Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy, And The Right-Wing Refrain That Racism Is Dead

Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling

Recent racist musings from the likes of rancher Cliven Bundy and LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling bring to light one of right-wing media's favorite misnomers -- that racism and bigotry are over. It's a dangerous fiction that's also surfaced in recent Supreme Court decisions, and one that provides cover for modern racists and policies that hurt minorities.

“Is there racism? I don't believe there's racism,” asserted Fox News' Eric Bolling, echoing a refrain that's become common place inside the conservative bubble.

For example, Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer has argued that policies protecting against racial discrimination are no longer necessary because they're about giving “advantages to people who 50 years ago” were disadvantaged.  Co-host of Fox's The Five Andrea Tantaros argued civil rights laws are no longer needed “because there is equality.” According to Bill O'Reilly, racism is “an individual problem,” “not a country problem,” and America's sad history of discrimination is “all in the past.”  

This readiness to ignore the existence of racism provides cover for intolerance on the fringe. Over the last month, right-wing media propelled Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy to folk hero status for cheating the federal government out of millions, only to sprint away from him when was caught on tape wondering if black people were better off as slaves.

Similarly, billionaire Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, was banned for life from the NBA after the exposure of his alleged racist comments to his mistress. 

While many Fox News hosts and contributors eventually condemned Bundy and Sterling's racism, the rhetoric is largely reminiscent of right-wing media's stereotypes of minorities and denial of the existence of racism -- In the wake of their racist rants, both Bundy and Sterling denied they held any racist views. 

Bundy and Sterling are extreme examples of cognitive dissonance, but the racism-denialist mindset is a pervasive and dangerous one.

Right-wing media's dismissal of racism has most recently surfaced in the wake of the recent April 22 Supreme Court decision in Schuette v. BAMN, that effectively overturned decades of civil rights precedent and gutted a core component of equal protection law by giving Michigan voters the power to change their state's constitution to ban race-based considerations for university admissions.

As Jeffrey Toobin described, the conservative majority took the position of “blame-shifting,” suggesting that “the debate over affirmative action should and could take place in a genteel, controversy-free zone.” He wrote:

Bundy and Sterling represent an ugly corner of contemporary American life, but it is one that is entirely invisible in recent Supreme Court rulings. In the Roberts Court, there are no Bundys and Sterlings; the real targets of the conservative majority are those who've spent their lives fighting the Bundys and Sterlings of the world.


In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote about a country where the Bundys and Sterlings still hold considerable sway. Indeed, she went beyond the simple bigotry of the Bundys and Sterlings and found that more subtle wounds of racism still exist in this country. “Race matters,” she wrote, “because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: 'I do not belong here.'”

Decisions made and policies created on the premise that racism no longer exists in America have incredibly damaging impacts on civil rights and minority communities.

The Supreme Court's recent decision in Michigan is evidence of that. The ruling opened a door for state majorities to change their political systems to unfairly disadvantage minorities -- a decision that has dangerous consequences, particularly in a state like Michigan where white Americans are the overwhelming majority. Such consequences are already being felt by minority students in Michigan. In addition to racist incidents and racial tensions on campuses around the country, the enrollment of African-American students in Michigan has seen a dramatic decrease.

The Supreme Court's recent tossing aside of history and legal precedent is reminiscent of the court's June 2013 blow to voting rights -- a decision also made on the premise that racism no longer exists in America, but in reality had a negative impact on minorities. In the June 25 decision, the conservative majority invalidated the provision within the Voting Rights Act that prevents states and local jurisdictions from enacting racially discriminatory election practices. States wasted no time after the Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act pushing highly restrictive voting laws that history has shown serve to make it harder for minorities to cast a vote. 

Apparently inside the conservative bubble, it's easy to praise such devastating policies so long as you deny the existence of racism at all, a refrain that ultimately helps keep discrimination alive.