Michael Smith ~ The Sterling Shine of Racism

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Over the weekend we saw sports reveal, again, a picture of the best and worst of who we are. I am a sports fan. I am passionate about my teams and sometimes even ‘fanatical’, but sports are in their proper place and priority for me. They are fun. This is the point.

Sports, at their heart, encourage fair play, teamwork, and discipline. The goal of the team is much higher than any individual player and the sacrifice of one may lead to the team achieving their collective goal. Sports in general have moments where they also speak to who we are as a society. With the speed of social media, we can see who we are faster than ever.

Recently, the L.A. Clippers wore their warm-up jerseys inside out as a protest against owner Donald Sterling's racist comments.
Recently, the L.A. Clippers wore their warm-up jerseys inside out as a protest against owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments.

This weekend, the owner of the LA Clippers, Donald Sterling, was recorded making racist comments. Many have commented that this is not the first time this has happened. Players, journalists, and Hall of Fame legends have responded, sharing how they feel about Sterling and their role in supporting the LA Clippers. The team showed their sign of non-violent solidarity through a simple act of wearing their warm-up jerseys inside out during their shoot around. Simple, yes. Powerful, yes.

When I think of racism, most of the time it’s about all the things in the past. As a 30-something I feel that my generation is enlightened enough to learn from the mistakes of the generations before us. Then I look at Twitter and shake my head at our absurdity, too. The racism of my generation is channeled through a different means and model, but it’s still the same monster. We should know better and even if we do – we don’t live it. We have come along way, but we have much journeying still to go.

We live in a society that is trying to live out the equality of all people. As a United Methodist I turn not only to Scripture, but also to our Social Creed for guidance in how to feel and react in moments such as this.

Full Text – Rights of Racial and Ethnic Groups

Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism. Personal racism is manifested through the individual expressions, attitudes, and/or behaviors that accept the assumptions of a racist value system and that maintain the benefits of this system. Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system. Racism plagues and cripples our growth in Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself. Unfortunately, historical and institutional racism provide support for white privilege, and white people, as a result of the color of their skin, are granted privileges and benefits that are unfairly denied persons of color. We define racial discrimination as the disparate treatment and lack of full access to resources and opportunities in the church and in society based on race or ethnicity. Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons. We rejoice in the gifts that particular ethnic histories and cultures bring to our total life. We commend and encourage the self-awareness of all racial and ethnic groups and oppressed people that leads them to demand their just and equal rights as members of society. We assert the obligation of society and groups within the society to implement compensatory programs that redress long-standing, systemic social deprivation of certain racial and ethnic groups. We further assert the right of members of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to equal opportunities in employment and promotion; to education and training of the highest quality; to nondiscrimination in voting, in access to public accommodations, and in housing purchase or rental; to credit, financial loans, venture capital, and insurance policies; and to positions of leadership and power in all elements of our life together. We support affirmative action as one method of addressing the inequalities and discriminatory practices within our Church and society.

Personal and Institutional – When we were kids most of the education received around racism was personal. This is how we are supposed to act towards one another, that sort of stuff. We were taught to love everyone and to look beyond skin color. It was always a personal challenge of how each one of us was living in our world. It wasn’t until I became an ‘adult’ that I was exposed to the concept of institutional racism. So, while much conversation happening is focused on Donald Sterling and his personal racism, let’s also speak about the institutional racism at play here.

Hip Hop Artist, Notorious BIG hit the nail on the head when he said, “Either you’re slingin’ crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot” (from ‘Things Done Changed’). The culture and systems in our world have left many African Americans feeling as if their choices are limited. They feel this way because their choices are limited. Not limited by their ability or drive, but by institutions that still function to keep some in and others out. This is our challenge.

Because I am a pastor I am often challenged to speak to the institution that I am a part of – the church. We have much to learn from this situation. Beyond basketball lies the reality of race that we must face within our own institution. It is still a very real problem in the church.

Systems create behavior. If we want to change someone’s behavior we need to look at the system that created that behavior. I believe we have made great strides in this area, but we need to continue moving towards reconciliation, forgiveness, and creating a system that affirms the worth of all of God’s children.

Many could look at this story and say – oh, well, that’s not me. He’s a racist but I love everybody. That would be denial and that is what darkness wants us to do – stay in the dark, deny there is a problem. But failing to look at institutional racism leaves us unable to see past our own hands. We need to step into the light even if it means going beyond our personal role. We are all part of a world where racism still exists, and there must come a time in our lives when we realize that moments like this are not just the exception. Exceptions are easy to shrug off, but these ‘exceptions’ are more common and are more the rule than we would like to think. The sooner we realize this the better our world will be.

What are we called to do and say in our world? Sometimes we need to turn our jerseys inside out. Play the game but don’t play it unaware. Be the voice of change today in your system, company, church, and world.

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