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Our continuing conversation on race

Lee A. Daniels | 5/27/2014, 8:54 a.m.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy defended his recent racist comments while talking to Bill Weir on CNN Thursday, April 24, 2014. CNN

— Donald Sterling, the disgraced San Diego Clippers owner (thus far), is like the proverbial bad penny: he won’t go away. He’s still trying to whistle the “I’m-not-a-racist” ditty to anyone who’ll listen.

His attempts to obscure the obvious have produced two important results. First, of course, they’ve confirmed the accuracy of our first impressions. Sterling has shown that the racial sentiments the world heard first on that now-infamous tape aren’t just the one-time ravings of a bitterly jealous old man. Secondly, the racism and sexism he’s so bluntly put on display multiple times now has, along with other recent developments, underscored that these forms of bigotry in America, while less powerful than before, are still widespread, and will be for a long time to come.

So, it’s important to keep including in our conversation on race Sterling, and the chiseling Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy – whose racist comments helped puncture the notion that he was some sort of hero of the Old West fighting against unjust federal intrusion – as individual examples of that broader point.

And now, we can add Robert Copeland to that list. Copeland, you’ll recall, is the now-former police commissioner of the small town of Wolfeboro, N.H., who was outed after being overheard in a restaurant loudly calling President Obama that long-time favorite slur of White racists. Subsequently, Copeland bluntly declared in an e-mail to the town’s two other police commissioners that “I believe I did use the ‘N’ word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse (sic). For this, I do not apologize – he meets and exceeds my criteria for such.” He did not explain his “criteria.”

To their credit, residents of the town of 6,300 (of which, according to reports, about 20 are Black; the state’s Black population is about 1 percent) quickly and angrily demanded at a packed town meeting that the 82-year-old official resign – a demand that was seconded by a large swath of local and state officials, and the town’s most prominent vacationer, Mitt Romney. They represent the Americans of all backgrounds who don’t tolerate the old bigotry, whether it’s expressed publicly or privately.

Some would say of Copeland – as what was said of Sterling and Bundy – that he’s not merely one individual stuck in the past and that is unseemly ‘piling-on’ to keep condemning him. They say it distracts from the serious discussion we should be having about the far more important manifestations of bigotry.

Others would use the claim of the NBA’s Maverick owner Mark Cuban that “we’re all prejudiced” in different ways and that “before we can help others deal [with] racism, we have to be honest about ourselves” as an excuse to, in fact, do nothing. Tainted though we “all” may be by different biases, many of us don’t let whatever biases we may have rule our behavior, and we don’t use them as an excuse for inaction when we witness the blatant or subtle bigotry of others – as the overwhelmingly White residents of Wolfeboro, N.H. proved.