Donald Sterling and Racism in America
By Ryan Rodriguez
I have been struggling with why I still have an empty pit in my stomach, even after the bigot Donald T. Sterling got banned for life from the NBA, and could be forced to sell his controlling stake in the Los Angeles Clippers. I should feel happy that the NBA no longer will have this man polluting their league, a league I love to watch, follow, and at times, offer my thoughts on, but instead I feel dirty, as if I had some contribution in this whole mess.
The more I have discussed this situation over the last couple of days, read about many different viewpoints, and listened to what radio hosts and guests have said, it has come into focus that I am bothered with myself for conforming to and perpetuating the culture that Sterling laid out during his ramblings to his mistress. I am bothered that the NBA and the national media has largely turned a blind eye to past transgressions committed by Mr. Sterling, with only a few people raising concern over federal and civil lawsuits brought against Sterling for housing discrimination, sexual harassment, and refusing to pay fired coaches their full salary, despite everybody saying that they were shell-shocked, but not surprised by the comments Sterling made.
And I am bothered with the NAACP for giving not one, but two lifetime achievement awards to Mr. Sterling, when a simple Google search or trip to Sterling’s Wikipedia page will reveal he has a less than stellar past when dealing with minorities.
See, what happened with Donald Sterling wasn’t so much a Donald Sterling problem, though he obviously has sick, twisted, Jim Crow type thinking, but a societal problem with how we assess racism and what we feel like is worthy to go after. If this was Donald Sterling’s first case of racism, fines and suspensions, possibly bans, would still be warranted, but from this case, we as a society, get to look at ourselves and what this situation says about us. When we get past what we should do to him, and we look at our role in this, we might see that it took racist WORDS towards a bunch of millionaires, though that doesn’t make it any worse, to activate us against this man, when he had been committing far worst racist ACTS toward people of color for years.
The only difference, of course, is the people he offended this time have money and some power, they have a platform that we as a society deem worthy enough for us to listen to them. They have money. Those African-American or Latino families whom he was denying housing to or trying to evict, they have nothing, so we kicked those lawsuits to the side, choosing to continue to live our lives because these cases weren’t staring us blue in the face. They weren’t affecting how we might spend our leisure time or whether or not having some fun was going to put money in a racist’s hand, so we just didn’t care.
This, to me, is why this situation is so messed up. When it comes to American values, we want to talk about equality, acceptance, and tolerance, but this should really be replaced with words like green and cash. See Donald Sterling was a known racist before these tapes were even leaked to TMZ, but since he was “only” harming poor people, we didn’t raise a stink. Sure some people did, such as Bomani Jones and Peter Keating in 2006 and 2009 respectively, but as a whole, we chose to look the other way and continue on with our lives. These poor people didn’t have television cameras in their faces or media members ready to take down their statements, they didn’t have thousands or even millions of Twitter followers waiting on their every tweet, and they didn’t have a multi-billion dollar league to back them and call for justice, and that is precisely my point.
In this country, unless you have money, your cause will quickly be swept under the rug because all we care about is money. If you have money, you can attack someone for being a racist and hope for results, if you are poor, you can attack, just be ready to have a bunch of money, say $2.73 million, thrown at you to be quiet.
This culture our country has created perpetuates people like Donald Sterling to continue to have power and the ability to affect the lives of people he clearly hates. We want to prance around and exclaim racism is dead because we have a black as president, but if we are honest with ourselves, we know that this is a position that money has great influence over. We are all complicit in this perpetuation of racism, since we only listen when a claim is backed by money. The only reason the NBA acted on Donald Sterling is because he attacked their own and the public reacted because “We can’t have this racist in charge of these millionaires.”
It’s great that this man has finally been brought to justice, but we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back like we did some great good. The NBA and the public reacted how they should have eight years ago, and that is why we still have a lot of work to do to make sure beliefs such as these are completely eradicated from our society.
This journey does not end if/when Sterling is forced to sell his team, this journey ends when we stand up for all people who are discriminated against, not just for those we see every day. If we fail to see this process through, tiring out while Sterling inevitably drags the situation through court or believing that Sterling selling the franchise fixes the problem, we all fall back into the hypocrisy that we have been living in.
It is time for our country to truly take a stand against the money-obsessed culture that drives us, forces us to talk, or keeps us quiet. We need to stand up against discrimination, not just when it affects something that we hold dear, but when it affects anyone. Only when that begins to happen will we know that our culture is changing and our society is truly living out the call of the Constitution that “all men (and women) are created equal.”