Donald Sterling is your friend, neighbor, co-worker, maybe even your dad.
God and everybody knows that on April 25, 2014 a recording was released where NBA owner Donald Sterling told a female “friend” that he was irritated over a picture she posted to Instagram. Well, actually he said, “Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f**k him, but don’t put (Magic Johnson) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me.”
This is not the first time Sterling has been accused of being a racist. He has had several lawsuits brought against him that alleged as much, but that is beside the point. He is one man. He may be rich and famous, but he is one man. The attitudes and sentiments he expressed, which I find repulsive, are the attitudes and sentiments of just one man.
Far more troubling to me is the large number of people lining up to defend him. It reminds me of the Phil Robertson incident. Take for example the comment thread embedded at the bottom of the this post from KTBS Channel 3‘s Facebook page.
Magic Johnson was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN. In the interview he said that Sterling held opinions which were outdated, and that he needed to apologize. I might remind you, Magic Johnson is not only a Hall of Fame basketball player, but an NBA analyst and one of the men implicated in the Instagram photo Sterling got his panties in a wad about.
Furthermore, Sterling accused Magic Johnson—and all successful African-Americans, really—of being selfish. To answer Sterling’s question—What has Magic Johnson done for minorities?—he founded the Magic Johnson Foundation which, “works to develop programs and support community-based organizations that address the educational, health and social needs of ethnically diverse, urban communities.” Point being, Magic Johnson is not an irrelevant bystander just spouting off at the mouth. He has every right to speak his mind, just as Sterling does, which brings me to my next point.
No one is challenging Sterling’s right to free speech, just as no one was challenging Robertson’s first amendment rights. I have the right to stay home from work as many days as I would like, but the company ALSO has the right to fire me. In a similar way, Sterling can say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, but the NBA also has the right to protect their image and their brand. So this has nothing to do with the first amendment, as many of the commentators seem to believe in the thread below. Even more troubling than the confusion surrounding the first amendment and the right of company to conduct business is the sheer hatred and overt racism displayed by those who commented on the thread in Sterling’s defense.
In 1991, Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV positive and retired from the game of basketball. So some of those commenting found it appropriate to say things like, “Mr. Johnson should have been smart enough to keeps his pants on and maybe he wouldn’t be as educated as he is about HIV/AIDS. Those in glass houses…” While others decided to post memes like the one to the left, which make fun of Johnson’s HIV positive status. Another man, referring to Magic Johnson’s accusation that Sterling used his power, wealth, fame, and influence for a negative end, said “Maybe so Magic. Who has AIDS? Stick your thoughts… K Bro?”
But the outright hatred did not stop with Johnson’s HIV status. According to several in the thread, Johnson’s remarks are also invalid because he is black. One particular comment read, “The minority argument is outdated. Blacks are not a minority anymore.”
I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that African-Americans are a minority, as they make up only 13.6% of the population according to the 2010 census, versus 72% of the population comprised of by white Americans; however, this comment was only the beginning of the racial remarks, as two other commenters posted the following two pictures:
Donald Sterling’s comments were bizarre and appalling, but I am far more troubled by the fact that in the South, particularly in Shreveport/ Bossier—my home town—the sentiments expressed above are too common. In factories and offices across the South, people are often exposed to such remarks on a daily basis. Not only do I disagree with racist ideology, I profoundly disagree with the people who stand idly by; I disagree with those who choose not to confront these people. I do not believe that racism and bigotry define what it means to be Southern, but I do believe that the silent majority has stood by and let the vocal minority define the South for far too long. The vocal minority pigeonholes the problems of poverty and education into racist categories of thought, and in doing so undermine real growth and progress in the South.
Why do we, the silent MAJORITY, avoid this confrontation? When one of our co-workers says something like, “I knew we should have never let a nigger into the White House!” why do we turn and walk back to our desk silently disgruntled? This is a real question, and I would love for someone to respond in the comment section below this post. Let’s get a discussion going. Why don’t we argue with them? Because it is inconvenient? Because we are afraid? Because we do not think it will make a difference?
Apathy and the avoidance of debate and conflict is no virtue.
When we stand idly by we remove ourselves from the discussion. “Determine never to be idle,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. When we retire to our desk without having expressed our beliefs, we devalue our Republic. Civil discourse is a necessary condition of a healthy, thriving democracy. ”If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization,” Jefferson said, “it expects what never was and never will be.”