As I listened in disgust to the Donald Sterling audio, I was not surprised, as he is known for his views about African-Americans. After, my thoughts turned to my clients and patients who are professional women and people of color. I recalled their stories of pain knowing that despite the pleasantries and awards, their superiors considered them to be ‘less than.’ While they could never prove it, they knew it was there; it was what is referred to as the new racism.
Professional women and people of color often found it difficult to advocate for themselves within their company because there was simply no concrete proof of the ‘new racism’ – until now.
While there is so much that is wrong with the Sterling audio, there is no debating that not only racism and prejudice still exist, but that it does, in fact, hide behind smiles and handshakes.
Not only did the Sterling audio offer the proof women and people of color didn’t have before, it provided validation that they are not paranoid or crazy. It also underscored the importance of diversity and challenges those who, like the State of Michigan, believe that there is not a need for affirmative action but continue to allow legacies to influence decisions.
While I deplore what Sterling says and believes, I do thank him for owning it; at least he’s not a coward. So many people run away from themselves when they are caught; which results in things being dragged out. Whether motivated by his ego or level of indifference towards people of color, his acknowledgement saved people a lot of time and emotional energy.
There is one thing that has been overlooked in the Sterling audio: He referred to a culture of which he is a part. He said, “It’s a culture…and it will always be that way. I’m living in a culture and I have to live with the culture. So, that’s the way it is…I guess you don’t know that. Maybe you’re stupid. Maybe you don’t know what people think of you. It does matter, yeah, it matters!”
The question becomes, who else is part of this culture? The answer I propose is: People who are in the same position as him but doesn’t want anyone to know. This is a bigger issue and we have just touched the tip of the iceberg. For so long, women and people of color were made to feel stupid, crazy, paranoid and inferior because of what they knew but could not prove. Now, they can point to something concrete and specific to support what they know; now, there is no more hiding and ignorance that can be feigned though I am sure many will continue to try.
I hope that companies and communities stop and take a long hard look in the mirror at who they really are and what they really support. While we cannot go back and undo what has already been done, we can move forward and make right what was wrong. I applaud Adam Silver’s response to this egregious behavior as it sets the tone and bar for how such behavior should be addressed moving forward. Click here to read more about my opinion on Adam Silver.