The human condition is a unique one, evident mainly in our duality of nature. Having the capacity for both good and evil, we celebrate a strident individuality while at the same time exalting our conformity with societal ideals and notions. We like to run with the pack but want to reserve the option of disengaging and embarking on our own agenda, with its own inherent thoughts, as we see fit. It’s because of this dichotomy that one should never quickly judge his fellowman. And if judgment is to be rendered then actions should take precedence over words as the main criteria for such verdicts.
Take LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling as an example.
By now we’ve all heard about his heated conversation with his mixed race girlfriend concerning, among other things, her Instagram account and bringing black people to his games. Obviously, these are statements that are hardly defensible, especially coming from an individual with a record of past questionable actions regarding how he relates to other races, most notably African-Americans and Latinos. And while he should be called to task on what was said my concern is that the outrage that’s being leveled against him amounts to more than what is necessary.
Maybe it’s me but instead of a tirade against the existence and legitimacy of the black race, what I heard was the angry outburst of an elderly man livid because his girlfriend, a striking beauty (I’m sure he thinks of her as such) much younger than his years, seemed OK with siding up next to and putting her arms around a handsome African-American former NBA champion, wealthy in his own right and more than capable of taking his woman (again, I’m sure he worries so). And when faced with what was in his mind, such a conspicuous difference in age, physical ability and sexual prowess, he lashed out in the manner that he knew would bring the most hurt.
That his outburst was one of an insecure man, a man who may derive a sense of conquest and status from his choice of beautiful companions, there should be no question. But whether or not those same words were racist, that’s a bit harder to discern for me. I prefer to look at the totality of Stern, so to speak. And honestly, having listened to the entire invective, his totality doesn’t fill me with any confidence that he appreciates me as a human being, a man equal to himself.
Still, when I front the question of whether or not a man is a racist, I ask it from a standpoint of if he is then what can he do to harm me or others of my ilk. For me, the question of intent to harm is an important distinction. It’s that absence of intent to harm that cautions me to tread carefully.
I mean, one would think that he pays his black players equal to his white ones, otherwise the NBA would have something to say, I would both hope and think. And despite him coming under fire in the past for refusing to afford housing to blacks and Hispanics, the NAACP, until this latest event broke loose, was ready to award him a lifetime achievement award, his second, for his work with and donations to the Los Angeles chapter. Could they have been so wrong in their assessment of his character or do they routinely give out awards to individuals who so blatantly go against their grain of acceptance and tolerance, simply because of a sizeable contribution?
As athletes, politicians, commentators and pundits all step up to express their indignation, the question becomes one of harm. Has Donald Sterling harmed black people in any way with his rant? I don’t feel any anguish from it. Does he prevent black people from coming to the Clippers games? I don’t think so besides their money spends just as well as any white person’s. Were his words harmful and racially insensitive? Yes, they were, most definitely. But depending on circumstances, the meaner side of our dual nature may take any of us down that dark path where the same such words and phrases can come from our mouths. And when we do so, we’ll do it with the intention to hurt somebody.
Outrage, that gorilla suit of the collective man, should be saved for appropriate times, i.e. the intentional murder of young blacks or the intentional disenfranchisement of minorities or the intentional dismantling of federal equal rights protections given minorities or something else equally harmful to the equitable treatment and existence of African-Americans in the US. I’m just not certain that the pitiful pining’s of a man in a possibly cuckolded relationship with his girlfriend rise to that occasion.