This past week the Los Angeles Clippers’ billionaire owner Donald Sterling publicly apologized for the offensive comments he made to his ex-girlfriend on tape. The blogosphere is having a field day with this supposed mea culpa, so I don’t feel a desperate need to reiterate how absurdly unapologetic his apology was. I do, however, wish to zero in on one thing.
I’m not a racist. I made a terrible, terrible mistake. And I’m here with you today to apologize and to ask for forgiveness for all the people that I have hurt. … When I listen to that tape, I don’t even know how I could say words like that … It was like she was baiting me just to say things … It’s convoluted … I can’t explain some of the stupid, foolish, uneducated words that I uttered. I don’t know. You know, you start—you get upset and you say things … I embarrassed the league. I humiliated them. I don’t know how—why I did it. I mean, it’s so terrible … if I said anything wrong, I’m sorry.
That’s right: Donald Sterling is sorry for embarrassing and humiliating his fellow millionaires and billionaries. He is also repentant if he said anything wrong. This is a teachable, or, rather, learnable moment for all of us in institutions such as Education.
I won’t speak for regions in which I have no experience, but I will say that Equity is a stated and acted upon priority in the Ontario schools where I teach and live. Still, since Education is a microcosm of society in general, we cannot say we have achieved true equity of opportunity in our system. After all, we don’t usually name things as initiatives if we feel we have achieved our goals.
We certainly shouldn’t accept the Donald Sterlings of the world polluting our airwaves with their racist, misogynist mouth debris, but we should also realise that few victims of marginalisation were surprised that a privileged man with a history of bigoted words and actions said the things he did. So, instead of a system where people are simply savvy about what words are acceptable and unacceptable, the Sterling Saga can help us remember the primacy of action over mere utterances. We need organizations where equity is not only about spoken sentiments (and apologizing for them when they come out ‘wrong’), but about human beings that hold fairness as a principle in their hearts and minds. Our deficit does not lie in our ability to self-censor. To confront inequity, we need to able to use language; getting adept at silencing will only serve to cement hegemonic power relations.