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With good reason, the sports world is aflame over the recent remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Extended audio recordings published by TMZ and Deadspin from a phone conversation between Sterling and his former girlfriend V. Stiviano are now out there for the entire world to hear, and Sterling’s messages are as clear as they are vile and disgraceful.
For years, I have been measured in confronting the always controversial topic of race in America. Many times, it has been to criticize instances where the racism card has been employed unfairly to personally attack people or to look for hidden meanings that don’t exist. In this case, however, charges of the most toxic and potent forms of racism are self-evident.
To gather the full impact of this man’s twisted worldview, it’s not enough to merely read a transcript of the remarks. You really need to hear the full-throated racism from the original source and listen to the contemptuous words pour out of the man’s mouth. The call is shocking not only for its naked racism, but also for the absurd contradictions that apparently constitute this person’s sick worldview.
On the surface, the call is about the octogenarian’s unhappiness that his young girlfriend is posting pictures of herself on the social media site Instagram that show her in the company of Black people. He tells her repeatedly that it’s an embarrassment for him to receive calls alerting him that she is keeping company with minorities.
One irony, of course, is that Stiviano, as a half-Black, half-Latina woman, is a member of not just one but two minorities. Another glaring irony: Sterling is Jewish, which makes him a member of an even smaller American minority group.
Considering their own history, how can it be that Jewish people end up as racists? The parallels between the experience of Blacks in America and Jews in pretty much every country in the world for thousands of years are striking. Jews were enslaved, discriminated against, pre-judged based on their religion, selected for cruel violence and even executed by the millions in the Holocaust. Black people in this country were brought here in chains, treated as property, subjected to institutionalized dehumanization and discrimination.
The haughty and heartless comments of Sterling are reminiscent of those who owned slaves in this country. While denying outright that he is a racist, Sterling, during his notorious call, points to the fact that he provides for the Black players on his team, saying, “I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars and houses.” Is that any different from the owner of a plantation claiming to love the Black people kept under his thumb by providing them with employment and a roof above their heads?
The Jewish background of Sterling is something that should be addressed head-on. For years, accusations of racism have swirled around the man, yet former NBA Commissioner David Stern, himself a Jew, never took decisive action. The NBA never investigated Sterling despite a 2006 lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against Sterling claiming that he refused to rent apartments to Blacks and families with children. Eventually, that suit was settled for millions. Other lawsuits alleging racial discrimination were also settled out of court for undisclosed sums.
Stern also never lifted a finger after a 2010 suit was brought against Sterling alleging that he wrongfully terminated an employee on the basis of race. Today, the fate of Sterling now rests in the hands of a new NBA commissioner who is also Jewish, Adam Silver. Silver could have immediately suspended Sterling while the league investigates, but in his first remarks after the scandal broke, he instead pledged that the Clippers boss was a member “of the NBA family,” and as such “should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy.”
For anyone with ears, if Sterling is the man on that recording, there can be no question that he is a despicable racist who deserves to be cast out from the league without delay. Any other course of action would basically amount to the NBA tolerating and condoning a hateful bigot.
Will the Jewish community in this country speak out against Sterling? They must do so, and in such a manner that makes it clear that he is an embarrassment to their people. Just weeks ago, an armed white supremacist carried out a hate crime targeting innocent people at Jewish community facilities in the Kansas City area. That cowardly assault is evidence that even today, Jews know first hand what it feels like to be singled out and targeted by racists.
My hope is that they will move quickly and decisively to decry Sterling. When it comes to Sterling and his loathsome prejudice, the Jewish community, the Black community and the so-called “NBA family” need to do more than something. They must do the right thing.
Williams is owner of Howard Stirk Holdings and executive editor of American CurrentSee, an online magazine.