Sunday, May 4, 2014

The farcical nature of the Donald Sterling issue

Earlier this week, LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling was revealed by TMZ to have made comments to a female associate (mistress? personal assistant? girlfriend?) that he didn't want her associating with black people. Following the ensuing furore, the NBA responded by fining Sterling the maximum amount of $2.5 million, banning him for life, and endeavouring to force him to sell the Clippers franchise.

A victory against racism? That's debatable, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as much as Sterling undoubtedly possesses some deplorable views on race, the comments he's copped hell for were not public pronouncements, but a secretly recorded private conversation. Fining a person for millions of dollars (even if that's a drop in the bucket for Sterling) for something they say privately, is reminiscent the "thought police" described in George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984. Had he expressed his distasteful views about black people in a public forum, then the punishment might have some justification. I'm not saying private comments such as Sterling's should never be aired; it is often in the public interest to know the sort of things a public figure says when he is away from the public eye. But it's a dangerous area to get into, particularly as we say all kinds of ill-considered things in private which we might think better of in a public context. In any case, an official punishment is crossing a line into heavy-handedness.

But a sadder issue is that this is hardly the first time that Sterling's racism has been made public, and earlier instances have in fact been far worse. The Clippers owner has been the subject of a discrimination lawsuit in the past for deliberately excluding blacks and Latinos from renting properties that he owns. This is real racism that actually affects lots of people's lives in a meaningful way, but it did not make big news.

The man at the heart of exposing these earlier instances of racism is ESPN journalist Bomani Jones, and in this radio interview he exposes the reaction to this issue for the farce that it is: