Responding to those whose words mark them as racists

Catholic News Service

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy have been in the news recently because their racist remarks have ignited public condemnation.

In a phone conversation recorded by a female companion, Sterling said to the woman: “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in; you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.”

He continued: “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”

Rancher Bundy made his offensive remarks during a standoff with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over more than $1 million that the agency says he owes for years of grazing his cattle on federal land. He attracted states’ rights supporters but lost many of them when he said that some blacks might be “better off as slaves.”

“They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail because they never learned how to pick cotton,” said Bundy during an April press conference. “And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”

Interestingly, Sterling and Bundy differ significantly in their sense of culpability for their heinous remarks.

Sterling’s remarks were made in a private conversation taped without his knowledge. He was humiliated when they were revealed, and he has lawyered up to prevent from being banned for life by the NBA, from attending its games and practices, and having any decision-making privileges pertaining to the team. Sterling also was fined $2.5 million.

Bundy, in contrast, adamantly denied being a racist and faulted The New York Times for “making it a racist-type thing.”

What do we do with these guys?

They are not alone in their mindset. Others in the private and public sectors are likewise hateful and ignorant in their thinking about human beings who are different from themselves.

I favor taking away their privileges to serve in capacities where their racial outlook could potentially be detrimental. The NBA was right to punish Sterling as severely as it did. He had submitted himself to its authority and it acted accordingly.

There is no leadership position that Bundy can be stripped of, but the loss of supporters of his cattle grazing cause can still hit him where it hurts: in his pocketbook. Punishment for those infected with racism, however, is not enough. Christians have a duty to pray for their healing and to work to halt the spread of such a toxic mindset.

One of the best blueprints for dealing with racists is outlined in the U.S. bishops’ 1979 pastoral letter on racism, “Brothers and Sisters to Us.”

After teaching that racism is “evil” and “a sin,” the bishops offer concrete steps for combating racism.

They say others should reject racial stereotypes, racial slurs and racial jokes and influence family, especially children, to be sensitive to cultural contributions of other ethnic groups.

The bishops also ask that we educate ourselves and others on “how social structures inhibit the economic, educational and social advancement of the poor.”

It is time to dust off this 35-year-old pastoral, read it again, implement it, and perhaps even send a courtesy copy to the likes of Sterling and Bundy.

 Greene was an associate editor at Catholic News Service for nearly 22 years prior to her retirement in December 2011.