Donald Sterling, the racist. As NBA owner, a tsunami of outrage. As slumlord, barely a trickle.
April 30, 2014
Slimy shit this business with Don Sterling. Lord knows I don’t need to weigh in on the topic. Everyone and their brother are doing that. For those living under a rock, Sterling, the owner of an NBA franchise (the Los Angeles Clippers), in a recording leaked to a gossip website (TMZ), made a torrent of racially divisive comments to his mistress (V. Stiviano) regarding certain black people she was cavorting with. You know the rest. It has become a shit storm to end all shit storms.
How come there was no outcry when the same man blamed black people for “stinking up” a tenement building that he owned? He also made slurs about Mexicans being lazy and drunk. It’s all a matter of public record. He settled the case for a couple million bucks, a similar amount to what is being levied at him by the NBA.
My question is a rhetorical one. I think I know the answer. And I’ll get to it shortly. But first another question: Are not safe and secure living arrangements for the poor, in the face of an ignorant and racist slumlord, far more grave than what has transpired now?
Though his recent remarks are despicable they are by comparison benign. The African American players on the Los Angeles Clippers and, indeed, the rest of the NBA are all millionaires, some many times over. Nothing Sterling said can hurt their livelihoods unless they let it, by striking or boycotting. Which, of course, they won’t. Letting some old bigot’s comments interfere with their ability to perform would only give more power to his words. Win or lose, the Clippers are better than that. We all are.
The truth is the reason few people took notice of Sterling’s vulgar statements in the past, despite their real-world implications, is because those events were just plain news. A creepy old slumlord did what countless creepy old slumlords have done for centuries.
Then there were no secret recordings. No famous millionaires. No playoffs. No scorned mistress (and all that their sordid relationship implies). No TMZ or Deadspin. In the end it was just a crappy story about a crappy man doing crappy things. He was made to give restitution by the local courts. The world shrugged. And so did Sterling. Not that it matters, but I’m betting his racist views were only enhanced by these events.
We gape and gawk now because the story is sensational. It has all the elements: see above paragraph. Though I get it, completely, something about it gnaws at my core: that badness needs to be entertaining in order to move us.
Sterling is rightfully being forced under the rock he came from. And he will die there. His story is almost over. But what about all the other stories out there? Must they have water-cooler value in order to be told and, moreover, listened to? For the most part, I’m afraid the answer is yes.