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Will racism end when the old guys die off? Doubt it

By Chuck Walton III
updated 5:02 PM EDT, Thu May 1, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chuck Walton looks at the generational differences in racial attitudes in America
  • Racism is a learned behavior, he says, that his generation must fight to unlearn
  • Walton: Technology exposes us to new ideas but makes it easier for like thinkers to cluster

Editor's note: Chuck Walton III, a graduating senior at Howard University in Washington, co-founded elite-insiders.com, a sports and entertainment blog, and now works with ESPN 980. You can follow him on Twitter @ChuckyWalton. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- In the past week, we've seen an 80-year-old basketball franchise owner fall under the weight of racist comments about banning blacks and Latinos from his arena, and a 73-year-old Nevada rancher implode after saying blacks would be better off picking cotton.

So, does that mean we are finally coming to the end of all of this? Once these octogenarian white men from another time die off, will we finally be free of empirical racism in America?

Doubt it.

I'm a young guy -- 24. I went to Howard University in Washington. I hang out with the basketball team (in fact, I am Howard's first play-by-play announcer for our home games. Go Bisons!). My friends are of mixed background. We all get along.

But I also see others around me who, on the surface, may roll with a similar crowd, listen to the same music, say the right things, but who are also slowly being infected with the American disease of racial bias.

Chuck Walton III
Chuck Walton III

I hear the subtle signs of racism on talk radio or on the Internet, where coded language of "quotas" and "boot-straps" is used in substitution of the old phrases of "ghettos" and "laziness." I read the Twitter feeds and troll the comment boards, listening to how those of like mind cluster together, reinforcing their own points of view.

But we've got a black President, right? It's all good, right?

Yes, racism, in less than a half-century, has largely gone from commonplace to taboo. If you are a 67-year-old beloved cooking show star who admits to having used the N-word, there are going to be consequences. If you own a nearly all-black NBA team yet verbalize a disgust for African-Americans, you're going to get checked.

Today, any controversial statement, once exposed to the disinfectant of sunlight and mass media, gets met with immediate backlash. As it should.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling learned this firsthand when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned him for life. Cue applause, drop the mic, walk off the stage. We're done.

Sure, we have come a long way. From the days when my father, a leading real estate inspector in Chicago, couldn't live in certain areas or shop in certain stores, to today, when I can graduate from a leading university, enter the field of media, and truly believe I have a chance to exceed my dreams, a lot has changed.

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But, for my generation, there are still real problems. We don't truly understand our history. And too often do we go from captivated to uninterested overnight, distracted by the next shiny object or hot Internet meme.

We Millennials are the "here today, gone tomorrow" type of activists. This is most disappointing because access of information is easier than ever before. You no longer have to be rich or famous to have a voice. Just get a Twitter handle, post to your Instagram page or fire up a WordPress blog.

So the question becomes, what happens next? We cannot simply stand idly by celebrating surface victories while the problems persist. Racism, as with all other prejudices, has to be attacked at the source. It will not become extinct with the passing of the older generations. A new racist is born every minute.

I went to a largely white high school in the western suburbs of Chicago. When I was younger, maybe 10 or 11, I got into a fight with a neighbor kid who had just called me that magic word -- the "N" word. That was in 2000.

Parents intervened, the skirmish ceased, and each of us was swiftly scolded. Now it's quite obvious where he learned the word. He wasn't born saying it; someone had to teach it to him.

That kid is much older now, also in his mid-20s. I haven't seen him since, but I wonder what's in his head now? Is he growing up to become the next Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy or Paula Deen? Or has time and society shifted his adolescent feelings about me and others like me?

It must be remembered that racism is not an innate trait. It is a learned characteristic. We see it on TV. We hear it on the radio. We watch it coming from our parents. I just hope my generation has made that kind of an education a little less desirable.

Within our generation are the remnants of a time long past. Today, we live in an age of tolerance. Yet everything is moving 100 miles per hour. That's one of the big differences between generations past and Millennials.

For us, technology is a given. But it's also an opportunity. It provides an unprecedented level of exposure and opportunity to interact with others not like ourselves.

In our generation a six-second Vine clip has the potential to become the lead story on the news, and what we do at a party or a game or in school can be celebrated or scorned with the click of a "Like" button.

But we've got next. There is a changing of the guard coming in our society, and our number is coming up.

So now, it falls upon a generation of young people to see the fight through. We are trapped in between two worlds, the new and the old. Our choices will shape the future. It is our duty as a generation to teach ourselves discipline. To know right from wrong, unacceptable from appropriate.

This won't be on Sterling's generation. It will be on us.

It is our duty to wash out the ignorant tendencies of our forebears across the board, regardless of race. Dedication will be required, along with an attention span that lasts longer than 140 characters.

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