Riley Cooper is being suspended from his position as a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles for using a racial slur; the n-word. Not the regular n-word that is used in more common black vernacular that ends with an "a," but rather the one that ends in an "er." (You're probably wondering why I would have any say in this matter at all, but i'll get to that later.) Two letters that turn a term from endearment to antipathy.
Both Cooper and I grew up in the Tampa Bay area. He, however, went to schools like Clearwater Central Catholic, predominantly white, whereas I went to schools like Lakewood and St. Pete High, mixed or predominantly black. Growing up around and going to schools with students of many different colors and nationalities exposed me to the sensitivities of different cultures. I adhered to these sensitivities even if some didn't make much sense to me. Also, being mixed myself, Native American and Canadian, I always practiced giving respect to receive respect.
If Cooper was only exposed to the white culture of Tampa Bay for a good part of his early life then I would bet he was exposed to the n-word, with the "er," from family and/or friends. Obviously no one would admit to this, it's not politically correct, but I am never surprised when I am around the Tampa Bay area and I see white people looking at my black friends and making derogatory statements or acting afraid because of false black stereotypes. Now that's racism. It's persistent and ever-present.
I do not condone Cooper's statements and generally regard them as offensive. I am not going so far, however, to say that he is a racist. Racism is defined as the "prejudice against another ethnic group." 'Prejudice' is defined as "belief without basis." Knowing that he has played in college and professionally with other black athletes, I am sure he is, at minimum, tolerant. Some of his good teammates on the Philadelphia squad are black. Not to say this makes it better, but rather to point out that he is probably not "against" blacks under a false pretense.
He is not some 'rebel flag raising' or 'aryan brotherhood' touting scum bag like some other people in the Tampa Bay area. Just a foolish athlete that got crossed up hearing white folk and black folk use the same term in a confrontational matter. I mean, the n-word is probably the most misunderstood yet widely used word in the US. I hear people from all races use the word especially in the inner city: Asian, white, black, hispanic. Asians use it amongst themselves in the same manner as blacks do. Try to figure that out.
There are also group dynamics that come into play. In some occasions whites that have acculturated into black society are allowed to use the term in multiple ways. This, however, does not come into play for Cooper because he grew up a prep star at a catholic school. Which hits at why in this particular situation he cannot ever use the term in any form. He has not acculturated and is not known to be part of the black community in any way, shape, or form, outside of football. I mean he goes to Kenny Chesney concerts, that should tell you something.
Considering all this, I do not concede that he is a racist, just a confrontational bigot. There are many other instances that scream racism than this whisper. For instance, one of my good friends always senses the feeling when a white person is afraid of him because he is a tall black guy with dreads. And I am sure many more of my other friends have similar circumstances, everyday of their life. It's a systemic behavior of white culture in Tampa Bay, and I don't see this form of racism changing.
Which leads to my last point. It's not so much a word as it is the behavior that is behind it. Cooper is probably a decent guy that just got confrontational and shouted a derogatory term. But what about Mr Judge that sentences a black person but letting go a white person for the same offense or Mr Boss that denies a qualified black person a job because of his appearance. That is racism to the utmost degree but those "actions" do not get called out, addressed, or reviewed.
There is another term, however, that is considered racist and that I think requires some action from the NFL. The term "redskins" is the team name for the Washington DC football team. This term is considered derogatory because it refers to how whites would poach Native Americans and return their 'redskins' or 'hides' for bounty. Remember the definition of racism and prejudice: to be against another ethnic group without basis. Native Americans fit into this definition pretty easily and the term "redskins" just plays into it even more. The problem is there aren't enough Native Americans, or concerned citizens for that matter, to incite outrage in the court of public opinion. From what I have noted, it's not so much what people say or the terms they use, it's the actions they exhibit. If the NFL takes no action on "redskins," what does that make them? If Cooper is willing to take counseling for his behavior, what does that make him? Actions speak louder than words, even if words hurt sometimes.