by Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III
It seems obvious that the NAACP is willing to give a pass to the vilest bigots in return for a monetary contribution. “Prior to Sterling’s recent comments coming to light, he was scheduled to receive his second NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP. Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder enjoys similar impunity.
The Reaction to Donald Sterling, Double Standards in the Midst of a Racial Hierarchy
by Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III
“Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s public insults of Native American’s are just as vile and offensive as Donald Sterling’s private bigoted conversations with his girlfriend.”
“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything; you just let them talk…" President Obama April 27, 2014
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has spoken and he has said a mouthful. Once again, the never healing scab of bigotry and racism that permeates American society and culture has been pulled away and it is stinging. So much so that President Obama was forced to address this issue while attending a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was forced to honestly admit, "The United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation, that's still there, the vestiges of discrimination…"
As I have listened to the various pundits, analysts, commentators, and sports icons discuss this issue and express their outrage at Donald Sterling’s comments I thought I would try to connect a few other dots that have been missing from the discussion.
First, if ABC/ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy can say (and rightfully so) in response to Sterling, “The only action that would be wrong is inaction or neutrality…There are some things that are bigger than pursuing a championship... Making a stand on something that impacts society is even more important…” then there should be the same level of outrage directed toward Washington football franchise owner Daniel Snider. By continuing to use a racial epithet and image as the symbols of his football team, Daniel Snyder’s public insults of Native American’s are just as – if not more – vile and offensive as Donald Sterling’s private bigoted conversations with his girlfriend.
Why should the reaction, pressure, and suggested course of action being directed at Sterling be more than that directed at Snyder? If there’s a clarion call for Sterling to be relieved of his operational duties and forced to sell his team, why not direct the same ire and hold Snyder and the NFL to the same standard? The lack of a collective outrage towards Snyder when compared to what is being directed toward Sterling makes me wonder if there’s a racial hierarchy of outrage in this country. Insults are insults and bigots are bigots.
During pre-game warm-ups for Game 4 with Golden State, Clippers players wore their red T-shirts inside out to obscure the team logo then piled them in the middle of the court. This was a nice gesture of solidarity but it was a statement not a stand. The stand would have been for the players to boycott the game.
“How many outraged African American fans will continue to direct their ire towards Donald Sterling and his private expressions of hatred while publically referring to themselves and those around them as N!$$#r.”
Some such as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Herman Edwards have stated that the players should not have boycotted the game. They invoked the name of the great Jackie Robinson saying that he came to work every day and played in the face of horrific bigotry. That is true but don’t get it twisted, Jackie Robinson’s showing up to play was the stand. He played so others could.
Watching the Clipper’s players engage in silent protest against their teams owner made me wonder, how many of those players who protested before the game would then go into the tunnel or locker room after the game and refer to each other as N!$$#r or some derivation of such?
How many outraged African American fans will continue to direct their ire towards Donald Sterling and his private expressions of hatred while publically referring to themselves and those around them as N!$$#r? As a community, we concede the moral high ground when we try to hold the Donald Sterling’s of the world to one standard in their private endeavors that we will not hold ourselves to in our public endeavors. That strikes me as being a double standard.
Finally, prior to Sterling’s recent comments coming to light, he was scheduled to receive his second NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP. That honor has since been rescinded. The questions still remain, what are the criteria for bestowing this honor upon an individual? Who nominated this known and documented bigot for the award and why? How much money did Sterling donate to the organization for this honor? Was the NAACP allowing Sterling to buy a new image at their expense?
“Somehow, members of the NAACP LA chapter found it acceptable to grant him one of their highest honors.”
According to the LA Times, in 2009 Sterling “…agreed to pay a record $2.725 million to settle allegations that he discriminated against African Americans, Hispanics and families with children at scores of apartment buildings he owns in and around Los Angeles.” According to the Huffington Post, “According to testimony given by property manager Summer Davenport in the discrimination lawsuit brought against Sterling in 2003: When Sterling first bought the Ardmore, he remarked on its odor to Davenport. "That's because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they're not clean," he said, according to Davenport's testimony. "And it's because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day." He added: "So we have to get them out of here." This is public record, public information and the NAACP disregarded it!
In spite of this housing discrimination lawsuit and settlement, in 2009 the NAACP still bestowed the honor of a Lifetime Achievement Award upon Sterling even after ex-Clippers general manager and NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor filed a lawsuit against the NBA, the Clippers, and Sterling, alleging racial discrimination during his tenure.
Donald Sterling has been the antithesis to everything that the NAACP was founded to fight against but somehow members of the LA chapter found it acceptable to grant him one of their highest honors (not once but twice).
As the issues surrounding Sterling’s comments and actions continue to be analyzed and discussed it is important that we not get lost in the narrative. He’s a vile and despicable guy. Let’s be sure that through our reaction to him and his comments we do not put ourselves into the indefensible box of double standards in the midst of a racial hierarchy.