I didn’t even know who Donald Sterling was until this whole Clippers/mistress/racism thing went down. In case you’re living under a rock (like I typically try to), Donald Sterling is an older-than-dirt, mega-rich, crusty, white dude who also happens to own a pro basketball team that nobody knew existed (except me of course, I still have my Terry Dehere jersey in the closet… seriously) until some guy named Blake Griffin jumped over a car.
At least that’s what Donald Sterling was. Now, he seems to be an exposed racist with a mistress less than half his age and a long history of discriminating against minorities. The general public is outraged at these “revelations.” We’re not going to let this man say these racist things, dammit! I mean, we didn’t have a problem with him doing racist things for the longest time… but now that he actually said it? Now there’s a problem.
To my bitter, sarcastic mind, there’s a problem with our collective thinking on Sterling.
While our dislike of him may be rooted in his racial views (and even actions), the flames of our hatred fan most intensely towards the man because we don’t want to be hypocrites. Sterling was exposed as a racist years ago. Even so, we didn’t know or care enough about the man to pay him any mind. Now, though, we care. We care because everybody knows. Even worse, everybody knows that we know.
When everybody knows that you know that Donald Sterling is racist, you’ve got to be outraged. After all, they know you know he’s racist, and if you’re not as mad as them (or even more mad), then you’re probably racist too, right?
Look, I’m not defending Donald Sterling. He’s clearly a jackass. Crude as that sounds, there’s not a better word for it. The outrage is seemingly overdone, though.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit the nail squarely on the head with his piece for Time Magazine. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Kareem takes a spectacularly rational position, and is as much upset at the general public for blowing the story up as he is at Sterling:
What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair Isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?
He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then?
Since reading his piece there’s this thought that’s been bouncing around in my head.
In law school there were two Supreme Court Cases that burned me to the point that I still don’t understand them now- over 15 years later. The first, of course, I’ve ranted about plenty- it’s that one where they claim that being actually innocent doesn’t mean anything. Truth isn’t really that important in “Justice”, you know. You can go take your “actual innocence” for a walk down death row.
The other case is McCleskey v. Kemp. In that case, your Supreme Court upheld a death sentence- which is no surprise. What was a surprise (to me, anyway) was that the court considered a study by a scholar named David Baldus showing a wide, racial disparity in the Georgia death penalty system (at the time, anyway). The condemned man argued the disparity was a product of racism.
What, again, is not surprising is that the Supreme Court wouldn’t go so far as to call Georiga’s system racist. What is shocking, though, is the court ruled that even if the system was in fact racist, it still wouldn’t matter. The condemned man would have to prove “that any of the decisionmakers in [his] case acted with discriminatory purpose.”
Sure, it may sound good- Even though a whole system is flawed, that doesn’t mean every single case is necessarily flawed. Just as because some Toyota Camrys have transmission problems doesn’t mean your Toyota Camry has a bad transmission. Even if those three other guy’s Camrys got new transmissions, doesn’t me we should put one in your new car. So, before we give a convicted murderer a new trial, he should have to prove there was a problem in his case.
On the other hand, how many Lattes a day would your favorite coffee shop have to put rat poison in before you called the Health Department? One in 100? Is that a problem to worry about? One in 10? Just because those three guys drank poison, doesn’t mean your morning java is tainted. Shouldn’t you really prove there was rat poison in your latte before you gave them that bad review on Yelp?
Some guy’s life is no big deal, but don’t mess with your coffee, right? We’re not talking about Toyotas or Lattes, though. We’re talking about putting people to death, and actual innocence. We’re talking about Donald Sterling, and the death penalty.
Donald Sterling is an idiot and a jackass. I wish you cared enough about exposing him 5 years ago, as you care about burying him now.
Someday, maybe, the Supreme Court and criminal justice system will have its “Donald Sterling” moment. An innocent life will get ruined that will finally capture the attention of the criminally-apathetic media and general public. We’ll all get outraged together. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will point out that we should have already known… because the system is the system that we wanted and allowed it to be. It’s the system that the Supreme Court we empowered has been writing about for decades.