Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy: Is age a factor?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Comedian Amy Schumer has a skit where she introduces her Latino boyfriend, Carlos, to her grandmother. Thinking Carlos is a busboy (this was during dinner), Schumer’s grandmother coldly replies: “I am very happy to meet you. Also, I am  finished.”

A voice from heaven then interrupts with this solution for people suffering with racist elderly relatives: “There is an answer,” the narrator explains, “Generations, a revolutionary new facility where we give your elderly loved ones the politically correct social skills to get along in the real world.”

This is a pretty common lament — which is why it’s humorous. During an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, Schumer even confessed that the joke was based on her real great grandmother: “She would call black people ‘colored,'” Schumer said, “and it would just make all the blood rush to my head like, ‘No, that’s not OK.'”

“But then you think, ‘Well, she’s so old,’ and then, you know, I would mention that to my friends and then … I realized … most people I know have older relatives that will just say something that’s just so unacceptable. And then I just thought, ‘Well, what’s the age? What’s the cutoff?’ Because if one of my parents said something inappropriate I would stop them,” Schumer continued.

I was reminded of this when I heard the racist statements by rancher Cliven Bundy — and then the alleged statements made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Culturally speaking, of course, these two men — the rancher and the NBA owner — couldn’t be any further apart. And, for this reason, I suppose one could conclude this is proof racism is much more pervasive and deeply rooted than any of us would care to admit (a point I raised yesterday on Fox News’ “Media Buzz.”)

But HotAir’s Jazz Shaw makes a pretty compelling case that something else is at play — that these two vastly different men really do have a few interesting things in common — that they are basically Amy Schumer’s great grandmother.

What do Bundy and Sterling have in common? First of all – aside from the obvious fact that they are white – they are old. And I don’t mean old like me… we’re talking really old. And second, each in their own way are old men who live in a form of isolation. Bundy lives in a geographically isolated, rural region. Sterling lives in the rather insular world of the very wealthy. They also come from a different generation, growing up among attitudes which were common beyond notice in their day but which would probably shock many people today. Without going into graphic detail, I’ll just say that I can relate to that, being raised by a member of that same generation in a rural, farming area.

(During a radio interview last night, RealClearPolitics’ Tom Bevan made a similar point.)

Bundy is 67 and Sterling is 80. In a way, the age disparity makes sense; you could argue that an urban (and rich) 80 equates to a rural 67.

So age does seem to be a common denominator — and if one accepts this theory, it is a bit of good news, inasmuch as it implies a lot of this stuff will be resolved through attrition.

Of course, while this may be a valid explanation, it’s also a bit convenient.

Liberals tend to see racism everywhere, while conservatives tend to believe we are moving past it (the fact that these comments spark universal outrage is, I suppose, itself a sign we are progressing), so whether or not one accepts this optimistic viewpoint (that age is to blame) might depend on one’s political worldview.

Regardless, it’s not as if racism will completely die out. There will always be pockets of it. But I do suspect Schumer and Shaw and Bevin have a point about folks from a different generation toting bigoted baggage into our 21st century. (And, of course, I suppose it’s possible that advanced age also lowers inhibitions and decreases the ability for some to self-regulate emotions.)

We may be suffering the final throes of a (thankfully) bygone era.

In the meantime, someone needs to register Bundy and Sterling at “Generations, a revolutionary new facility where we give your elderly loved ones the politically correct social skills to get along in the real world” — and fast!