Thursday, May 1, 2014

Guest column: Let's talk about Donald Sterling and race



LINK: http://www.jconline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/05/01/guest-column-talk-donald-sterling-race/8561353/

Posted on: Thursday, May 1.


It seems like we are talking a lot about race lately. Whether it is a U.S. Supreme Court decision, a showdown in an open prairie in Nevada with Cliven Bundy or the NBA playoffs, race has been the top topic of discussion.

While much of this talk has come in reaction to one event or another and not proactively, it’s a conversation that must continue. Unfortunately, that likely will not happen.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s decision to ban billionaire Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for life seems to have caught the attention of the entire nation. Sterling was secretly taped by his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, making racially charged comments about her being photographed and bringing African-Americans to Clippers games.

I don’t want to get off the subject, but am I the only person who sees a problem with a long-time married man parading his girlfriend who’s old enough to be his granddaughter at Clippers games? That’s another story.

There were a lot of pats on the back Tuesday when Silver made his announcement, which included a $2.5 million fine and asking other NBA owners to force a sale of Sterling’s team. In one respect, there should be. A person with Sterling’s position and influence should have been wary, knowing that if those comments were ever made public, they would have been highly damaging to his ownership.

But Sterling’s past history of settling discrimination complaints in his real estate business should have long been a red flag. Sterling’s comments seem confusing when you square it with the fact that he hired Doc Rivers, a highly successful African-American coach, away from the Boston Celtics to coach his team this season. That, and the fact that most of players are black. That is until you hear the tape and his comments about how he “gives them” their careers.

Even the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP was prepared to give him its lifetime achievement award before the incident.

Racism comes in many forms and cannot be disguised by spotty acts of generosity. It was the point Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was trying to make in her dissent April 22 in the court’s 6-2 decision to uphold a voter-approved change to the Michigan Constitution that prevents public colleges from using race as a factor in admissions.

Justices ruled that while the case did not consider the constitutionality of affirmative action, the state’s initiative was consistent with the Constitution’s equal protection clause. Sotomayor wrote the court was na├»ve to think that the initiative provided equal protection for minorities.

“In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination,” Sotomayor wrote. “This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.”

So much of racial prejudice and discrimination happens silently and behind closed doors. The Donald Sterlings of the world know that if those views become public — as they did last week — the reaction could intense and irreversible. If it wasn’t for the tape, who would have ever believed Stiviano, even with Sterling’s past history?
 
What’s the best way to root out this entrenched racism that stubbornly lurks around the corner of many buildings and dark alleys? It starts with talking about it. It continues with efforts to bring people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds together and to stop being so skittish about the subject. If we miss yet another chance to bring race to the forefront, we’ll simply sit around the wait for the next Donald Sterling to pop out of the closet.

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