Killing the Messenger Who Reveals Our Hypocrisy about Race

From beginning to end, the Donald Sterling controversy has had the wrong messaging. The 80-something year old owner of the LA Clippers is caught on tape demanding—or actually whining—that his 30-something year old girlfriend should stop associating with minorities, particularly black people.  That was bad enough, but then the Clippers’ official response to the public outcry was that they needed to “authenticate” the audio to confirm whether it was Sterling on the tapes. (Contrition would have been a much better strategy than hiding the ball—no pun intended.) However the condemnation spotlight is slowly turning away from Sterling and instead to V. Stiviano for committing the ultimate trespass. You don’t record private conversations of your lover’s racist tirades.

As a culture, our homes are our castles and we live with the security that we could do and say whatever we wanted until the Sterling tapes.  An increasing number of bloggers and critics of Stiviano are honing in on the wrong lesson from the Sterling debacle: be careful of what you say in public and private.  The second-wave outrage about the tape has former basketball star, Kareem Abdul Jabar, calling for Stiviano to be sentenced to prison. And, media specialist, Bruce Turkel, warns to watch what you say. He even invented a new term for the ease with which anyone can post your deeds on social media—citerazi (i.e., citizen paparazzi).

Yet this invasion of privacy feeling was nowhere to be found when Alec Baldwin’s infamous voicemail where he called his daughter a “selfish little pig” was released on TMZ.  We were so upset with the content of the voicemail that we didn’t have time to think about how releasing the tape may have been a strategic move in a nasty Hollywood child custody battle. Yet, somehow the focus on the content of Sterling’s tape has quickly shifted to Stiviano’s alleged recording and release of the tapes. What is the difference? The Stiviano tapes scare us because the politically correct and progressive liberals who outwardly espouse racial equality could probably be caught on tape saying worse things than Sterling. Through training and expensive lawsuits, people have learned to not say offensive and racist things at word—but there was always the home.

Rather than feel betrayed and a need to go even further undercover—maybe running the shower or a faucet while using offensive epithets at home—this is an opportunity to address the bias that we harbor. Although many of us may have gotten smarter about when and where we reveal our discriminatory thoughts, the reality is that those thoughts and beliefs still affect recruitment and promotion decision in the workplace. The offhanded sexist, xenophobic, and ageist thoughts that we are smart enough to keep out of the workplace, is no less destructive to our perceptions of others just because we save it for home. The stereotypical thoughts and beliefs that we create about others sets up a deleterious power paradigm of “I’m better than them” which follows us from our kitchen table and into our interactions with the thems. 

I know that this is wishful thinking but wouldn’t it be the best outcome if the Sterling tapes made us so afraid of saying anything racist that we stopped saying and thinking racist things altogether?  

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