As you’ve probably already figured out from the accompanying picture, I’ve finally decided to write a post about the whole Donald Sterling fiasco that has rocked the NBA in the past few weeks. You may be asking yourself, “why now, and not several weeks ago when this was actually news?” Well, the answer is partly that I’m really lazy and never got around to it, and partly that I have to do something by tomorrow for a project for my Facing History class. But I promise that this won’t be the same exact piece you’ve read probably a thousand times now, about how what Donald Sterling said is an outrage, and he’s a horrible person, and he needs to be promptly punished. In fact, it’ll be quite the opposite.
Hear me out. I don’t mean to imply that what he said is not an outrage, or that he’s not a horrible person, or that he doesn’t need to be promptly punished. I think that it is rather obvious why what he said is reprehensible. And it is this very obviousness that has led me to become sick and tired of people shouting about how horrible he is. The things Donald Sterling said are an example of the kind of blatant, outright racism that has by now become rare, or at the very least not socially acceptable to express. It takes absolutely no courage to condemn what Sterling said – in fact, we are expected to. Because of this fact, many people have jumped on this as an opportunity to take absolutely no risk whatsoever while still proving how “not racist” they are. But this kind of blatancy is not the only type of racism in America. Far more damage is done by the kind of institutionally sanctioned racist behavior of which Donald Sterling was for years guilty, with no outcry, and for which even now very few people have criticized him.
In addition to being an NBA owner, Sterling has long been a landlord, with scores of buildings across the Los Angeles area. And in 2003, he was sued for housing discrimination by 18 tenants who accused him of refusing to rent to Blacks and Hispanics. He was able to escape the incident, paying a $4.9 million settlement, a number, which amounts to mere pocket change for a billionaire like Sterling. In addition, he was never punished by the NBA, nor was there a public outcry like there has been over his controversial comments.
And Donald Sterling is not the only person guilty of this. Housing discrimination against minorities is rampant across the United States. And it’s no joke. Housing discrimination is a major contributor to a process of ghettoization, which leads to racially segregated neighborhoods – neighborhoods whose economic prosperity and access to resources are determined by their ethnic makeups. It is yet another contributor to an increasingly inescapable cycle of poverty, which is all too often linked to race. Housing discrimination is, simply put, an injustice, and should not be taken lightly.
So that’s why I’m sick and tired of people complaining about how shameful Donald Sterling’s comments were. Of course they were. We get it. But for many years, his actions were much more harmful than his words, and were almost completely ignored. If we as a society need a person to become the sort of old-fashioned, blatant almost caricature of a racist that Sterling has become, then we ignore the most harmful and insidious effects of racism.