The hot topic of the last few days has been the racist comments made by LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Most everyone has heard the comments but in case you haven’t I will paraphrase. He basically is heard asking his girlfriend not to advertise that she hangs out with black people, or at least not to bring them to clippers games.
These comments hold self evident the fact that Mr. Sterling has deemed certain life unworthy due to the colour of their skin. It is a terrible shame that such limited views of the world still exist. I can never dream to imagine the amount of pain that resurfaces in those that have been discriminated against when such comments are made, especially by people like Donald, with such prominent positions.
Not surprisingly there is a huge public outcry. People want action and want Donald Sterling held accountable for his words. People that have spoken up include Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Lebron James. Through all of the progress that has been made there is obviously still a gaping wound in America when it comes to racism.
I am not sure what the NBA will do at their press conference this afternoon, and I’m not even sure what they can do. They will certainly publicly denounce the comments, they may fine him, they may even revoke his ability to manage an NBA franchise. The NBA could manage the Clippers themselves until a new owner is found (like the NHL did with the Phoenix Coyotes).
But what would be the best response? And what is the ultimate goal of that response?
I believe defining the goal is the easier of those two questions to answer. The primary goal is quite simply for the existence of a racist free society. While we might find Mr Sterlings comments despicable, none of the disciplinary actions above will change his racist views. However unlikely, in the coming days you may even see him read a public apology on television in an attempt to keep his NBA franchise. But would such a thing be genuine? Does it mean anything? The answer is obviously no.
The common misconception in our world is that by controlling how a person accesses money, you can control how they think. You see it in how people are fined for comments made all throughout professional sports, especially those that disparage the entity that employs them. In reality this does nothing to change their opinion, it just shuts them up.
In fact, resistance to someones opinion often reinforces it. Especially if they are heavily identified with it.
Another unfortunate practice is a the public ridiculing of individuals who hold these extreme views. I saw this first hand yesterday on The Talk as Sharon Osbourne made repeated insinuations of how ugly Donald Sterling was and that she would want loads of cash too if she had to sleep with him, referring to his young beautiful girlfriend who was likely not in this relationship just for her health. I can understand this reaction but it also disturbed me greatly. It is another incident one person devaluing another persons worth. You may think well listen to what he said he deserved it!
But is it a question of deserving?
If we are going to make any progress, or even survive, as a species we need to take a hard look at who we want to be. How can we ask Mr Sterling to see the equality in all people when we are so quick to devalue his life?
So where does that leave us? How do we promote a change in someone with such a discriminating point of view. I believe an answer can be found from Gandhi. It is quite simply to be the change you want to see in the world.
Or perhaps Martin Luther King said it best “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
When the darkness of racism presents itself, how will you shine light on it?