Racism and Discrimination: More About Poverty than Race

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Only a story about race, sex and money could have displaced from the headlines the sabre rattling from the United States, the European Union, and Russia that had, for weeks, promised a bloodbath in Ukraine and kept everybody in fear of World War III. That’s not all. There was also race and death: specifically, a botched double execution in Oklahoma on the evening of Tuesday April 29, 2014 that killed 38-year-old Clayton Lockett of a heart attack after more than 40 agonizing minutes, and the postponed execution of 46-year-old Charles Warner, who was scheduled to have been killed two hours later in the same room. Although Warner has maintained his innocence for the last 15 years, he too will probably be killed in two weeks. It is hardly a coincidence that both Lockett and Warner are poor and black. After all, the death penalty in the US is well known be mired in race and class prejudice. To Americans who insatiably crave prurient peeks into the lives of the rich, however, race and sex trump race and death, any time.

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The discourse this time on race, which has received inputs from numerous people including the President of the United States, is about a racist rant by Donald Sterling, privately addressed to and recorded by his honey — she does call him “honey” on tape, and he threatens to replace her — Vanessa Stiviano. According to news reports, 80-year-old Sterling, although legally married, had been separated from his wife for years. Likewise, Ms. Stiviano was also single and over 21 (by about 10 years). Therefore their affair, if there was one, should have been nobody else’s business. Quite apart from Mr. Sterling’s admonitions to his honey not to appear in public with black men, which on the surface seems to be the cause of the hoopla, we’ve also learned that he is Jewish and has changed his name from Donald Tokowitz to appear more gentile. Likewise, Stiviano, who is a hispanic-black, has changed her name from Maria Perez, and probably also her nose, to appear more Italian. Evidently, in the US, Donald Sterling, but not Donald Tokowitz, gets to own a basketball club. Likewise, Vanessa Stiviano, but not Maria Perez, gets to be an archivist. Thus Tokowitz and Perez seemed to be ideally suited to each other, at least in their self-hatred and desire to get ahead.

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No one has asked why an attractive young woman in her thirties with the kinds of looks that most American women envy, would chose to make her living by being psychologically battered by an aged man whom she obviously did not love. After all, it appears that she recorded their conversations as an insurance policy. Could it be that she is afraid to become Maria Perez the receptionist, cook, or janitor? Americans, who have a rather short memory, have already forgotten the spectacle of O. J. Simpson’s arrogance in the face of accusations of having physically and psychologically battered his wife. Nicole Simpson too was the sort of woman one expected to have everything, but she had nothing but humiliation and a terror of her husband’s SUV. In the end, she lost her life because she had either knowingly or unknowingly accepted her lot as being a thing: a decoration to be privately controlled and publicly displayed. Young women, who are most likely to feel flattered by the fuss of male predators looking for something to buy, should beware that a decoration is not regarded as a living willful thing but rather something to be smashed if it should misbehave.

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In the US, working-class men are considered to have hit the jackpot by becoming professional athletes and women by becoming objectified by very rich men. This happens to very few people. The rest watch, not with disgust that much productive work is held in low regard, but with envy. This allure of easy money is well described by John Steinbeck about communists of his days in his statement: “I guess the trouble was that we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist.”

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So we get countless commentaries about Sterling and Stiviano. Sterling is banned from attending the games of his own basketball club; his advertisers take flight; his team wears its jerseys inside out as an anti-racist statement; black protesters appear at Clippers’ games; cartoons of Sterling show him with a brown mammy on one arm and black slaves on the other to remind us of the country’s colonial history, as if a racial slur could ever be more damaging than losing one’s life for reasons of class and race.

NBA players, city leaders cheer sanctions against Donald Sterling

Finally, we learn that Magic Johnson, a retired basketball player worth about $500 million is the person most likely to buy the ball club. The athletes and fans welcome this, as if the transfer of wealth from one rich man to another should make everything all right as long as one of them is black. As black as Mr. Johnson might be, he has certainly had nothing to say about Clayton Lockett’s execution; however, to expect him to do so would in itself be racist. He is quite entitled to think of himself principally as a ball player and a rich man.

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On the other hand, one might expect Mr. Obama, the supposed post-racial President of the entire US population, to bring something important to the issue of Lockett’s execution. The President, however, had nothing directly to say about Clayton Lockett but conveyed through his spokesman Jay Carney that although the death penalty does nothing to deter crimes, some crimes are so heinous they deserve the death penalty. This, right after the release of study that found more than four percent of death-row inmates to be innocent. On the issue of Sterling, Mr. Obama was more forceful. He referred to Sterling’s rants as being “incredibly offensive racist statements” and part a continuing legacy of slavery and discrimination.

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Which one is the real legacy of slavery and discrimination? A racial slur spoken in private by a rich man who wants to dominate a young woman, the imprisonment and disenfranchisement of one out of nine African-American men, or the long-term incarceration of a man followed by a publicly botched execution? In the US, the non-racists were those in the mixed-raced group who quietly protested against the Oklahoma execution on the evening of Tuesday, April 29, 2014.

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Racism is a nasty, unpredictable disease. It can seem dormant for a long while, but then it can flare up at any moment like the worst kind of collective affliction. The private racist rants of Donald Sterling do indeed belong to the US’ dysfunctional social makeup. It is a society where the great majority of blacks, whites, and latinos are racist. Some have learned to hide their racism with appropriate language; others feel that their darker skin color gives them permission to express their prejudices. How many could stand to share with the public their private rants about race, spoken without knowing that they were being recorded? The healing of racial rifts that the Obama era was supposed to bring about has turned out to be a thin veneer on the decrepit plantation built by African-American slaves and now maintained by exploited men and women of all races.

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Editor’s Note: Photograph one by Wissotzky. Photograph three by Jason Carlin. Composite eight by Donkey Honkey.

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6 Responses to Racism and Discrimination: More About Poverty than Race

  1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Linda PV
    April 30, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    Dady, you hit this one out of the ballpark…fabulous and insightful! Your perspective isn’t unique, as I agree with you and I imagine so do many others. It’s just your elloquence describing what so many of us know deep inside. Racism exists, and there is some issue about private conversation and how it can come back to haunt you. Bravo!

  2. Dady Chery
    +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
    April 30, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Thank you, Linda.

  3. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Aztex2012
    May 1, 2014 at 5:38 am

    Incredible article and quite thorough. I would love to see something equally scathing regarding the issue of sexual discrimination here in the USA. This article did in fact take some time to cover the issue with regard to the girlfriend but the issue is far worse because all races seem to think women are to be dominated and it is OK to abuse them especially if they are your wife. Also the current Domestic Violence laws and enforcement are a huge failure and has only resulted in the break of too many family unites. The issues of Race and Sexual Discrimination have kept our society from moving forward into peaceful harmony. The whole Sterling thing is obviously some kind of political move… just have not quite figured any of it out yet, but time will tell. IMHO the issue of women abuse is worse than race because no matter the color, men abuse their women, so women are not safe in any society, and just take a look at the women who are incarcerated: you will usually find a man running free somewhere who was involved, and often times the women are beautiful, if anyone would take the time to clean them up. In many ways we have come a long way baby… but in terms of respect and appreciation, things were far better before the advent of TV. Blessings Dady and to all, and may you keep up the good work:)

  4. Dady Chery
    +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
    May 1, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Thank you, Linda, for the kind words and encouragement. I agree. Violence against women — especially beautiful ones — transcends race and class and is epidemic. It is an important topic: a major source of rot in US society that is closely related to the poor enforcement of laws and responsible for much of the incarceration of women, as you evidently know.

  5. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Cosmic Surfer
    May 1, 2014 at 6:59 am

    My sister, you broached a subject that many want to avoid. My first reaction to the overly advertised and hyped Sterling Scandal? If this were a CEO of a Wall St corporation, whose workers are minimum wage laborers, making these comments, would there have been such an outpouring of unification/solidarity played on air?

    Racism lives and breeds like rabbits in America but until it hits the top 1% of the population, it goes without more than a moment’s notice — if that.

    Sterling’s racist behavior has been known for at least a decade. He lost a federal discrimination case in 2006 for his open hostility towards minority families. Testimony, in that case, included employees stating they had orders not even to consider moving black families into his many properties in Southern California because blacks are “dirty and bring vermin.”

    He was a standing joke, but the NBA didn’t respond until the players became angry. There are five players on the Clippers making $46,000-$69,000 a season. The salaries jump to the next lowest paid player at $255,000 a season. There are 13 players making between $1.2 M to $20 M a season.

    Would the same attention be payed if it was only the locker-room guys and equipment handlers reacting?

    We have a disconnect in the US, and elsewhere, when it comes to average people and their daily confrontations with bigotry. It is not lost on me that the only financial/white collar criminal doing time in the US is Madoff — the guy that bilked millions from… the top 1%; but the hundreds more from Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Chase, B of As small tsk, a brush on the hand, and declared “too big to Jail” as they bilked billions from average Americans and nations around the world.

    We have politicians who raid the minuscule social safety net to assist citizens caught in the grip of extreme poverty; promotion of the extremist delusion that the poor are made up of welfare queens living large as they pump more babies out than spawning fish, drug addicts, and lazy males who sleep all day and party all night. (Reagan complained about Welfare Queens in his 1976 campaign speeches.)

    The fact that there is a disproportionate number of minorities and women caught in the web created by an uncaring society and a sleazy oligarchy may give one an impression of racism, but I see the problem as being more one of class with a eugenics spin. The hoarding 1% attempt to squeeze every penny out of the 99% and leave those at the bottom to die.

  6. Dady Chery
    +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
    May 1, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Thank you for this important commentary, Cosmic Surfer.