I recently saw a revival of the great line that came out of the movie, Forest Gump. “Stupid is as stupid does.” The phrase can be a bit of a word game, but however one interprets it, the meaning certainly applies to the choice words about race uttered by Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling.
Among Sterling’s pearls was what he said in an authenticated recording with his one-time girlfriend, V. Stiviano:
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”
“You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.”
Don’t put him [Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”
The term “piling on” is one that is normally associated with football. It’s illegal, and in the minds of many, immoral, for one or several football players to keep piling on a downed player after the whistle has been blown.
In the case of Sterling, the basketball owner of notoriety, the piling on has come from virtually everyone who has an opinion, and that is just about everyone. Sterling has repeatedly been called a racist. Well in the words of the great philosopher, Fats Domino, “ain’t that a shame.” I mean, really, how much guts does it take to call a doddering old man who is clearly confused about the world in which he is living a name? Suddenly it seems that everyone in the world other than Sterling is “holier than thou.” It’s as if Sterling was the only person in the world to express a racial prejudice.
One of the other twenty-nine NBA owners who will vote on taking the franchise away from Sterling had the temerity to say, “wait a minute.” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban proffered the thought that Sterling may not be the only racially prejudiced man in the world. In fact, Cuban went so far as to say that none of us, including himself, can honestly say that we are not a racist. He graphically described his perspective:
“If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street,” he said in a video interview for Inc.’s GrowCo Conference in Nashville. “And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street.”
“I know that I’m not perfect,” Cuban also said Wednesday. “While we all have our prejudices and bigotries, we have to learn that it’s an issue that we have to control, that it’s part of my responsibility as an entrepreneur to try to solve it, not just to kick the problem down the road.
It would have been easy for Cuban to just fall in line with the owners, and virtually all other observers. He could have denounced Sterling as a racist and pretended to be it above it all. Instead, he said what he was really thinking; in NBA parlance he “manned up” and shared his inner thoughts.
Some African-Americans have criticized him for saying “a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night;” it sounds too much like Trayvon Martin. Cuban has apologized for the resemblance, but he stands by the conviction that we should treat race as a delicate issue and none of us should enter a conversation with the presumption that he or she is not racist.
Cuban’s perspective is one that can liberate us to have a more open national discussion on race. None of needs to defend ourselves as being pure. Instead, we can look at the issue of one that involves shades of grey.
By doing so, we can have a more meaningful discussion on why there are so many people in the United States have a visceral dislike, even hatred of President Obama. Why is he so vilified, particularly by those on the extreme right?
If we look at the situation from the simple “Sterling is a racist” perspective, we have are left with the dilemma of either calling the opponents of President Obama as racist, or as saying that they are not racists. Painting them with a broad brush as racist is fraught with all of the dangers of any generalization. Dismissing them as being pure at heart when it comes to race is equally inaccurate and disingenuous.
From Cuban’s perspective, we are all somewhat racist. There are gradations among us. When it comes to those who really demean our president, it would be unfair to call them racist. But to say that race may well be a key issue in their disdain for him is likely true.
It is only outliers who are “Sterling-esque” and call the president racial epithets. Most critics are civil enough to speak in code when there are criticizing the president (“he doesn’t care about us”). It would wise during the remainder of President Obama’s administration and as we move forward into the next political cycle to (1) examine ourselves for any underlying racial reasons that we may have for criticizing (or defending) the president, and (2) to make it fair game in the political dialogue to acknowledge that much criticism of the president comes from race. I nominate Mark Cuban to facilitate upcoming presidential debates in both parties.