MONETIZNG A MASSACRE
BY JULIANNE MALVEAUX - Feb. 6th, 2014.
Donald Sterling, the non-suspended owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, engineered his own demise by making a series of repugnant statements about African Americans and other people of color. The comments were recorded by his girlfriend then “leaked” to and distributed by TMZ. Sterling’s ignorance generated immediate outrage by current and former basketball players, fans and sponsors. Within three days of the release of his comments, Sterling was banned from the NBA for life, fined the maximum fine of $2.5 million, with Commissioner Adam Silver saying he will “strongly urge” owners to require that Sterling sell his team.
The repugnance of the remarks and player outrage propelled Commissioner Silver to act rapidly, but this isn’t the first time that Sterling has made racially repugnant comments. He has offered, in his capacity as a slumlord, stereotypical and pejorative attitudes toward African Americans, Hispanics and others, as documented in a lawsuit he settled for millions of dollars. These facts were public but if there was a reaction, it was muted. Did players and the NBA ignore this because he wasn’t speaking of basketball players, but of people who could afford nothing more that the dilapidated housing that Sterling owned and refused to repair?
Commissioner Silver showed admirable leadership in the April 29 press conference where he announced the NBA banning of Donald Sterling, but many in the NBA knew of his attitudes, comments, and behavior. As justified as our nation’s outrage has been at a symptom of the institutional racism we continue to experience, institutional racism itself is rarely addressed. Many closet racists share their sentiments privately (as Sterling apparently thought he was doing) with like-minded peers who are willing to chuckle at racist comments. While their attitudes are hidden, their actions reflect their biases.
Corporations have been quick to act, withdrawing support and affecting the Clipper’s bottom line. These companies are also preserving their own bottom lines, as fans and others could have and still have, the option of boycotting corporate Clipper supporters. If they really want to shake things up, they’ll withdraw support for more than a few days. Their withdrawal of support for at least a year as this situation resolves itself (owners still need to act, and Sterling might sue to overturn the ban on him) signals their unwillingness to associate with Sterling.
The strong reaction to Sterling’s remarks does little or nothing to dismantle the institutional racism that Sacramento Mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson referenced. The NBA might hit too close to home if it explored institutional racism in its operations, those of their member teams and even of their sponsors. If Sterling is Jim Crow, the new racism is Jim Crow, Esq., smarter, more subtle, and with similar outcomes. It is far easy repulsed by Sterling and his comments. It is far more challenging to deal with subtle institutional racism.
In a parallel matter, consider the massacre of Treyvon Martin and the international outcry it engendered. Our collective and justified anger at the lenient police treatment of George Zimmerman, the murderer, and his acquittal was on point. The larger issue was police attitudes toward, and treatment of, young black men. Despite the fact that an armed Zimmerman was told not to follow Treyvon and he chose to disregard a police request, he was presumed innocent, and Treyvon guilty of wearing a hoodie and walking through his father’s neighborhood. Many will remember Treyvon Martin’s name and the grisly details of his massacre, but how many cities have changed police policies and increased the consequences for police brutality. Sustained rage would pressure police departments to change their polies. Episodic rage highlights an incident for a few weeks or months before the pressure is off and things return to “normal”.
For all the rage about George Zimmerman why so little in the Schuette (Michigan affirmative action case), where Supreme Court “justices” continued their assault on policies that keep academic doors open to underrepresented minorities. Why no rage against low wages, paid mostly to people of color, or the high unemployment rages experienced by same?
We won’t eliminate institutional racism until we sustain protest. It would be great if the same basketball players who have erupted at Sterling would join the struggle for social and economic justice and against institutional racism.
About Dr. Julianne Malveaux - “The most iconoclastic public intellectual in the country.” - Dr. Cornel West Biography Dr. Julianne Malveaux is the 15th President of Bennett College for Women. Recognized for her progressive and insightful observations, she is also an economist, author and commentator. A committed activist and civic leader, Dr. Malveaux has held positions in women’s, civil rights, and policy organizations. She was President of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs from 1995-1999, and is currently Honorary Co-Chair of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Currently, Malveaux serves on the boards of the Economic Policy Institute, The Recreation Wish List Committee of Washington, DC, and the Liberian Education Trust. A native San Franciscan, she is the Founder and Thought Leader of Last Word Productions, Inc. a multimedia production company headquartered in Washington, DC.