|Clippers’ Owner Donald Sterling and his girlfriend.
I must confess that I am still baffled in this day and age when I come across overt hateful and racist behavior or speech such as those expressed by Donald Sterling. Now, I must preface by stating for the record that I am no doe-eyed idealist who fantasizes that because Obama was elected and re-elected in the USA, the xenophobic, anti-black, deep-seated racist hatred and demagoguery of the past are well behind us. I am also aware that deep-seated race-based prejudice against whites may still be harbored by many black people in America. This country has a very dark and checkered past, and I am sure that contentious race-based issues will continue to generate predictable furor and drive wedges amongst the American people long after Obama is gone.
However, the country has come a very long way in addressing the monster of racial discrimination and prejudice—even if, as some may rightly suggest, a lot still needed to be done. There are tons of material out in public domain which expose and reveal the stark nature of race-based oppression or marginalization—from disparities in securing bank loans, to disparities in securing admissions to prestigious universities, to police brutality and victimization of blacks, to disproportionately higher arrest and incarceration rates for blacks, to gross miscarriages of justice for white crimes against blacks especially when compared with the speed and ferocity with which black crimes against whites are punished, etc. As a matter of fact, when you examine the legacy of American slavery and racism and its attendant effects on today’s black population, you’d be forgiven for thinking that given the American mantra of freedom, this country perhaps ought to be embroiled in bitter and internecine race wars. Nevertheless, the country has come a long way from the time when blacks were considered only three-fifths human and thus worthy of being treated as chattel.
Of course, that does not mean that because the tireless efforts of dogged human rights activists have helped to pave a better world for blacks in America today, anyone ought to assume that racial discrimination and prejudice are now relics of a bitter past. I know it still exists and perhaps will continue to exist for as long as there are human beings; the only difference, as I reckoned, is that with all the damning negative press that trails a charge of racism, hateful discrimination based on color would simply become subterranean—i.e. it would go underground, cleverly concealed and perhaps fraught with disputatious litigations, or verbally expressed only in the confines of dark rooms amongst individuals of similar mien. You might ask why one might expect this: because even though we are well-aware that we all harbor biases of different sorts, the civil or rather noble aspiration of the human spirit, according to Martin Luther King Jr., should be to suppress these baser instincts of fear and race-based prejudice in order to judge each person, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. This is why allegations of racism if substantiated can seriously tarnish reputations or destroy entire careers; it is why society frowns on it and seeks to punish it.
Incidentally, that happens to be the reason I find myself doing a double-take when I come across bold and overt incidences of racist behavior. It is very much like witnessing someone defecating in full public view. One is startled, not so much by the fact that such a person is defecating, as by the fact that such a person has chosen to do such a private and perhaps undignifying business, not in secret or secluded places, but in public.
Now, I wonder: what sort of dehumanizing and intolerable acts of cruelty did this billionaire owner of the LA Clippers suffer personally at the hands of blacks to prompt this deep-seated revulsion towards black people? One might reasonably deduce that someone in his position and station in life most likely has not been persecuted or traumatized by black people to such a scale that these racist utterances could somehow be justified. Indeed, you only need to examine the issue on its own merits for several uncomfortable facts to immediately advertise themselves to you.
First, everyone should recognize that this man has many black players (and even a black coach) working furiously hard to secure him victory and glory in the NBA and consequently boost his cash flow. Secondly, everyone should recognize as well that there are many black people who financially support Donald Sterling’s status as a billionaire by being ticket-paying fans of the Clippers. Thirdly, isn’t it strange that this man chooses a half-black, half-latina girl to be his girlfriend when he nurses such ill-will towards people of color? The reports making the rounds are that this man already has a history of racist statements and behavior. If one were talking about some under-exposed, under-educated, racist bigot who has forsworn any contact with minorities and is known to be a member of any one of these White Supremacist group littering the United States, I would not be very surprised. I suppose the reason why this is especially jarring for people who have come to expect some decency from other people—even if such decency or courtesy or civility are hypocritical—is that it reveals a deeply disturbing truth; it reveals that even the seemingly educated, wealthy, exposed, liberal and jovial Caucasians that a black person might incidentally call “friend” could in fact be expressing the vilest, most shockingly disturbing racist hatred and vitriol in private or in the exclusive company of his/her similarly complexioned friends.
And in this case, lest one point fingers in the opposite direction, one cannot draw the same parallel against Blacks because unless one is willing to delude oneself, there is certainly no need denying the fact that many blacks, in protesting the unfair hand of racial prejudice and discrimination, often tend to speak about White culpability in very generalized terms. Yes, many black people may overreach in their righteous indignation when expostulating about the vicious legacy of slavery and racism by making unfair generalizations about White people. However, one only needs to be in the system to see how that whites have till date largely been the beneficiaries of the warped system. It is one thing to complain—as an individual member of the ‘privileged’ skin color—that blacks are also captive to racist sentiments by always making uncomfortable allusions to historical White racism and tarring even liberal, compassionate Whites for the sins of the past. It is a completely different issue however, as a white person or a member of the ‘privileged’ skin color, to actively express the sort of horrifying sentiments that eerily evokes memories of the Jim Crow era.
Therefore, I was hardly surprised when the NBA Comish Adam Silver handed down a lifetime ban from all NBA games and a maximum fine of $2.5 million after it was ascertained that Sterling was indeed guilty of this egregious faux-pas. The question that must be asked now is: Has the right message thus been sent by the NBA Commissioner’s actions alone or does Donald Sterling additionally need to be stripped of his ownership of an NBA team?
Many people are of the opinion that he should be forced to sell the team. They feel like this travesty can only be properly addressed by permanently ostracizing the man. While I understand the passions behind this recommendation, I am certainly not very convinced that it is the wisest course of action. Here are my reasons:
A. Inasmuch as this man has stunned most decent people by the revelation of his racist statements, I will not fail to recognize that this man was in the confines of his own home and talking to his own girlfriend when these startling statements were made. This falls in line with what I have always expected. The truth is that much as the black segment of the population are truly mystified and offended by such brazen hatred, Donald Sterling probably still enjoys the private sympathies of many non-black people in the US who can ostensibly see themselves in his shoes—i.e, making the same sort of unguarded statements in the safety of their own homes. I am not sure that the man deserves to lose the effort of his labors over the years for statements he might not have made had he realized that he was being recorded. It will set in motion a nasty precedent and a vicious witch-hunt with wider ramifications. As if our personal sense of privacy has not been assaulted enough, we would suddenly find ourselves being treated to all sorts of damning revelations as stern and perhaps uncharitable characterizations of others begin to make the rounds and demands for the Sterling treatment to apply equally.
B. I am convinced that if there ever comes a time when Mr. Sterling is being forced to sell a team he bought in 1981 and meticulously toiled to keep afloat and grow, he will not go down without a nasty fight. He will not sell cheap (if he ever agrees to sell at all). I think it will be a bad day in the history of free enterprise and capitalism when an entrepreneur is FORCED against his will to give up a business that is turning fine profits. This will mean that if the owners of other giant businesses or multinational corporations are deemed for whatever reasons to have acted in a despicable manner by large swaths of the public, then these businesses have to be stripped of their legitimate owners who toiled to establish them regardless of the protections afforded to the owners of such businesses under the law.
C. The best course of action to take against Donald Sterling is to make the Clippers franchise and business become very unprofitable to him that he realizes his best solution would be to sell the team. So rather than force him to immediately give over his ownership of the Clippers, a campaign should be embarked to discourage young African-Americans—or other similarly offended non-Black players—from playing for the Clippers (if they are currently on the Clippers’ roster) or from signing up as new team members. Additionally, fans should be disincentivized from buying tickets, or even watching Clippers’ games on TV as long as Donald Sterling remains at the helm. Striking back at him economically or financially is the best and most viable means of getting rid of Donald without generating further collateral damage or a kamikaze move by Sterling.
Unfortunately, I think that even though this is the most sensible course of action, it is perhaps the most unrealistic one. This is because for it to work, you have to assume that all people who are disgusted by such naked xenophobia—whether they are White, Black, Yellow or Brown—can be expected to act in a sufficiently organized and motivated manner to send a resounding message that we would not stand for such vile racism in one of America’s cultural sports. That, my friend, is easier said than done.