The NBA went into a feeding frenzy last week (and with it the American media, followed by the American public) over an audio recording of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling saying blatantly racist things to his fifty-years younger, alleged mistress. The cascade of events that followed could only have been dreamed up by some amazing team of Hollywood writers.
As I watched the events unfold on the tube and across the internet, I knew I’d been transported from reality and into an alternate universe where ordinary people like me get to watch movies while they are being made. This couldn’t possibly be the world I’ve inhabited all my life? A white billionaire with too much time and ego said something bigoted and the entire country responded with shock and anger? And now the crazed billionaire is in danger of losing his most prized asset? Why wasn’t the entire sordid mess quietly swept under the rug? Isn’t that what usually happens? The events I was witnessing could only have originated within a Hollywood script.
I tried to map out the characters in this movie, only I couldn’t find the movie’s hero. All of the other characters were there. Just no hero. What gives?
The Villain: Donald Sterling
Donald Sterling, the eighty year old long-time owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team can be heard on an audio recording chastising his nearly fifty years younger mistress for publicly cavorting with African American celebrities on her Instagram feed. Sterling’s comments on the recording are outrageous, ignorant, and offensive. Yet, are Sterling’s comments so out of step with our modern day American experience?
A simple exercise in self-restraint and critical thinking tells us that Sterling’s comments do indeed reflect the broader American culture we live in. Sterling urges his mistress to refrain from publicizing her interactions with African Americans. His comments reflect an old-school segregationist mentality. Not that he wishes harm on African Americans, but rather that he believes the White and Black races should remain separate. In Sterling’s own words:
It isn’t a question. We don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong. We live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture…I don’t want to change the culture, because I can’t.
Forty percent of African American students today attend schools that are more than 90-percent minority and disproportionately poor compared to their White counterparts. And check out the map below, which shows the racial composition of Sterling’s home town Los Angeles. Each color on the map represents a different racial or ethnic group (the key is visible at the bottom, right of the image). You can clearly see great separation between the different colored dots on the map. Each “color” seems to live in their own neighborhoods.
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Take a look at 8 Mile Road in Detroit (another NBA city). The racial divide along the main strip is almost shocking… Almost.
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Sterling wasn’t speaking of a society he knew from years ago and still longs for. Sterling was speaking of the society he lives and works in today. In Sterling’s world, minorities only matter if he can make money off of them (hello Chris Paul!). Otherwise, Sterling has no use for minorities. [click to continue…]