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Bryant Gumbel and The Real Meaning of Racism

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The true meaning of racism has been lost in our culture. One off-color comment from a black man on international TV and people are to quick to call him a racist. However, the terms racist and racism are being twisted to get a point of view across when actually the correct terminology should be prejudice, or pointing out the fact that there are so few people of African descent participating in the winter game.

Racism is not just using a racial slur. Racism is when a system of people use power and politics to oppress another group of people. When we look at racism we need to see an oppression experienced by black and minority ethnic groups predominantly on the basis of their skin color, and of their culture and identity. Blacks, no matter how hard we try, no matter how many chemical peels or nose jobs, cannot remove the hue from our skin.

We need to also see an oppression that can be a feature of interpersonal relationships and an oppression that can be a feature of institutional practices. We need not look too far into history to see Jim Crow laws, “Colored Only” signs, and lynchings to see signs of judicial, social, and government institutions using their power to oppress a community of people.

Where are the images of Debi Thomas being shown so that minority girls can think they, too, can be in the ice skating world? Or why has no one ever talked about Mabel Fairbanks, who lived in Harlem and was denied the ability to be a professional skater, rejected by Ice Capades because of her skin color? Why has no one spoken about how she broke down the colored doors and trained many skaters and even paired Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner when they were 9 and 11 years old, but only after 20 and more years of racial slurs, doors slammed in her face, and signs being posted up about her not being wanted at the skating rinks?

Racism has become covert and hidden but many people do not want to believe that it still exists. Institutional racism has been defined as ordinary people going about their normal day to day business but producing outcomes that are disadvantageous to black and ethnic minority groups. Race isn’t a deck of cards that blacks put on the table; it was handed to us the very beginning when we where brought over to the Americas, and had to fight for equality and social justice.

Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder was ejected from the public eye in 1988 when, on Martin Luther King’s birthday, he said that blacks are better at sports because of slave plantation breeding techniques. “During the slave period, the slave owner would breed his big black with his big woman so that he would have a big black kid – that’s where it all started.”

His comments dehumanized African-Americans and labelled us as nothing more than cattle or dogs that were bred to show off, to do work or make money for white slave masters. Al Campanis’s comments were taken out of context and he probably should not have been fired. And Rush Limbaugh is the world’s biggest joke and has never been seen favorably in the eyes of the African-American community.

But what it all boils down to is that the word “racism” has lost its meaning. The backlash at Bryant Gumbel’s comments are only from people who are not willing to face the facts of the creation of the terms race, racist, and racism. What I’d like Bryant Gumbel to really do is to promote and support the efforts of Vonetta Flowers, Aaron Parchem, Shani Davis, Lascalles Brown, Morgan Alexander, Bill Schuffenhauer, Randy Jones, Jarome Iginla, and Robin Szolkowy. Who are they? They are the only people of African descent participating in the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Resources: Friends of Minority Figure Skaters, ISIS Entertainment, and Harlem Skate are the only organizations tryjng to help raise the $30K-$100K a year it takes to compete professionally in ice skating and other winter sports.

Keep It Greasy

Greasy Guide

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About Mike Street

  • I enjoyed your article so much that I took it upon myself to quote you in my article.
    Good Stuff!

  • Where to begin with this one? Much like the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, often things get so tangled with very valid grievances that nothing can move forward. Individuals are forever fighting over what happened in the past – and since I don’t know how to change the past, nor do I know how to “make up” for past obscenities (ask someone whose spouse has cheated on them if there is anything that will “make it up” – they either choose to get over it or they don’t and therefore move on, not really any other choices) this course of thought leads nowhere.

    So why not start fresh and attempt to look at facts. From a scientific viewpoint there is no such thing as the black race. Might surprise those who have been classified by this illusion since their birth but I can’t change that – the facts are the facts.

    The white race, Asian, all an illusion. They don’t exist. Geneticists around the globe will tell you the same thing. When the scientists at the National Institutes of Health announced that they had put together a draft of the entire sequence of the human genome, the researchers unanimously declared that there is only one race — the human race. Guess what, focusing on an illusion will never solve the problem of racism – which is unfortunately widespread and practiced by those of every size, shape, and color.

    And the very first step of racism, the one which is the foundation for all other racist thought, is the classification of individuals based on meaningless physical characteristics. By that definition, Gumbel made racist statements and if one makes racist statements doesn’t that make them racist? I don’t say this in any insulting way; read any newspaper, listen to any media and racist speech and thought abounds. We have simply changed the words and now consider it “normal” if it is presented in the “right” way.

    Accepting this truth requires a true paradigm shift in our thinking – often accepting the truth does. If you really care about promoting “black” individuals (god that is such a racist statement!) perhaps begin by helping ensure ALL poor and disadvantaged individuals have the opportunity to receive a quality education. Perhaps help with crime prevention so that ALL poor and disadvantaged individuals don’t have to live with rampant crime. Perhaps help stop the insanity practiced by many individuals who consider education, marriage and success being “white” and therefore want no part of it. Read Thomas Sowell’s great book “Black Rednecks and White Liberals” if you want to open your eyes.

    Since these words black and white are thrown around constantly I’d like someone to explain to me what they actually mean. If they are real in any scientific sense, what do they mean? Do you know that the average “black” American population is an African-European hybrid, with about 70% of the genes having come from Africa and 30% from Europe? If that is the case, then I guess individuals like Halle Berry and Barack Obama (both had “white” mothers and “black” fathers) are really “white” since over 50% of their genetic make-up is “white”. Or is it 40% “black” and then you are “black”? Or 25% or just a drop? I don’t know much about this racist way of thinking, perhaps someone can explain it to me.

    It is way past time to throw the whole concept of race in the trash can. Only then can we even begin to hope to address the very real problem of racism.

    Check out my blog

  • Brad

    If Bryant Gumbel had put his emphasis on the financial barriers that exist to have more Black athletes in winter sports, I’d have supported him 100%. In the US, the costs to train in skiing, skating, hockey, even snowboarding is exorbitant at best, making it a sport of the rich, or the fortunate. However, by saying the worlds best athletes are not in the Olympics based purely on skin color IS racist. By comparing the Winter games to a GOP convention IS political. A white commentator saying the same things in reverse would, and should, be lambasted in the press. Gumbel has not yet faced the outrage of CNN, ESPN and the other MSM outlets. THAT is what makes this a story for the bloggers. That is why you are seeing people call him a racist. If you go for shock, you get shocked back. Is it right? Absolutely not. Is it fair? Absolutely yes. And I wish it wasn’t so.

  • RedTard

    “From a scientific viewpoint there is no such thing as the black race.”

    Actually, that is not quite true. Geneticists have actually found the gene that switches of the melanin in the skin. All whites share this genetic difference and it has been theorized that they we may have all descended from one individual with that mutation. Asians also have their pigmentation turned off, but by a different gene. There are also genetic tests that can determine the racial ancestries a person has.

  • We are biologic creatures – every physical trait we have is the result of genes. This is not rocket science. And we are more like our more recent ancestors than our more distant ones. Again not rocket science. That there are genes that do this or that in no way proves the concept of the black or white or Asian races. In fact it is race-based thinking which does this.

    If one were to look at genetics without any concept of race, one would not “create” the black and white races – they are simply an overlay that some people put on the basic data. The genetics are much more complicated than that. Even with medicine, some drugs work better on “blacks” than on white, the brush stoke is too broad. We can all see that there are physical differences between each individual (even identical twins); it’s just that these differences have no real meaning in any real physical sense.

    I’m also still waiting for anyone out there to define these races for me (and please let’s not start talking about the finer points of genetics). When this poster and Gumbel and thousands every day talk about “black” this and “white” that, they are talking about a WHOLE LOT MORE than genetic markers. If it is real, please define it for me. I claim it is simply the continuation of a failed scientific theory from a couple of hundred years ago and it is time to throw it in the dust bin of history.

  • Dyrkness

    I’m with John Conlin on this. There IS NO SUCH THING as race. It’s just different genetics caused by environmental conditions millions of years ago.”Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”As my high school biology teacher liked to say.We are more alike than different except in our treatment of each other.Look at dogs. They all get along and they all look COMPLETELY different from one another.We don’t speak of different races of Canines,do we?It’s The Human Race.At least that is my feeling about the whole issue.

  • RedTard

    Every word that comes out of your mouth is just an overlay of some discernable pattern you see on the outside. I could say that the color orange doesn’t exist because there are multiple shades and some people would disagree whether the fringes are really orange or red, etc. That does not mean that the color does not exist.

    Race exists because we invented it to describe a characteristic just like every other word in the thing we decided to call language.

    It is only in a PC crazy world where people will jump all over themselves to see who can disavow the meaning fo the word race the fastest. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

  • RedTard

    “We don’t speak of different races of Canines,do we?”

    We call them breeds last time I checked. Please try and argue how there really are not breeds of dogs, the word shouldn’t exist, and it is really some bad middle aged science that makes us think that poodles and rottweiler’s are different. Besides, they are more the same than they are different.

  • steve Bryan

    Times in races don’t lie. Is it racism that most of the best basketball players are black? No. African Americans grow up playing a lot of basketball, and, even if us whiteys played just as much, the blacks seem to be better. Most are, some not. End of that story. Winter sports? Maybe they are not as good. Some are, most, not. Get a grip.

  • sr

    Racism will continue to exist in the US because thats were the money is for Jesse Jackson and the Al Sharpton types.

    Steve, when you say, maybe they are not as good. Some are, most, not. Please explain to me why most would not.

  • J Carson

    I think Gumbel is right that the winter olympians aren’t the greatest athletes in the world if your’re including all sports. Yet in their individual sports these people are the best. One other myth that people like to believe is that skiing and the other winter sports are not reachable by minorities because of the cost. Number one, that is a predjudiced belief, and two – a lot of these athletes are bricklayers, construction workers, and what not. I have been snowboarding for 15 years. I had to get a job up at the resorts serving sandwiches to start being decent at the sport. I would ride on my breaks and every other opportunity I got because I loved the sport. Minorities aren’t the only ones who dont have money… In case you haven’t guessed, I’m white. I didnt have the money, yet I was able to enjoy my chosen sport.
    Bryant Gumbel may not be a racist, but he is slow. He seems to believe that their are no white athletes worth mentioning. Does that apply to Lance Armstrong who is also in a sport that is mostly white. What is the excuse for not participating and dominating that sport? Can’t afford a bicycle? Morgan Freeman said it best, “The only way we will get rid of racism is to stop talking about it.” It needs to be a non-issue.
    I am happy for Shani Davis, as he just got Gold and he will probably win more by the end of these olympics. It also makes me think of how unfair and mean-spirited Bryant Gumbel’s remarks were, especially to him. Gumbel sounds just like the bullies and ignorant peers that shani said he had to grow up with, and tolerate. Making fun of his tights and his white sport.
    Giving Gumbel a pass because he’s black is racisit. If a white anchor said the same thing, just reversed he would be fired, and rightly so. Freedom of speech is precious, and Gumbel should be able to say anything he wants, but if I’m CEO of HBO, I dont want an anchor sitting in there making racist, ignorant, moronic remarks whenever he feels like it. Fair is fair. Rush Limbaugh made a dumb comment about Donovan, and Gumbel made a dumb comment about all white athletes.
    And by the way Greasy, arguing about definitions of the word predjudiced and racism is the most boring and inconsequential part of this story. I’m sure you are right about the real definition of racism, but uhhhh who cares. You know what I’m talking about, right?

  • again a lot of ya’ll are missing the point. Racism is different from prejudice, which is different from bigotry. Until Bryant Gumbel can put a bill, public policy, or judicial act in place that will oppress one group of people he can never be a racist. Racism is about the commanding powers that be using their power to oppress. And even if it’s boring it’s THE TRUTH but many people are still ignorant to the truths of the world

  • Bing

    You’re the only ignorant one Greasy. You don’t have to have power over an entire group of people to be racist. That’s just a definition used by racial inciters to enable them to be racist while claiming that they can’t possibly be racist.

    What makes a person racist is when thier behavior toward members of a certain race is based on preconcieved stereotypes of that race as a whole which do not take into account the reality that not all members of a single race are alike in every way.

    As I have already said, it is a myth perpetrated by those who would seek to incite racial tensions to advance thier own agendas that only whitye people can be racist. You can be black and racist, you can be asian and racist, hispanic or any other race and be a racist.

    So please spare us your false definitions invented to suit your point of view Greasy.

  • uao

    John Conlin is absolutely, 100% right. The concept of race is a fallacy. It has its roots in fairly recent days, culturally speaking; the 16th century.

    RedTard: assuming for a moment race did exist, it is not the same as a “breed” A Grate Dane and a chihuaua standing side by side ought to demonstrate this.

    A “breed” is a creature that has been bred; it is the result of human animal husbandry.

    I’d say more, but Conlin did such a good job in post #2, I’ll just refer people back to that one.

  • OK Greasy – please define in real terms what are the black and white races. Please don’t attempt to give me the finer points of genetics for two reasons:

    1 – the geneticists already have this one settled – there is only one race, the human race. Of course there are differences (both external and internal) based on various breeding groups that have existed in relatively recent time (I’m an ex-geologist so I look at time from a more realistic viewpoint, i.e. from about 3.5 billion years ago when the first pulse of life began on this planet). These differences show themselves in many areas – but they do not “create” the existence of the black and white races. This idea is a failed scientific theory about 200 years old.

    2 – when you and thousands like you use the term black this, and white that, you are not talking about the finer points of genetics – you are talking about a whole lot more than that.

    So please – if it is real and not a social construct (i.e. it is made up by societies) then please enlighten all of us as to its definition. I certainly don’t seem to get it.

    Anyone else please jump in and feel free to enlighten me, I’m a little slow (must be my race 😉

  • I say we hang tobi

    This is so stupid..the only reason there aren’t blacks in the olympics is because they are pussies when it comes to cold climate. Where in the world do you see black people and snow? Bryant gumble is a pissy little racist just like Spike lee.

  • RedTard

    “So please – if it is real and not a social construct (i.e. it is made up by societies) then please enlighten all of us as to its definition. I certainly don’t seem to get it.”

    That is because you have demonstrated the inability to consider or grasp simple concepts. Race, like all words, is a human construct just like my example of the color orange. People argue about exactly what shades of orange exist but that does not make orange any less of a valid construct. Race has meaning because we gave it that. Also as I have stated before scientists can genetically determine whites from blacks from Asians. (kind of convenient that corresponds to the old caucasoid, negroid, and mongoloid terms)

    There is a genetic scientific definition, there is also the generally laymen’s definition based on certain phenotypes, skin color, nose, and certain eye characteristics.

    This is the argument of a PC nut gone mad. Instead of denying the obvious truth that races, as we have defined them, exist your time could better be spent fightng real racism.

    Of course, you may not believe in racism either because it has race, a false concept in your mind, as it’s root word.

  • dyrkness

    Where in the world do you see black people and snow? New York,Chicago, Detroit,London,Montreal,Minneapolis,and let’s not forget ooooh Europe?

  • Johnny BigLeagues

    BRAVO! This has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. I’d like to see the news media better challenge public figures when they levy charges of racism, when if fact they are guilty of prejudice or bigotry.

  • sr

    Dyrkness#18, I agree, lets not forget Europe. However you have allowed an opening for #16. For me, I think bryant gum-e-bear is crap.

  • a black man just won a speed skating gold. explain that gumbel.

  • Scott Butki

    While Davis’ win is a nice rebuttal to Gumbel it is also a nice rebuttal to the racist at #16

  • Oh Greasy (and RedTard), where are you? I’m still waiting for the definition. Here’s some help – Do you know that the average “black” American population is an African-European hybrid, with about 70% of the genes having come from Africa and 30% from Europe? If that is the case, then I guess individuals like Halle Berry and Barack Obama (both had “white” mothers and “black” fathers) are really “white” since over 50% of their genetic make-up is “white”. Or is it 40% “black” and then you are “black”? Or 25% or just a drop? I don’t know much about this racist way of thinking, perhaps you can explain it to me. I’m kind of slow (it must be my race 😉

  • You bring up Hally Berry and I may have to start arguing about intelligent design again…how could there not be a higher being making stuff like that???

  • Couldn’t agree more. She has talked about when she was young and moved quite a bit. When she was in a “black” community she was given grief for being “white”. When she lived in a “white” community she was given grief for being “black”. But is seems to have worked out well!

  • While Shani Davis is a rebutal to some extent he also received death threats and was sent e-mails calling him a showboater and a n-gger to his website when he decided to focus on his individual race and not the new team competition. So if race and racism doesn’t exist there are a lot of people outside of the Black community who love to bring it back to square one. But unfortunatly until white America decided to open its and see thing from a different perspective we will always have this dicussion. Paul Mooney says it best “Everybody wants to be like a n-gga but no one wants to be a n-gga.” And what people outside of the Black community do not have the ability to do it to see the shoes on the other foot or as DuBoius called it “double consciousness.” Race is not something the Black community or minotrity communities created its a concept and biological science facts that scientist put down on the books, used to say that Black where only 3/4th of a person, used over 400 years of chattle slavery.
    So to deny the fact that racism doesn’t exist and even more to the extent that Blacks can not be racist is to be blind. We do not run America, we do not shape public policy, nor do we put laws down on the books. American’s are blind to many facts. The only seems to believe what’s presented to them in a news paper, show on a TV screen. Cause the truth be told Blacks did not benefit from Affermative Action and White American’s are blind to the facts of white privilege….

  • Oh, Mr. Conlin, I could kiss you! Excellent!

    Mr. Guide, many scientists consider “race” to be a worthless, fallacious concept. Of course racism exists; it’s a horrible societal plague made worse by the fact that what lies behind it is meaningless and superficial.

  • Thanks Natalie,

    Unfortunately racism is far, far, far too prevalent from individuals of all sizes, shapes, and colors. And focusing on the illusion of race will never solve the problem of racism.

    The only way to stop racism is to end the classification of individuals based on meaningless physical characteristics. Yes, we all have ancestors and we are more like our more recent ancestors than our more distant ancestors… so freaking what! It only takes on meaning because we give it meaning.

    Greasy, I haven’t read in any of these posts where anyone is stating that there isn’t racism. In fact some of them are quite racist. This seems to be your straw man. But I am still waiting for you to define the black and white race.

    Below I attempt to explain this in a previous op-ed I wrote for the Houston Chronicle.

    Race is Over

    The idea of race is an outdated, invalid scientific concept: Isn’t it time we discarded it?

    It is time to take the last step, the final step in the journey of Fredrick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Jr. and literally hundreds of thousands of other brave souls. This final step is to at last accept the truth; there is no such thing as race. It is a failed scientific theory from hundreds of years ago. It is a false concept that is only kept alive by our keeping it alive. There is no race gene. There is no White race. No Black race. Asian, Hispanic, all an illusion.

    So says the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the vast majority of experts in the field. To quote the 1998 AAA Statement on “Race”: http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm

    Today scholars in many fields argue that “race” as it is understood in the United States of America was a social mechanism invented during the 18th century…

    From its inception, this modern concept of “race” was modeled after an ancient theorem of the Great Chain of Being, which posited natural categories on a hierarchy established by God or nature.

    “Race” thus evolved as a worldview, a body of prejudgments that distorts our ideas about human differences and group behavior. Racial beliefs constitute myths about the diversity in the human species and about the abilities and behavior of people homogenized into “racial” categories. The myths fused behavior and physical features together in the public mind,…

    A “social mechanism invented”? A “hierarchy established by God or nature”? “Myths”? Why do we continue to pay homage to an idea that is clearly not true in any scientific manner?

    If we treat the idea of race like any other scientific concept; old, invalid thinking must be discarded when new discoveries are made. Often this demands a profound shift in thinking. Copernicus’s discovery that the earth is not the center of the universe is an example of a similar realization that demanded this type of profound shift.

    In the 18th century Goethe captured this reality when discussing the profound impact of Copernicus’s discoveries:

    “Of all discoveries and opinions, none may have exerted a greater effect on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus. The world had scarcely become known as round and complete in itself when it was asked to waive the tremendous privilege of being the center of the universe. Never, perhaps, was a greater demand made on mankind – for by this admission so many things vanished in mist and smoke! What became of our Eden, our world of innocence, piety and poetry; the testimony of the senses; the conviction of a poetic – religious faith? No wonder his contemporaries did not wish to let all this go and offered every possible resistance to a doctrine which in its converts authorized and demanded a freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed not even dreamed of.”

    The false concept of race is treated much the same. Ridding ourselves of this cruel fantasy is fought by those on all sides. Ridding ourselves of this failed theory strikes at the heart of many deeply held beliefs. Ridding ourselves of this obscenity opens us all to knowledge “which in its converts authorized and demanded a freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed not even dreamed of.” Free your mind to the truth. There are only individuals and they are not defined by their skin color.

    I don’t minimize the incredible and deep re-framing I am asking from all individuals, but especially those who have been classified by this fiction since their birth. I am asking for a profound change that many will not be able or willing to do. For many this racist thinking is in their minds as a defining part of who they are. It is completely understandable. How could you not think in racist terms if since your birth you’ve been classified by this falsehood? How could these thoughts not be seared into your being by rampant racism? And an oppressed group of individuals will of course band together and form their own special ways of being, it must be done. But instead of freeing oneself this only chains the individual to this falsehood. Worse yet, this has the perverse result of only spreading racism. This is a door that swings both ways.

    The past is the past. It cannot be changed. Often the only way to address the future is to cut the past loose. Let us all forever put the obscenity called race behind us. It can start today and it can start with each and every one of us.

    For those who refuse I ask how is focusing on the fiction of race supposed to fix the problem of racism? It is insane. Under this crazed form of thinking, the absolute best that can be hoped for is that at some point in the future we can all say that “they” are not so different from “us”. This is at best only benignly racist. This is the goal? The finish line?

    The only way to end racism is to not take the first step; the classification of individuals based on certain physical traits. This is within our power to do. We only need to begin to do it.

    Let us cast aside the old beliefs and accept the truth; physical traits have no relationship to the individual. Let us begin to see individuals as just that, individuals. This requires a significant paradigm shift. Often accepting the truth does. Let us do it. It is time to take the final step.

    Conlin is CEO and founder of E.I.C. Enterprises, Inc. (www.eicenterprises.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing a science and fact-based education to the poor and disadvantaged here and throughout the world.

  • Maurice

    My father always emphasized that I was a person first. A black person second. Having lived with that attitude and expectation of acceptance I have never suffered as a victim of racism (or blackism).

    One other thing. Technology is the great equalizer. Your skin color, gender, sexual preference are irrelevant if you are in engineering or one of the hard sciences.

  • I think if Mr. Gumbel were really concerned about the lack of black athletes in Winter sports, he’d establish a fund to help support and train black athletes in those sports.

    He certain has more money than Joey Cheek. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Joey Cheek is responsible for more black athletes (from any nation) at the next Olympics than Mr. Gumbel?

  • Hi Tigress,

    If he were really concerned he wouldn’t focus on black athletes but rather on the failures of the public education system which dooms far too many “blacks” to a life of diminished opportunities and a tragic loss of human potential.

  • Scott Butki

    Well, it IS a sports show we’re talking about not Bryant Gumbal’s How to Fix America show

    I think some perspective is needed.

  • Scott Butki

    You agree?

  • tank rollins

    but thats still not the definition of racist or racisim…99% of you donthave a clue what that WORD means…the other 1% (thats me) do!!!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    tank –

    Dude, you’re about seven years late.