Anytime race enters the national conversation it’s important to watch and listen to how it unfolds. In many ways the Donald Sterling controversy has followed the standard discourse – the blame falls on Sterling as an individual racist, his comments as an isolated and unfortunate private incident that found its way to the public eye. But this incident has opened up the conversation for a deeper analysis of race and power dynamics within the institution and structures of sports in America. It has showcased how we still struggle with having conversations about race, in private or in public. And it has started an inquiry into how Sterling’s beliefs and implicit bias have shown up in his actions heretofore.
It’s been amazing to see the reactions of the players and fans – they have taken the higher ground. The team’s cool but committed protest of wearing their jerseys inside-out during warm ups of Game 4 showed they were not taking these comments in stride, but were also not going to give up their own work and efforts, nor the support of their fans, because of Sterling’s comments. In true Oakland style, fans brought signs like these to the game, acknowledging the controversy with humor while showcasing solidarity across difference.
How are we as educators and parents talking to our young people about the controversy? Here’s a few questions you might ask, to help kids unpack the systemic and structural aspects of this incident:
- What are you hearing? How are people labeling the problem?
- What are the layers you’re seeing?
- Where do you see this in your own life or community?
- What might you be able to do? Where could you be an upstander?