Expose racism and you will invariably find that it reeks with the stench of hypocrisy.
In case you have just returned from inspecting the Mars Rover, you should know that this past week we have been enveloped in a full-court-press of wall-to-wall media coverage “exposing” the racist attitudes of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The racist comments of Sterling were made in a private (so he thought) conversation with his girlfriend, Viviano Stiviano (sounds like a dancer I once knew, but that is a different story), who was obviously goading him into making them knowing they were being surreptitiously recorded for her own personal agenda.
Once this recording was made public (in bits and pieces to raise the drama and add fuel to the fire) we were treated to a media circus and parade of people from the president on down piling on to condemn (and deny their own) racism. The end result was Mr. Sterling being banished from the NBA, fined $2.5 million and soon to be stripped of his ownership of the Clippers basketball team.
Are you shocked? I’m shocked.
I am shocked to find out that people are shocked to find out there is still racism in America. What I am not shocked about is all the hypocrisy that emerges when the scabs are pulled off the emotional wounds of racism; indeed any emotional social issue. The truth is that we should probably be more disgusted by the two-faced dishonesty of hypocrisy in the face of racism than in Sterling’s expression of racism itself.
We should not be surprised to encounter racism in America and the hypocrisy that goes along with it. Let’s face the truth. America has exhibited a racist attitude toward anyone who was not a “Christian white Anglo-Saxon male” since the Pilgrims first stepped onto that rock. And the hypocrisy that trails it was never far behind.
America was founded on the promise that “all people are created equal” and “all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet, many of the very people who wrote those words and signed the constitution were slave owners. Most of them professed to be against the evils of slavery yet, hypocritically, they did not free their own slaves. (Although some of them did procreate with their slaves.) In fairness, America should not be the only country singled out for its racist past, because when taken in the light of world history and in comparison to most other countries in the world, America is a shining beacon the enlightenment. It’s just the hypocrisy that sets me off.
But let’s get back to the present. Although Sterling has been generous in supporting charitable causes – maybe to ease his conscience (if he has one) – for his otherwise despicable racial attitudes and shady business activity, he just comes across as pretty much a sleaze. Certainly no one – with the possible exception of Cliven Bundy (the Nevada rancher) – can condone Sterling’s racist attitudes, a plantation-mentality when dealing with minorities and exploitive business practices. And in no way am I trying to defend Sterling, but from my perspective it is the unadulterated hypocrisy – coming from both sides of the issue – that is even more loathsome.
Here’s what I’m getting at. It is not like those who associated with Sterling did not know of his racist attitudes and ethically-challenged method of doing business, but for their own personal reasons these plaster saints chose to ignore them. Given that duplicity, Sterling may be the most honest and open of all those now standing in line to condemn him.
Sterling, moreover, is a known quantity. He has been a franchisee in the NBA for over 30 years. For most of that time his Los Angeles Clippers have been the laughing-stock of the NBA. The dysfunctional performance of his team seemed a perfect match for the dysfunctional mentality of its owner; the only thing the Clippers had less of than wins were fans. After 30 years of association with Sterling, it is hypocritical for the other NBA owners to play-act ignorance of his racial attitudes and questionable business practices.
Admittedly it is an extreme example, but the situation with Sterling and the NBA reminds me of the Catholic Church and its dealing with pedophile priests. The Church knew of abuses by some priests, but it was clearly more concerned with avoiding negative “public relations” if their sins became public, than with the welfare of the violated children. (The Penn State scandal comes to mind here, too.) The Church not only looked the other way, but took extensive (illegal) efforts to hide the abuse. In the end the Church was damaged far more than it would have had it been open and honest. The NBA commissioner and owners knew that Sterling was a racist, but wanted his money to support the team and basically ignored his character hoping against hope that it would never become public.
Even outside the NBA Sterling’s attitudes was an “open secret.” Over the years I can recall commentators and others saying that player so-and-so would not sign with the Clippers “because of the owner.” This was clearly a code for knowledge of his known racism. Yet the powers of the NBA tried to hide from, rather than confront the issue. For the NBA commissioner and the other owners to feign ignorance and adopt a holier-than-thou attitude now that Sterling’s racial attitudes are public is the most blatant form of hypocrisy.
The Black League?
One theme that emerged early in the brouhaha was advanced by current and former black NBA players (especially those now being paid to talk into a microphone) who advanced the idea that the NBA is a “black league.” And because it is a “black league” they argued that there should be even less tolerance for a white racist owner. To my thinking, this attitude is inherently racist and hypocritical. Isn’t this attitude an expression of racism against the minority of white players in the league and the majority of ticket buyers who are white? The black players have every right to be outraged by Sterling’s comments, (as all of us should be) but where was their outrage and protest before this became public? More than anyone these players knew of Sterling’s attitude. For the players to now base their protest on the basis of the NBA being a “black league” rather than simply a “basketball league” that does not countenance racism in any form is itself racist and hypocritical.
Doc Rivers, who this past summer signed a three-year $21 million contract to work for Sterling coaching the Clippers, is considered one of the best coaches in the NBA, and, by all accounts, is a good person. He has been a player and coach in the NBA for almost 30 years and if anyone should have known of Sterling’s racial beliefs it should have been him. Rivers would not have had to make his reason public, but if he had decided not to take the millions offered to work for a known racist, he would be due our highest respect. Don’t get me wrong, Rivers certainly had the right to look the other way and accept the millions of racist-tainted dollars (numerous players have done the same thing), but then after Sterling’s racist attitudes became public, to make the statement that he would quit his job if Sterling remained as the owner is hypocritical.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest players in NBA history, published a perceptive and damning blog on the issue of racism in general and specifically the beliefs of Sterling. In part Kareem wrote, “What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I am bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise.” Continuing he wrote, “He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years … It was public record.” Kareem goes on to blame the system for not calling out Sterling, even more than his loathing for Sterling himself.
That is all well and good, but you know what? Immediately after Commissioner Silver announced the banning of Sterling from the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar joined a group of NBA players (black and white) heaping lavish praise for the leadership and actions of the NBA commissioner. Kareem willingly fell in line praising the commissioner and validating this fiction that Sterling’s racism was all a big surprise to everyone; including himself. Taking in mind Kareem’s blog, he should have either not participated in that press conference – let alone speak at the microphone – or he should have raised the issues he had in his blog. Not to do either is hypocritical.
And now for the pièce de résistance of hypocrisy regarding Sterling’s racism. When Sterling’s views became public, the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP indignantly cancelled plans to present him with the chapter’s highest honor, a “lifetime achievement award” that had been previously announced. I know that presenting these types of “awards” (especially to rich white guys) is nothing more than an excuse to raise money for a group, but isn’t this just a bit hypocritical on the part of the NAACP? Even more interesting is that this would have been the second time the LA chapter of the NAACP had presented Sterling with a “lifetime achievement award.” In 2009 the chapter gave him his first lifetime award that just happened to coincide with Sterling’s “gift” of $45,000 to the NAACP. Hypocrisy personified!!!
The reason hyprocisy is so reprehensible is because it serves to foster the evil of racism. The first step to ultimately eardicating any evil is to expose it, but hypocrisy only serves to sheild and hide the evil.
And the Moral of the Story …
One thing we can learn from this Sterling episode is that racism continues to exist as it has since the formation of races and will probably continue, in some form or another, till the earth is sucked into the sun. That’s a given, but maybe the most important lesson to be learned from this episode of exposed racism is that hypocrisy is not race-based; it is an equal-opportunity abomination.
When people fail to confront racism with transparency, openness and honesty and instead exhibit nothing but hypocrisy toward the issue, it not only fails to stem racism, it gives racism a place to hide and fester. In the end, the hypocrisy to hide racism or failure to acknowledge it and allowing it to continue, becomes worse than racism itself.