Donald Sterling Talks Like a Racist—Do You?
The NBA has banned the longtime Clippers owner for racist comments. What does the Bible say about racism, and do we unwittingly speak the language of racism?
Due to his racist comments in a leaked phone recording, longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned from the National Basketball Association for life and was fined $2.5 million. The other NBA owners are expected to force him to sell the team.
USA Today reports: “In a conversation between [Donald Sterling] and a female friend, he chastised the woman for posting pictures of herself on Instagram with minorities, including Basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp” (Jeff Zillgitt, April 29, 2014).
Donald Sterling chided this woman not just for taking pictures with African-Americans, but also for “associating with black people” in public and bringing minorities to Clippers games. Not only are his comments boorish and offensive, but the very nature of this married man’s relationship with this young woman is sinful and adulterous.
This latest impropriety is not the first allegation of racism against Sterling. As a real estate tycoon, Sterling paid millions in lawsuits accusing him of housing discrimination in 2005 and 2009 (ibid.).
Those who have heard Sterling’s comments agree that they were obviously racist. He is now reaping the consequences of his words. But are there other, more subtle ways of speaking the language of racism? What does God have to say about it, and what are the consequences for us?
Racism is a sin
Throughout history, the Bible has been misinterpreted by different people to condone racism. For instance, slave owners in antebellum America quoted select scriptures to justify their treatment of African-Americans. But the Bible does not condone the idea of one race being genetically superior to another. The Bible tells us: “[God] has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). The Bible is clear that all of mankind is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
Because all human beings are made in God’s image and have the potential to be in God’s family, to show partiality or disdain toward a person based on the color of his or her skin is sin. Because all human beings are made in God’s image and have the potential to be in God’s family (Hebrews 2:10), to show partiality or disdain toward a person based on the color of his or her skin is sin.
The Bible speaks out very clearly about the reason that racism and other types of partiality are sinful: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9).
The intent of God’s law is love toward other human beings. In essence, God is saying that you can’t pick and choose who you will show love toward and who you will not—based on race, status or any other humanly devised factor! God expects us to “honor all people” (1 Peter 2:17).
But if you’re nodding your head, thinking, “I would never be a racist like Donald Sterling,” you might want to think again. Obvious racism like Donald Sterling’s isn’t the only way to display racism in our lives.
The language of racism
There is a large body of anthropological research about racism. Racist discourse takes a few general forms:
- Vulgar racism is direct, pejorative expression against someone of a certain race. (Donald Sterling’s statements would fall under this category.)
- Elite racism is when someone makes a denial followed by a negative presentation of people who are different than he or she is (“I’m not racist, but …”).
- Hate speech is a clear and deliberate verbal assault on people of a different race or ethnicity.
- Covert racism is a more subtle form of racism. A person practicing this would not make openly racist statements like Donald Sterling, but would show racism in the way he or she behaves. This can include tolerating and laughing at racist statements or jokes from others or using such things as mockery and stereotypes when talking about people.
Love your neighbor as yourself
What’s the bottom line? God makes Himself very clear about how He wants us to treat other people regardless of color—with love and respect. Every single human being was created with the equal potential to be born into the God family!
The great variety of human appearances is a product of God’s perfect creativity. But even though people of different cultures and ethnicities have differences, the much greater number of similarities shared by every human being is evidence of the unified purpose God has for each one of us!
We hope you’re listening, Mr. Sterling! But even if he isn’t—are you?