Sterling, Bundy, and collective guilt
Hot on the heels of previously ignored Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy suddenly becoming a media superstar, because he gave a press conference at which he mused black people might have been better off as slaves than as dependents of the welfare state, the story of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling became big news. Sterling was caught on tape making bigoted comments to his girlfriend V. Stiviano, prompted by her posting an Instagram photo of herself with basketball legend Magic Johnson. TMZ made the tape available online:
Sterling rails on Stiviano — who ironically is black and Mexican — for putting herself out in public with a black person (she has since taken the pic down). But it doesn’t end there. You have to listen to the audio to fully grasp the magnitude of Sterling’s racist worldview. Among the comments:
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” (3:30)
“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.” (5:15)
“I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.” (7:45)
“…Don’t put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.” (9:13)
It should be noted that the team’s official statement, as quoted by the Washington Post, expresses some doubt on the authenticity of the recording:
Clippers President Andy Roeser said in a statement: “We have heard the tape on TMZ. We do not know if it is legitimate or it has been altered. We do know that the woman on the tape — who we believe released it to TMZ — is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Sterling family alleging that she embezzled more than $1.8 million, who told Mr. Sterling that she would ‘get even.’
Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them. He is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson. He has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him–both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved. We are investigating this matter.”
There has been speculation that even if Sterling is confirmed as the male voice on this tape, Stiviano will be accused of setting her 81-year-old beau up, goading him into saying something she could use against him. It sounds like he wouldn’t be terribly difficult to bait. Sterling’s history of benighted racial views was fairly common knowledge before this. The Washington Post runs through his history of controversial words and deeds:
Sterling’s history paints a picture of a man who has let slip bigoted beliefs for years — and has, at least so far, sidestepped major repercussions. He was sued in 1996 for sexual harassment. In 2003 he testified in a separate court case that he occasionally paid women for sex. The same year, Sterling was sued by 19 tenants of a building he owned, along with the Housing Rights Center; they claimed Sterling’s employees refused repairs to black tenants and frequently threatened to evict them. Sterling settled the case for an undisclosed sum.
In 2009, Sterling spent $2.73 million to settle another suit, this time brought by the Justice Department, which alleged Sterling refused to rent his apartments to non-Korean tenants, preferring that black and Hispanic prospective tenants look elsewhere. The lawsuit quoted Sterling as saying in sworn testimony that “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” adding that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”
Sterling also feuded with Elgin Baylor, a Washington native, NBA legend and the Clippers’ general manager for 22 years. Baylor, who has declined commenting publicly this weekend, sued Sterling in 2009 for discrimination and wrongful termination. In the lawsuit, Baylor, who is African American, alleged Sterling built his franchise with the “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” and accused the team owner of a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude.” A jury ruled in Sterling’s favor in 2011.
But it didn’t matter, because he was a big-bucks Democrat donor in good standing. In fact, he was scheduled to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP on May 15.
Evidently these taped comments were either one outrage too many, or else the backlash was worse than ever before – the players on Sterling’s team turned their jerseys inside out in protest during a playoff game on Sunday, a game which Sterling was pointedly invited not to attend by the NBA commissioner. Or maybe Sterling is just too inconvenient to the Democrats’ scorched-earth, all-racism-all-the-time campaign for 2014. Whatever the case may be, the Party he gave so much money to over the years dropped him with lightning speed, leading to the utter absurdity of Democrat strategist Paul Begala warning prominent Republicans not to defend the embattled Clippers owner.
Other left-wing voices went further, seeking to blend Sterling together with Cliven Bundy into a creamy spread of slander they could use to indict all of America, or at least the part of America that doesn’t vote the right way. Former Today host and sportscaster Bryant Gumbel popped up on NBC’s Meet the Press to declare, “We historically, whether it’s Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy or Trayvon Martin, we look at a tip of the iceberg, and we ignore the mass underneath it. And really, that’s where the problem lies.”
A reporter even decided to bring President Obama into the story during his visit to Malaysia, asking him to weigh in on Sterling’s remarks. The President went considerably further than declaring the guy said something objectionable and moving on to the next question. “The owner is reported to have said some incredibly offensive racist statements that were published,” the President began, reasonably enough. “I don’t think I have to interpret those statements for you; they kind of speak for themselves. When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything; you just let them talk.”
But then he kept going, and suddenly everyone in America was an unindicted co-conspirator to Sterling’s bigotry: “The United States continues to wrestle with a legacy of race and slavery and segregation that’s still there, the vestiges of discrimination. We’ve made enormous strides, but you’re going to continue to see this percolate up every so often. And I think that we just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it, teaching our children differently, but also remaining hopeful that part of why some statements like this stand out so much is because there has been this shift in how we view ourselves.”
On the same Malaysian excursion, Obama said Maylasia has “still got some work to do” on human rights… “just like the United States.” It’s great to have a President that so clearly loves his country, and speaks highly of it at every opportunity.
This all dovetails with the Left’s use of Cliven Bundy, who overnight went from the focus of a story they didn’t want to discuss, to the living avatar of America’s deep-seated racism, not to mention the new spokesman for the entire Republican Party. It also fits in with the Democrats’ relentless use of phony statistics to gin up outrage over a sexist “War on Women” that causes them to earn only 77 cents on the male dollar. In all cases, the message is that bigotry is a collective crime, for which the American people have been tried by their Ruling Class and found eternally guilty.
It doesn’t even matter when a tidal wave of people, ranging from the proverbial “man on the street” to those with access to the media megaphone, leap to swiftly denounce racist and sexist statements. We the People are still guilty, guilty, guilty, and every blockheaded quote from someone like Sterling or Bundy represents another blown parole hearing for the entire nation.
Collective crimes require immense government power to correct. Unlike actual justice, “social justice” requires no specific charges, allows no presumption of innocence, and grants the accused no opportunity for a fair trial. The Left’s general hostility to individual responsibility extends to these situations as well, because whatever penalty might be directed at particular offenders, it’s never enough. The whole of the American people must be punished and shamed. No amount of progress, no volume of encourage signs, counts for as much as the odd comment from a crank with a high media profile. When it comes to a charge as politically useful as mass racism, the verdict comes first, and the prosecution lasts forever.
Meanwhile, as with President Obama’s comments about the United States still having “work to do” on human rights, the Ruling Class gets to posture as above it all – an aristocracy fundamentally disconnected from the rabble they preside over. The audience for Obama’s “First Citizen of the World” slams at America over human rights is not supposed to hold him responsible for any of it; he exists on a moral and intellectual plane far above the nation he rules. Likewise, no one is supposed to remind Obama that his election to President was portrayed as a huge blow against bigotry, a moment of racial healing unlike any other… because then we might ask uncomfortable follow-up questions about how the country that elected a black man President twice could be so sick with racism that its people still can’t be trusted to manage their affairs without government oversight.
It’s hard to see any happy endings on the horizon for the Sterling controversy. There is some unease about the notion that he should be stripped of his extremely valuable property – the Clippers are said to be worth $575 million – because he harbors terrible thoughts. The majority of his players are black, and aside from the long-ago complaints by Elgin Baylor – who lost his case against Sterling in court – there seems to be little evidence that his racial views have injured their livelihood or careers. Some observers wonder if there is any legal way he could be forced to sell the team, even if the NBA is determined to punish him. (An assessment of the situation by Sports Illustrated concludes that the NBA can fine Sterling, but he’ll barely notice even the heftiest penalty they could impose, and the worst penalty they’re legally capable of imposing would be a lifetime suspension. The harder the Association comes down on him, the more likely it is that Sterling could retaliate with a lawsuit.)
On the other hand, unless the authenticity of this tape is successfully disputed, Sterling’s continued ownership will probably do considerable damage to the value of his team, as both players and fans make their displeasure known. Player boycotts could violate their employment contracts – but, as Sports Illustrated speculates, the players might be protected against sanctions under the Civil Rights Act. Even if Clippers players decide not to boycott, nobody can force fans to fill the stadium if they decide they cannot abide the team’s owner. Also, sponsors cannot be forced to do business with the team – they’ve reportedly lost CarMax, State Farm, Virgin America, and Kia already.
Update: Is the call for an all-black, black-owned basketball league made by Larry Johnson less racist than the Sterling comments he was responding to? Doubtless it will be said that since Johnson is black, he can’t be a racist, at least not in the same sense Sterling is. Or it will be said that his idea for an all-black league is discrimination in response to discrimination, and is therefore morally authorized. That seems like the sort of dangerous reasoning a truly post-racial nation would have to outgrow.
On the other hand, Johnson’s idea would have real-world consequences for people who did nothing wrong (presumably he means his league would have only black owners, but the consequences would be even more dramatic if he means they won’t even have white players.) Sterling’s comments were offensive and derogatory, but had no such economic impact.