Outrage Ignores Sterling’s Real Victims
Moral outrage is cheap currency. It’s easy to manipulate and wildly speculative. This became clear in the moments following TMZ’s release of Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling’s 19th century rant on American culture and African Americans’ place in society.
But moral indignation also can be very real.
The feelings of anger and disgust directed at Sterling were an honest outpouring of emotion, mostly by a group of people who historically have been disenfranchised by men like Sterling who believe in a multi-tiered system of civil rights based on skin pigmentation.
Taken by themselves, the comments recorded by his surgically enhanced 31-year-old mixed-race Barbie doll reveal an 80-year-old man comfortable in a belief system that is shockingly still widely held. When compared to his real history of active discrimination, however, his comments are almost palatable.
So why the sudden anger? “Not in my backyard.” The phrase most often heard when discussing construction projects those feel are better built in other, usually poorer, neighborhoods also reflects the disinterest and ignorance toward the plight of others. “Not in my backyard” reflects our self-interest, whether the subject is livable wages, religious beliefs or a billionaire land owner turned slum lord.
For the NBA crowd, Sterling’s documented history of prejudicial housing practices meant little, if anything. Sterling didn’t enter the league’s backyard until he went on a racist rant while referencing one of the game’s greatest and most popular players, Magic Johnson. Suddenly, Sterling moved next door and opened a halfway house for imprisoned Muslim gangbangers. “Not in my neighborhood” swept through the NBA and every media outlet in a race to see who could be most disgusted first.
Make no mistake about it. Donald Sterling is human excrement and his belief system must be scraped off the shoe of society. But that was true 10 years ago, when he and his estranged wife led a decade-long effort to rid his rental units of any undesirable tenants (blacks, Latinos and children), while at the same time allowing his properties to degrade into slum conditions.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA was powerless to punish the Clippers’ owner in the past because there had been no legal judgment against him. He either won or, more often, settled for sometimes record amounts.
Silver would have you believe only a guilty verdict would authorize a lifetime ban and a forced sale of the team, but according to Sporting News reporter Sean Deveney, it was years of owner support for Sterling that kept former commissioner David Stern from making a change.
A positive vote by 75 percent of NBA owners is needed to force the sale of a team. Until now, that wasn’t going to happen.
Now, because the business of the league has been threatened, the NBA has the authority to act, and is being pressured to do so.
Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson, a former Clippers player, called on the fans to boycott game 5 of the playoffs between the Clippers and his Warriors team. This is the same Mark Jackson who, in a 2009 ESPN The Magazine article on Sterling, said he never had a problem with Sterling, and that he had heard about the housing discrimination but, “What can I do about that?”
Perhaps Jackson could have asked “the bitch.”
The “bitch” is Kandynce Jones, an elderly African-American woman who was Sterling’s tenant.
According to testimony in a 2003 housing discrimination lawsuit, Jones dared to ask that her leaky refrigerator and shower be fixed. Jones was legally blind, paralyzed on her right side and took medication for high blood pressure.
Her apartment was cold, often flooded and had a non-working toilet. No matter the request or her pleasant demeanor, no repairs were made. When notified about the situation, Sterling, according to the same testimony, said, “Just evict the bitch.”
The NBA has done good standing up to prejudice, and Sterling deserves every punishment the league brings. Racism needs to be revealed, discussed and stamped out. The players have a right to be angry, but where was the anguish for Kandynce Jones and the others who suffered under Sterling? There were no protests, no calls to action, just acceptance.
Until the NBA acknowledges its past failing with Sterling and gives a voice to people like Jones, the protests are hollow and self-serving.
For perhaps the best commentary on Sterling and the wide-ranging affects of housing discrimination, check out ESPN staffer Bomani Jones’ comments on the Dan LeBatard Show. His balance of rage, disgust, humor and intelligence is nothing short of extraordinary. I recommend finding the link. Also worth reading is Kareen Abdul-Jabbar’s Time magazine editorial.