Thank you, Donald Sterling.
Ten-gallon hat off to you, Cliven Bundy.
Congratulations on your public service. Kudos for your lack of thoughtfulness. A communal pat on the back, for voicing in recent weeks – publicly or privately – your toxic, Neanderthal racial sensibilities.
You have, I think, made America a better, more unified place.
It was certainly not your intention. But, in a perversely gratifying way, I think it has been the result.
Jowly, ancient billionaire Sterling, owner of the NBA Los Angeles Clippers, privately told his girlfriend not to trumpet her admiration for NBA icon Magic Johnson. Nor was he fond of black people coming to Clipper games. Yes, he realizes the team has numerous black players – and he benevolently “buys them clothes, feeds them, gives them houses.”
Welcome to Planet Sterling. It’s not a nice place to visit, and I guarantee, you won’t want to live there.
Nevada rancher Bundy, whose anti-government refusal to pay cattle grazing fees had conservative media types panting, used the newfound celebrity to trumpet his plantation-era racial views.
“I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things?” he pontificated to the New York Times about African-Americans, “or are they better off under government subsidy?”
I’d place Bundy’s sensibility about midway between minstrel show and Klan rally.
Nothing unites decent Americans like a raw, bloviating blast of racism from a clueless rich white guy’s jabberbox. Double-down on that, and the rest of us are disbelievingly shaking our heads in unison.
Think of it as the polar opposite of the O.J.-provoked racial divide. The vastly differing view of guilt or innocence with Simpson, cleaved sharply at the color line, underscored how black-or-white the prism of perception can be. Which only, I think, widened the racial gap between friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers. From Main Streets to office corridors, you could feel tension in the air, sense the unease. I think a similar thing happened, to a lesser degree, with the Trayvon Martin case.
Society changes by degrees. Enlightenment comes one small step at a time. But nothing fast-forwards progress, metal-pedals reform and alters the consensus opinion as when unvarnished bigotry rears its overripe, pus-dripping head. The crushing, Whack-A-Mole condemnation that ensued after Bundy philosophized about “the Negro,” after Sterling’s privately toxic views became public, were as invigorating, refreshing and sanctifying as a head-first plunge into a backwoods swimming hole.
In the post-civil rights era, racism tends to hide its distorted face behind zoning laws, housing policies, limits to public transportation and gated communities. Unless you pull back the curtain, unless you wonder out loud why so few poor, black people live in certain neighborhoods, you never much think about it – much less realize it’s there.
Only when an inner-city kid like Cynthia Wiggins gets run over crossing pedestrian-hostile Walden Avenue, on the way to work at Walden Galleria, does the rock gets overturned. No, it turns out, mall management didn’t want public buses from the inner city dropping riders off on its property – even though it welcomed buses from the ’burbs. Which is why Wiggins was crossing a six-lane road that rainy December 1995 day instead of disembarking at the mall door.
You remember the rest. Outrage ensued, mall policy changed and a 17-year-old girl became an unintentional martyr for a cause. And people realized that racism is alive and well, only better hidden than when blacks were for years barred from living in the Levittown, Long Island, suburb they helped to build after WWII. Or during the days of the back-of-the-bus, Jim Crow South. Or when the late New York Daily News sports columnist Dick Young, in the 1970s, shared his perverse views about “good blacks” and “bad blacks,” under the same twisted, expository cover with which Bundy offered his pronouncements about “the Negro.”
Forget nuance, euphemisms and racially adjusted public policy. It’s much simpler for everyone when some clueless, disconnected rich guy spouts paint-peeling, soul-afflicting racial views that serve to unite all decent people in shared disgust, anger and outrage. When the rhetoric is as vile as that spouted by Sterling and Bundy, it stuns the rest of us into acknowledging the absurdity of blanket racial condemnation.
What follows is a vast, forceful, comprehensive public blowback that unites reasonable people of every color, and condemns to societal exile the presumably dying species of Ignoramus Humanicus.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver responded to Sterling’s venom in a way that set the bar for his counterparts in football and baseball, who have not been profiles in racial courage. He banned Sterling from the league, slapped him with the maximum $2.5 million fine and is pressuring him to sell the team. The action was enlightened, laudable and – most of all – eminently practical in a league in which three-quarters of the players are black. Had Silver done anything less than swing the sledgehammer, he may have had an open revolt on his hands.
Which only makes one wish that the majority of pro football and major league baseball players were Native Americans. Maybe that’s what it would take for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to drag Washington owner Dan Snyder to the enlightenment woodshed and obliterate the Redskins nickname. And for Bud Selig to journey to Cleveland to rip the odious caricature of Chief Wahoo off of all of the Indians’ caps and merchandise.
Like Sterling, Bundy got his comeuppance. If the abandonment by such formerly fawning conservative pundits as Sean Hannity wasn’t enough of a slap-down, there was the field day that Comedy Central stalwarts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert had with him. It certified Bundy’s humiliation and cast him forever on society’s dungheap.
I hope he and Sterling have a nice time there, playing together in the “mud.”