds of ways. It's our responsibility, Ben Chavis said back then, to be vigilant.
Racism, he said that day, is something even more pernicious and deadly. Racism is prejudice PLUS power. Racism gets at the systems of privilege that institutionalize oppression and bigotry. Racism has to do with Donald Sterling--the landlord--working the system to perpetuate hideous living conditions for poor people, people of color and immigrants. Because he can. And because he can making a ton of money in the process. Racism has to do with our courts' decision to roll back 'affirmative action' programs--and thereby make it harder for people of color to make a go of it in certain law schools and state schools and pre-professional schools. Prejudice PLUS power. Racism is the imposition of bigotry through unspoken tradition, legal maneuvering and institutional will.
To recognize and describe this difference--the difference between prejudice in the human heart and racism in its institutional forms--is to provoke conversation about wealth, political power, education and whole host of other cultural realities. We're all implicated in racism; and it's on all of us to dismantle the system. The job's undone.
|Jabbar in Time Magazine This Week|
But racism goes on. And, as the saying goes, it takes a village. Racism is a sinister network of white privilege, upper class dominance, cultural prejudice, religious bigotry and more. Racism means we've grown comfortable with perpetual poverty in America. And racism means we've always got more work to do, more acting out and acting up, more education and collaboration, more movements to organize. As long as Congress, for example, is elected by the very rich and for the very rich, racism holds sway in our halls of political and economic power. Racism is maintained by power. And power doesn't relinquish its grip without some real effort on our part--on the people's part.
So I agree with Kareem (whom I saw in person, up close, at my first professional basketball game in the early 70s). My dad and I sat on the floor that evening. And Kareem cut a giant figure on the Garden parquet. Skyhooks and simple slams. Now he makes his point with words. And he's got a lot to say:
"Let’s use this tawdry incident to remind ourselves of the old saying: 'Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.' Instead of being content to punish Sterling and go back to sleep, we need to be inspired to vigilantly seek out, expose, and eliminate racism at its first signs."
I'm struck tonight by Jabbar's warning about going "back to sleep." So many of the world's religious traditions invite wakefulness as a spiritual practice. I pray tonight for wakefulness and watchfulness, and for the courage to participate in the hard work that dismantles racism (and sexism, and heterosexism, all of it). Let's stay awake together! Let's dismantle the nightmare and build the dream--together!