A while back when Halle Berry was fighting for custody of her daughter and accusing her ex of being a racist, I wrote a post for Loop21 about what it was like for one black woman to date a racist. I’d link to this story, but Loop21 took a turn for the non-existent, and so did their archives (but you can still take a peak at my old post via the Internet’s Wayback Machine). But I thought of this story as things unfolded with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his mixed race mistress.
Here’s what I wrote then:
Last week in the tabloid media, accusations flew that the ex-boyfriend of actress Halle Berry, Gabriel Aubry, may have called her the “N-word.”
Shortly after that rumor surfaced, another popped up claiming Aubry was known for becoming irate when people referred to the two-year-old daughter he has with Berry, Nahla, as “black.” While some believe the gossipy insider claims of racism and others believe this is Berry playing hardball with an ex to gain full-custody of her daughter, the far more complicated reality is — this is not necessarily unusual.
In interracial dating, for every wonderful, understanding or just regular romantic partner you may get, you can also end up with a fetishizing, demoralizing, confused racist — A steely lover who whispers “you’re different from other black people” sweetly into your ear as if the words were golden prose.
It happens more often that you’d think.
The cognitive dissonance that goes into putting your penis into what you hate is not a new phenomenon. This is especially true in America, where my reddish brown hue doesn’t come from solely “having some ‘Indian’ in my family,’” as those ashamed of the bleaker side of their history like to say.
Black families don’t like to talk about it, but rape is rape. Sexual coercion is sexual coercion. And slavery is slavery. It happened to a lot of our relatives. By virtue of slavery (as well as systemic oppression post-slavery), you can’t exactly tell your oppressors no. Never mind the old timey notion that women of color can’t get raped because, apparently, we’re just hot for it all the time, seducing innocent white men, luring them to surreptitious recordings that reveal them to be the racially loathing sociopaths they are.
But what is both saddening, but not surprising, again, racism is presented as problem black people need to solve while quite a few white people silently hold their tongues and hope this whole sordid thing goes away. Of course Magic Johnson is going to decry racism (and the fact that some of Sterlings Klan-flavored haterade was directed towards him). Of course Michael Jordan and LeBron James and any number of African American basketball players, current and former, are going come out and call foul. And tons of non-basketball related black people are voicing their outrage. Yet, that tightly wound up, tight-lipped, press briefing, the NBA — a league where the players are mostly black and the owners/power structures are mostly white — was much more of what is to be expected when certain white Americans have to confront racism.
“All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy, which is why I’m not yet prepared to discuss any potential sanctions against Donald Sterling,” Silver said. “We will, however, move extraordinarily quickly in our investigation. In the meantime, Mr. Sterling has agreed he will not attend his playoff game tomorrow in Golden State.”
Yeah it’s bad, right, but let’s not go crazy here. We need to investigate things!
This was Silver’s statement, a profession of mild outrage mixed with a call for fairness, despite the fact Sterling’s a long history of being a raging, racist bigot slumlord is of embarrassing legend. Saying “blacks stink” and talking about black players as if they were poor horses-from-the-hood to be bartered over wasn’t enough. The fact the Department of Justice went after him for housing discrimination, something ESPN fixture Bomani Jones wrote about in 2006, wasn’t enough. He wasn’t reprimanded then, but now that he’s on tape, besmirching one of the greatest and most beloved NBA All-Stars of all time, now it’s a problem. Thus giving this all an air of a lot of high powered white people were willing to look the other way at Sterling’s bigotry, as if he were merely some drunk, racist uncle, because he was one of them.
Oh, and he hadn’t been caught on tape … just in depositions and word-of-mouth.
For systematic racism to end, white people have to say something. It’s not enough for black people to throw up their hands and holler. You can’t wish racism away. You can’t look at the Obama family in the White House and assume we all overcame. The racist power structures of our country are baked in the cake of our society. Several of our founding father’s owned slaves and structured our Constitution to protect the right to turn a human being into a mule. You can’t take the yolk of racism out after your Racist Red Velvet comes fresh from the oven. It’s just there. In perpetuity. And now we have to deal with it.
For too long, the burden of calling those to the carpet on race has fallen on the oppressed and a few, brave allies. But nothing is going to get done if more of those who have deliciously dined on our racist cake, benefiting and languishing in the flavor, don’t spit out their moist and spongy privilege and acknowledge this isn’t right. Being rich, white, male and elderly shouldn’t make you immune from shunning, ridicule and protest. People — white and black — can’t simply call him part of a bygone era when he still has the wealth and power to make the lives of people of color miserable.
We can’t always lead the protest. We need the masses who claim they are not Donald Sterling to join in the outcry. Let’s fight against our racist past, present and unfortunate future together or this scourge will never end.