Skip to main content

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.

What if Sterling fights Clippers sale?
V. Stiviano: One day I will be president
What's next for Donald Sterling?

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.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT