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Race in Modern America: Donald Sterling Ban Not A “Win” Against Racism

The late Patrice O’Neal, a comedian and radio personality, said more than once that he’d “never met a racist.” This was not to suggest that O’Neal believed that racism didn’t exist (frankly, he saw it everywhere) nor was he saying that he hadn’t met “racist” people (he had). What he meant was that no one was ever admittedly racist in his presence. The racists that he encountered didn’t even know they were being racist.

One has to wonder if this is a sentiment that (soon-to-be former) owner of the Clippers Donald Sterling would now be able to relate to. While there’s been much coverage of the clandestinely-recorded “racist rant” from Sterling, there has been surprisingly little analysis of what was actually said.

Whenever anyone utters some speech deemed racist—from the obvious-attempt-at-humor statements by Don Imus to loons like Cliven Bundy who barely realize that what they are saying is offensive—the only context that is ever brought up (and typically only via implication) is historical. But the context of the comments matter just as much.

For example, Imus’s “nappy-headed ho” comment was uttered in an obvious attempt at edgy levity. In an appearance around the time on Hannity & Colmes—one which also included O’Neal—radio show host Armstrong Williams pointed out that while those comments were distasteful, they did not indicate Imus was a racist. In fact, he pointed out that during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Imus was one of the first people with “a national audience” to highlight the racial problems that exposed.

Sterling’s comments, however, were exactly the opposite of Imus’s, in that he was voicing a deeply-held feeling to his (decades younger) girlfriend. Sterling whines throughout the whole tape, at times sounding near tears. Sterling does make the outrageous assertion that his girlfriend—half black and half Mexican, according to the tape—should not post photos of herself with black or Hispanic folks on social media or “bring them” to Clippers games. Why would he ask that?

As the coverage implies, it’s believed that he has a deep hatred for minorities, especially when he speaks of a “culture” in which he lives. Yet his racism, it seems, is tied directly to association with his girlfriend. His comments, while stupid and ugly, seem to stem not from some long-held hatred of “minorities” but from his own insecurity.

While that make be the case, it is also just as likely the people “calling him up” and reporting on his girlfriend’s Instagram picture with Magic Johnson. In a response, Johnson describes a relationship with Sterling that seems based on mutual respect. However, when matters of the heart are involved, even siblings can become bitter brutal enemies.

Still at 80, it is not beyond the pale to imagine that there is some latent racism rattling around in Sterling’s head and heart. Yet, his lifetime ban from the NBA—after a 30-year career that saw him labeled as the “worst owner in sports”—is not a victory against racism.

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Photo by ABC News via Screen Grab

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.