A week ago, I was parked just outside of the Hard Rock Cafe in an alley downtown at about four in the morning; the traffic lights at major intersections blinked without regard, and only a few cars headed to or from the casino still littered the streets. Saturday night and the heart of Cleveland was, predictably, a ghost town. While waiting for the girlfriend and her friends to find their way to my car, a shoddy old Ford pulled up behind me. The gentlemen within were all African American, outfitted with bandannas, baggy t-shirts, and ragged throat beards. The four men looked at each other repeatedly, sometimes opening the door and then closing it, and I swear that they were making eye contact with me through my rear view mirror. I drove off and picked up the girls somewhere else.
I would love to tell you that I have a certain knowledge of gang rituals, that I was absolutely certain that my life was genuinely in danger due to symbols and gestures – but to be frank, I was terrified due to some deep rooted prejudice that quietly exists within us all. I was terrified of four black men because they were starkly different from me.
By now, the Donald Sterling comments have been publicized, noted, analyzed, and discussed a thousand times over. The legality of the recordings are, at this point, a non-factor: Sterling is destined to ride into his twilight years a public pariah known to have a mindset that well predates the civil rights movement and modern, logical thought. However, the reactions have been eye-opening. Most notably, outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban responded:
“I know I’m prejudiced, and I know I’m bigoted in a lot of different ways… If I see a black kid in a hoodie on my side of the street, I’ll move to the other side of the street. If I see a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos, I’ll move back to the other side of the street. None of us have pure thoughts, we all live in glass houses.”
Predictably, Mark Cuban has come under fire (obvious comparisons to Trevyon Martin’s hoodie abound). However, he stands by his remarks, and those among us who aren’t fooling ourselves should stand by him as well: it is not a perfect world, and as a creation of that world, we are not perfect beings. Not one of us.
In a way, the Donald Sterling discussion has allowed us an opportunity to take a greater look at race relations and how far we’ve truly come; as Cuban so adamantly put, we all have our prejudices. We aren’t born with them, but we are raised and fed them by whatever culture that surrounds us. It’s not something to be proud of or wear on your sleeve; it’s simply a mark of being undeniably human. Prejudice does not, however, equate to racism. Our thoughts are generally a swirling, uncontrollable storm, but they are a storm trapped safely within our minds, and it is up to us to control them. You’re not a bad person for assuming with no forethought that a black family has no money or consistent income; you are, however, a bad person for denying them service, housing, or equal treatment based solely on that assumption.
The world has certainly come a long way as far as acceptance and tolerance are concerned; it’s telling that Sterling’s comments are as outrageous as they are. It is, however, a long and arduous process, one that will certainly be set back time and time again. We already know that outward displays of prejudice are wrong, and now is the time to eliminate the thoughts that plague us altogether – and it may not happen this generation, or the next, or the one after that. Social evolution is an odd current, impacted by the uncontrollable variable that is the world around us. All we can do is better ourselves, and hope for the best.