The seriously, surreally racist remarks allegedly made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling:
Josh Marshall weighs in:
Race and racism are complex. White families who were the linchpins of white supremacy in the Jim Crow South and in the days of slavery could still have deep and intimate relationships with African-Americans. And I’m not just talking about the well-known and often brutally exploitative sexual relationships. (After all, remember that Strom Thurmond had a mixed race daughter.) Obviously, in this day and age you can work with, have civil relationships with black people, even employ African-Americans and still be totally racist. But in this day and age it’s a little hard to figure how you can have such visceral racism (as opposed to just having a low opinion of black people) and manage to operate in the pretty black world of the NBA.
Jazz Shaw compares Sterling to last week’s racist, Cliven Bundy:
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.
Matt K. Lewis also considers the age factor:
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.
Chotiner argues that the story “shines a light on an uncomfortable fact: society reacts much more forcefully to lone outbursts like Sterling’s than larger, institutional racial problems”
Sterling was accused of two of the most institutionally harmful forms of racism in our society: hiring/firing discrimination and housing discrimination. And yet’s it’s fair to say that the housing discrimination case, no matter how it had played out in court, would not have caused the stir that these comments did.
This is partially because there is audio of his recent remarks, and they are thus easier to react against. But it also shows how much more at ease people are responding to something so easy to grasp, and so unthreatening to the status quo. Institutional racism is just too daunting and widespread. A lot of people who don’t consider themselves racists nevertheless don’t particularly want to live in minority neighborhoods, or send their kids to overwhelmingly non-white schools. And they may hold certain stereotypes about minorities. Confronting all this is complex and fraught. Sterling’s alleged comments are just so…simple.
Ambinder focuses on Sterling’s enablers:
An article about Sterling in ESPN’s magazine called his life “uncontested.” That’s an apt description. The reporter followed Sterling to an NAACP gathering, where he proceeded to brag about how easy it was to pull the wool over the eyes of the organization. Referring to the reporters tailing him, he asked other attendees, “Do you know why they’re here? They want to know why the NAACP would give an award to someone with my track record.”
Yeah. Good question.
The answer is apparently that he gave the organization money. In fact, he gave a lot to organizations devoted to the poor and to helping minority groups.
Peter Dreier expands upon the NAACP’s money-grubbing culpability:
Of course, many nonprofit groups rely on charitable donations from wealthy donors and corporations. Often their philanthropy is altruistic and heartfelt, but sometimes their gifts are self-serving, designed to help a company or a billionaire cleanse a soiled reputation or peddle influence with politicians. Many donors expect to see their names on buildings or to be rewarded with public celebrations of their philanthropy, including receiving awards. The NAACP-Sterling relationship raises the larger question of whether nonprofit organizations should have any standards for bestowing honors on their donors. When is a donor such a disreputable person or corporation that its donation — and the strings attached to it — soils the reputation and moral standing of the nonprofit group, despite its many good deeds?
Marc Tracy zooms out:
As the league begins to move against its longest-tenured owner, the moment feels positively catalytic. The National Basketball Association is the sports world’s most progressive league. Its 30 teams are 30 businesses out to make money, but they do it in a game that finds its greatest popularity among the lower and middle classes and as a league with the second-highest proportion of Democratic fans. More specifically, the NBA is society’s cutting edge as far as race is concerned—it’s the league that birthed the first black head coach (Bill Russell, with due respect to football’s Fritz Pollard); first black superstar (Wilt Chamberlain); first black sneaker brand (Air Jordan); first black general manager (Wayne Embry); and only black owners (the Charlotte Bobcats were owned by Bob Johnson and are now owned by Michael Jordan). Its recent surge in popularity and value has been due primarily to an unusually talented and charismatic inventory of superstars who are overwhelmingly young black men.
Over the past several years, NBA players have seized the athletic and cultural zeitgeist, in the process making a ton of money for themselves but even more for ownership, who have seen their properties appreciate at rates not normally experienced outside the top echelons of Silicon Valley and Wall Street—according to Forbes, franchise values have increased 25 percent just in the past year. This imbalance—between who is responsible for the profit and who reaps the profit—makes less sense with each passing year, and incidents like Sterling’s make it seem absurd. So this is a moment of reckoning for the league, and, since the league has always seemed to represent more than just itself on matters of race and of labor, it’s a moment of reckoning for everyone. Will Sterling be allowed to stick around just because he’s the guy who owns the team? Or will the laborers responsible for Sterling’s success get their way? To put it more bluntly: Will the moribund old white guys win another round, or will the young wealth-creators triumph?