Liberal and progressive-minded Black folk voiced righteous indignation upon learning how the 80 year-old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. Online petitions emerged. Facebook discussion groups debated whether Black athletes on the team should boycott, or if Black Clippers’ fans should take the lead in protest.
Next came official league sanctions when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Sterling was now banned for life from “any association with the Clippers or the NBA.” Silver explained the ban to mean that Sterling “may not attend any NBA games or practices, be present at any Clippers’ facility, may not participate in any business or player/personnel decisions regarding the team, or participate in any other league activity.” In addition, Sterling would have to pay a $2.5 million fine for his actions with the money going to civil rights organizations. Silver also said he would push for Sterling to sell the team. As writer Roger Groves noted in a Forbes article, despite all the statements of outrage by NBA owners, players, and the Commissioner Sterling still owns the Los Angeles Clippers.
I followed these events, in a serious effort to understand why this issue resonated so deeply with Black people, and to grasp what it revealed about the United States and racism. I observed the reactions of angry brothers and sisters on Facebook, Twitter, and street-corner conversations. I concluded that political correctness must die. I posted the following comments on Facebook (I edited the passage):
I believe political correctness dupes us into thinking this nation has changed its fundamental views of race. It fools us into naively thinking that racism is simply the expression of individuals rather than of institutions and systems. So we chastise Don Imus, Paula, or Donald Sterling for their beliefs, accept their bullshit apologies, slap them with a few social sanctions, and subconsciously think we’ve scored points against centuries of entrenched racism in America. Political correctness allows white radio and TV personalities, politicians, and NBA team-owners who also harbor racist assumptions and wield white privilege to get off the hook by simply declaring themselves different from their brethren who were “busted.” Lastly, political correctness and its focus on words diverts our attention and energy toward what people say, rather than public policies, law enforcement brutality, mass incarceration of Black and Brown people, corrupt and dishonest politics, poverty, and a long list of other more insidious offenses to our people. We think in effect, “We still get killed in the streets, locked up, treated like shit, miseducated, and discriminated against, but at least we came together and won THIS issue!” Sigh. As I posted on Facebook today:
When members of society have the authority to punish or ostracize people for making remarks deemed inappropriate, they can also make similar determinations for remarks that are controversial but voice truths or frustrations that need to be heard.
Allowing people the space and freedom to express themselves (even when controversial or inappropriate) might be preferable to creating a situation in which people keep their true views/thoughts hidden for fear of public reprisal, or in which things that need expression are repressed. When beliefs and values are hidden, we cannot engage them. And when we cannot engage them, we cannot resolve them.
So-called “political correctness” also creates the false belief that silencing or censoring people somehow silences or helps remove their oppressive and discriminatory views, as in the case with the Clippers owner. Lastly, as people in power typically are the ultimate definers of “truth,” political correctness can take a right-wing conservative turn in which entirely innocent and important forms of expression are labelled “wrong” “insensitive” or “inappropriate” to keep the masses ignorant of empowering information. Perhaps we should get our heads out of our &%% and really think and sort things out for ourselves…..
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.