Blasting Sterling Was a Slam Dunk
But Changing How We Act and What We Say on Race Won’t Be So Easy
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling became a national piñata when his racist ramblings were broadcast over the airways. Politicians, journalists, religious leaders, civil rights advocates, sports figures, celebrities, and anyone else who had an audience of more than one smashed their keyboards and microphones into this vile, crude billionaire.
And he deserved every hit, and more.
He warrants no sympathy for his age or his alleged heath problems. Nor should the fact that it is illegal in California to record a person’s comments without his permission gain him a hall pass. He’s been an open racist for years, both in words and actions.
Ironically, the eventual outcome of Sterling’s muddy landslide from public approval will likely be that he will make hundreds of millions of dollars by being forced to sell his NBA franchise.
So the question remains, after Sterling is gone, will there be any long-term public good from the widespread public airing of his racist ranting?
The well-respected New York Times writer William C. Rhoden asked, “With the public flogging over, some will declare the issue dead and the bad guy … vanished. If that is the result, we will all miss a golden opportunity for a deeper exploration of racism.”
He’s right. It is a perfect time to explore our own prejudices on race, religion, sex, gender, and the like. Even more important is what we do when faced with the ethical situation where we have, to use an idiom, “skin in the game.”
Used most often in financial investing and in sports betting, “skin in the game” means that you are not just an observer of what is happening. You have a personal stake in the outcome. Almost everyone involved in blasting Don Sterling had no skin in the game. In fact, some of Sterling’s critics used this occasion to make up for all the years they said and did nothing when Sterling made racists comments and paid millions of dollars for violating civil rights laws.
The ethical question is, what if you do have skin in the game? That is, you are faced with a serious consequence if you speak out against racism.
If you find Sterling appalling, are you willing to lose a promotion or a job, a friendship or a place in your community, by speaking out against racism?
Some examples: Maybe your boss at work openly expresses racism with comments about how a certain group is lazy or not clean.
While some of your colleagues may be aghast at what he said, they do not speak out.
What do you do? You definitely have skin in the game — yours. Because he’s not committed an illegal act of discrimination, there are no enforcement authorities to report him to.
Do you ask to meet with him so you can tell him such statements are unacceptable and risk losing your job? Do you write him a letter? Do you try to organize others to stand with you?
Or, do you rationalize that your boss’s personal beliefs are his, and he, like anyone else, has a right to articulate them?
What if someone in your community of family friends makes racists comments at a picnic? Do you tell the friend that such statements offend you? Do you make it clear that your friendship is at stake if she does not stop making racist remarks? Or do you avoid any confrontation and merely take her off your Christmas card list?
What if your longtime doctor makes racist comments? You need his services for your health care. Do you risk the relationship by telling him how you feel about his comments?
What have you done when you had “skin in the game”? What will you do?
I wish I could tell you that each and every time that I have been faced with a similar situation in the past, I spoke up. Most of the time I did, but there were times when I did not, and to this day I regret those occasions.
And while I am at it, let me touch on another hot-button issue.
Should you speak out each time someone attempts to tell you a joke when the butt of the humor is a racial or other stereotype? What if you and the joke teller are members of that stereotyped group? What if the joke teller is someone you know to have fought for that group? Has political correctness, which decries even a mention of a stereotypical aspect of a religion, race, or other identity, gone too far? Or is political correctness the front line of the fight against prejudice and discrimination?
What do you think?