Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On the Racist Donald Sterling and the "Courage" of Adam Silver

Let's get this out of the way.  Donald Sterling is a racist.  Racism is morally bad.  I'll have more to say about Sterling's racism in a bit. Now on to what got this blog post started...

I was listening to NPR today and heard the following:
In the same breath, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was mentioned with JFK, and Silver's action of banning Don Sterling for life was compared favorably with the actions of LBJ.  Silver's courage is breathtaking. And so on.

Are we living on the same planet? JFK and LBJ comparisons?  Courageous?  Acting courageously is doing what you know is right or good in the face of great fear or peril.  Last I checked at ESPN, 80% of the voters said that they approved of the decision of Silver to ban Sterling for life.  EIGHTY PERCENT (the other 20% either thought it was too harsh or not harsh enough).  Last I checked, 95% of media pundits were calling for Sterling's head.  Call it what you want, but there is absolutely no evidence that Silver had to summon up an ounce of courage to ban Sterling for life.  We have little evidence that his action was anything more than a shrewd business decision, people.  He gave everybody what they wanted.  Not giving everyone what they want is more risky than facing a lawsuit from an old racist, pariah. But to compare Silver's action with some of the truly courageous actions of  the civil rights era is to make a mockery of courage as well as some of the courageous actions in the civil rights era.

I've also heard Don Sterling mentioned in the same breath with slave owners (and bizarrely on NPR with truck drivers (!?) until the person "of tolerance" realized she was stereotyping truck drivers and sports owners.  Ah, liberals and stereotyping, but I digress...).  There is some validity to the comparison with slave owners (which I'll get to in a moment), but let's catch our collective breaths for a second and think (THINK) about the extent to which the comparison holds.  Under what conditions are we imagining slaves in the U.S. to have suffered? If employing people to play a GAME voluntarily for millions of dollars is akin to being a slave owner, well then SIGN ME UP TO BE A SLAVE!!  

And am I the ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who finds this statement ironic (from ESPN):
Sterling's $2.5 million fine will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and the players' association, Silver said.
So, ummm, banning someone FOR LIFE isn't, say, a bit intolerant?  Would a church that banned a sinner from coming to church FOR LIFE because of a sin be, say, a bit intolerant?  

Look, I have little sympathy for Don Sterling.  The only sympathy I have is because Sterling is a human being like Magic Johnson and the rest of us and needs redemption.  And I have no problem with the NBA taking whatever business actions it likes towards the guy and condemning racist remarks.  But please don't promote this vague "virtue" of tolerance while at the same time expressing intolerance.  Don't be a sanctimonious hypocrite!  Tolerance is NOT intrinsically good.  Some things shouldn't be tolerated.  Whether expressing racist beliefs in one's house should be tolerated and in what circumstances is an open question.  

Finally, let's get to the heart of the issue with Don Sterling.  I listened to the entire 9 minutes of audio tape that TMZ released as well as the additional 5 minutes or so from Deadspin, and Sterling is definitely not someone I would want for an uncle!  There are the offensive racist remarks which everyone has talked about. And let's not forget that he is dating someone about 1/3 his age and we all know why (of course nobody is talking about that.  Our society condemns racist remarks in the bedroom but you can have whatever sex you want as long as it's consensual).  But from what I've seen no one mentions what he says to his girlfriend here (after some racist remarks in reply to his girlfriend asking him to change): "I don't want to change.  If my girl can't do what I want, I don't want the girl.  I'll find a girl that will do what I want. Believe me."

This is a miserable man who is (a) not averse to USING people as mere means and (b) racist "in his heart" (as his girlfriend correctly says at one point).  That is how he is most like a slave owner. Apparently, if we can take the news stories as true that the NAACP was about to honor this man, then plenty of his overt actions have not been racist actions.  But his willingness to treat people as mere means combined with his deep dislike of associating with black people is evidence of a corrupt soul

(Note to people who love throwing around terms like "hatred" and "racist" at the drop of a hat without defining them even if such labels might destroy another's life:  Racism comes in degrees. How racist is Sterling?  Well, he's racist enough, but how racist?  He said in the tape to his girlfriend that he is not racist.  He says at one point that he doesn't hate minorities.  Apparently he  has hired plenty of black coaches and staff members in comparison with other owners.  He seems really worried about what racist friends/family will think of him.  He thinks black Jews are less valuable than white Jews.  His girlfriend didn't indicate that she thought he hated blacks or minorities.  At one point his girlfriend said that she wasn't saying he is racist.  At other points she indicates she does think he is racist or has a racist heart and that he comes from a racist background.  So it's hard to know the extent of his racism.  It's hard to know the extent to which his racist heart leads him to racist actions.  There's little to no evidence on the tapes that he hates blacks or wants them destroyed.  There is plenty of evidence that he doesn't like to be associated with blacks or other minorities and thinks of them as in some way inferior).

Whether (and the extent to which) we should be tolerant of or punish people for their morally corrupt beliefsdesires, willingnesses, and statements apart from their other actions is something worth thinking about.  My inclination is that we should be much less inclined to punish the former than the latter since the former are less under our voluntary control.  To misquote a saying or two, "Stupid does as stupid is, and it's hard to fix stupid."

1 comment:

  1. I heard the same rhetoric about Silver being courageous and heroic on the radio yesterday too. I really have no strong opinion on Silver's discipline of Sterling, but let's not confuse it with heroism. I mean, seriously, we're talking about not allowing a dirty-old-man to be involved with his billion-dollar franchise in which multimillionaires get paid to participate in a recreational activity in shorts and tank-tops. Sterling appears to be a vile individual, and now that the mass of public opinion and media scrutiny is raining down upon him, it was politically and economically expedient for Silver to act quickly and harshly. It was not courageous. It took courage for MLK to stand up to injustice and get thrown in a Birmingham jail cell. Gandhi was courageous by standing against the British Empire. Atticus Finch wouldn't be a fictional symbol of courage if Lee had created him to join with the mob and scream, “Let's send that rapist to hell!” No, his character is a symbol of courage because he stood against the mob and defended a man at great cost to himself and his family. Granted, the man Finch defended was innocent, and it is quite apparent that Sterling is not. But it doesn't take backbone to stand with the mob; even if the mob is correct in its assessment.