Shooting racist fish in a barrel? Try a little harder

Listening to the radio on a recent drive home from Lansing, I caught part of a conversation between sportswriters Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones. They were talking about the Donald Sterling incident and, for the most part, Jones was saying exactly what I feel about the whole situation. The time has come for everyone, me included, to stop lying about race in America.

The Sterling story is blowing up a number of issues in our society, which is a good thing. We all should want this explosion to happen before we get back to being comfortable on the status quo of race relations.

If you haven’t read the full account of Sterling’s rant, or only heard the bits and pieces in the media, you may think that the gist of the audio is that a very rich man in Los Angeles lost his mind and started complaining about black people attending basketball games with the girlfriend he has on the side. It is very easy to make that the target of our horrified faces.

Few have picked up on the big issue. How easy is it to point out obvious racism and do nothing about “real racism?” Kudos to Jones and to former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for being among the few who get it.

“This is the only opportunity that a lot of people out here will have where they feel comfortable within their souls and within their psyches to stand against racism. Because it’s so easy to do it on this right here and because it’s so scandalous,” Jones said. “…So everybody is like ‘Well I can’t miss my chance to speak down on racism’ because the next time comes and it’s real racism that me and you are actually talking about and the rest of them are being silent, that’s when you can pop up and say, ‘I said something about Donald Sterling!’”

There it is.

Jabbar said in Time magazine, “(Sterling) was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and the rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then?”

There it is again.

Where is the real racism in our nation?

It’s the turning a blind eye to the 2003 actions of Donald Sterling by his peers and his community and of the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP, who gave him a lifetime achievement award because he cut a very big check. Nineteen plaintiffs sued him for housing discrimination that year, accusing him of driving blacks and Latinos out of buildings he owned. This type of discrimination has been destroying cities, and lives, all across this land.

As middle-class minorities try to empower themselves, housing discrimination hinders the attempt because not only do people lose out on quality housing, but also the opportunity for their children to have access to quality schools and educational opportunities.

He was sued in 2003 and paid $5 million for it. Very few of us know about this because very few reported it and everyone ignored it. A second suit was more of the same, because he refused to rent to black people, to Latinos and to people with children. The cost that time was $2.75 million and it was not big news.

Look at Chicago. Look at Detroit. Look at Muskegon Heights. Look at Benton Harbor. Now ask yourself why are there are many large tracts of land that are like battle zones? There are places in Chicago, as pointed out in Jones’ interview, where people are fighting and dying for turf, while a highway runs through their yards allowing people to go from the suburbs to their jobs without having to set foot in “the hood.” This weekend, there will be people from West Michigan who will take the train to Chicago so they can go shopping and visit a museum. Very few will notice the areas the train moves through on their way to the Magnificent Mile.

How many people will be on the train complimenting the NBA owners for their inevitable vote to depose Donald Sterling for his very bad words, but won’t think about why some people can’t get a nice house in Lisle.

I’m a Republican. I don’t believe government should ensure everyone has the same as everyone else. That comes from strong work and discipline.

But the time has come for our society to stop jumping on the easiest soapbox around to scream in the wind. We must stop lying about our concerns about racism. Either we care and are going to do something about this or we are going to go get comfortable on our couches, grab a remote, and watch game 7 between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Fri, 05/09/2014 - 2:45pm
Racist attitudes have mostly gone underground these days with fewer people spouting off openly among their friends like they used to and online where there are more subtle code words being used especially in response to news articles about African Americans.
Sun, 05/11/2014 - 8:04am
Discrimination in housing, schooling and jobs on the basis of skin color, religion, gender and all the other possible factors is hateful and illegal. Blaming society for the actions of those who toady up to people like Sterling, tacitly endorsing his racist, behavior is odious. But I, for one, refuse to accept responsibility. Money can't buy my acquiescence, and race, etc., can't turn my head when it happens around me. I'm not alone... there are lots of us out here. There are laws to deal with those who violate the innate rights of others. Please don't tar the rest of us with the same brush... and speak up loudly when you see the Sterlings of the world being permitted to get away with it.
Sun, 05/11/2014 - 8:19am
I do not disagree with anything the article has said about racism being underground but still there. It is good to talk about it and to adress the issues for contiunuous improvement. We have become much better over time but still have a long way to go. I went to college in the South at the tail end of segregation. You know the separate bathrooms, different entrances to many places and refusals to serve blacks. We had some of the same in the North and West as well but not so blatant. I still think racial "hate" was greater up here in Detroit back then. Remember the riots in Detroit duing 1967? I was there too and saw it first hand. But times have changed. Those times have changed dramatically for those who take advantage of equal opportunity and strive to better themselves. Oh, I know that some will always be the product of their environment. I found that (racism of another old white man who knew that this was "just the way I was raised" when I disagreed with something he said) again in Louisiana this spring on vacation. Now, thinking locally, I see many changes in Metro Detroit including the suburbs in the Tri County areas. But the City still has the most, but not exclusive, issues. There was a time since 1967 when things got much better in Detroit but have declined along with the quality of living of all sorts there for so many reasons. I think the success for Detroit in the future will come as a result of new integration of races there to change the culture. That will take a long time. In the mean time, those blacks and whites who can,will take advantage of equal opportunity for education and move on with their lives to become role models for future generations if not to assist others as mentors. The racial hate we often speak of here is whites vs blacks as that is most prevalent. But it also comes the other way. Some of that is clearly anger for what blacks perceive or have experienced. Some is brought about by the culture in which they are raised. Changing that mix again is what I see will bring about peaceful coexistance if not color blindness. Just take education as one example; the amount of school funding in Detroit and Highland Park is the greatest of any cities in the State. Yet, education results are among the poorest. Yes, there are pockets of success but in general the system is failinig. Yet, when outside help is sent in, the reaction is to resist if not hate once again. If the people in power in City continue doing what they have done in the past and very recently as well, they will continue to fail. Those who want an equal opportunity and have found a way, have sent their children to those success schools or charters and even bused or moved to the suburbs for quality education. Throwing more money at the education problem in Detroit may be necessary but that alone will not provide the equal opportunity. A cuitural change starting with family values is required and then to get tough on all who get in the way. Reintegration will bring greater success. I see vast tracts of land open now in Detroit. I see centers of excellence at WSU, DMC, Downttown Development, Arts, a new State Park and many other venues. What is needed now is a plan for integration and acceptance of the local population if not an outward reach to embrace other non-blacks to come to the City to live and bring about cultural change. Detroit is not unique in this regard but it does seem that we can see Detroit as a mini-cultural community all of it's own in so many ways. When we think back to history of those who came here from Europe during the potato famine or mini ice age, they were often looked down upon and discriminated against. They formed pockets of their own kind here at first. But they worked hard and took the equal opportunity and succeeded. Much of that success came as they integrated themselves into our culture. Our culture of the time also changed as we adopted many things of their past cultures. It was the "melting pot" and the "American Dream" that we have often talked about. That dream for blacks already here was emphasized in Dr King's "I have a dream" speech. He had many folowers white and blacks that wanted that dream. We need to reinvigorate that "dream" in Metro Detroit. We do not need the hate monger/marketers working the turf for their own personal gain. I can't help but to ask at this point; why is it that Donald Sterling can be ripped up by the media and society for his private thoughts and conversation yet the likes of an Al Sharpton can make a living off of doing the same thing with radio and television broadcasts of hate? The same could be said for the Reverend Jeremiah Wright spewing hate from a church pulpit of all places. We all need to stand up with our own rights of free speech and tell the Sterlings, Sharptons and Wrights that this is no longer acceptable! This thought is NOT an excuse for the likes of Donald Sterling. As far as the Donald Sterling case is concerned, I find his comment not only distateful but honest as this is the time and place he comes from. He was raised to be racist. He has crossed those lines with a biracial girlfriend and even contributions to support the NAACP and others but in his heart he is still a racist. We can punish him but we cannot change him. Our actions though will affect the behavior of others. Some will simply become more cautios while others will look to improve themselves. Yes, this case can have a positive impact on racism in society. But, this case is also an example of freedoms we are all losing; that is freedome of speech and our own privacy. Sterling's comments were between himself and his girlfriend. Why it was recorded we do not know. Why it went viral in the media is obvious. Why he was fined by the NBA is also a part of a private organization and their policies. But here is the rub. The pressure is now to take away his personal property in that of ownership of the Clippers. I say we must be very careful what we ask for with regard to suppressing free speech, especially in private conversations and then to take personal property away from violators. This is unconstitutional! Our acts in this case will affect the future for ALL people. Sadly, racism is alive and well whether it be between blacks and whites here , Jews and others around the world, thoughout Asia and between different tribes of people we so often think of as being the same. Ethnic cleansing has and continues to occur in places around the world. We do not have any of that here in the U.S. and we must protect ourselves to ensure the freedoms this country was founded upon up to and including equal opportunity as generally described in the preamble to the Constitution and then of course the Amendments of free speech and the right to own private property. On a personal note, I was born in Grand Rapids in a predominate Dutch society that brought with them much of their valued culture from the past. I moved to Detroit around 1950 on the NW side and went to Burt Elementary and Redford HIgh Schools. I also attended Highland Park Community College before going to Marshall Universtiy. I moved back to Detroit again and worked in the City and HIghland Park before finding a career in Macomb County. I went back into the cities of Dearborn and Allen Park for employment from time to time but remained in Macomb County where we raised a family. When I came back here from college, I was driving my deceased grandfathers 1949 Plymouth pulling a trailer of all my belongings. I had emptied my bank account there and had $60.00 in my pocket. My girlfriend of the time had a job. We got married ((nearly 50 years ago) and started to work hard toward establishing a family and being driven to succeed. We raised our children to not be racist and the same is now true for our grandchildren. The latter here rarely recognize any differences. They are practically color blind. I hope they can remain that way but know they will be affected positively or negatively throughout life depending upon how the rest of us act. I do not see myself as a racist. I do still struggle from time to time when I look about me as to the words or actions of the likes of Sterings, Sharptons or Wrights for example. There are just too many of them on both sides of the issues.
Sun, 05/11/2014 - 12:43pm
Very well stated. But just to be clear, Mr. Worthams, I’m a Democrat. Like you, I don’t believe government should ensure everyone has the same as everyone else, and I honest-to-God don't know any Democrats who do. Like you, I [we] recognize that there are unnatural and unjust disparities in the opportunity to get the most from one's "strong work and discipline" due to racism (and sexism). Where our approaches to this unnatural social injustice may differ is in the belief that law and regulation (what, if I understood correctly, you refer to as 'government') can make a difference in providing greater equity of opportunity.
William C. Plumpe
Sun, 05/11/2014 - 2:50pm
A very difficult and complex issue but not one that I will shy away from. I'm a well educated, older, straight Caucasian male who grew up in Detroit, left for school at U of Michigan and returned to live and work in Detroit for the last thirty years. I am currently involved in an ongoing journalistic debate with Rochelle Riley of the Free Press over the Donald Sterling incident, policing on Belle Isle and racism in general. Mr. Sterling's comments were racist but if any of us of any color had our private conversations taped I am sure there would be things we wished to God we had not said. So this is a privacy issue too. And as I commented at the time you can have a girlfriend or a boyfriend OR a spouse but it is a very bad idea to have a girlfriend or boyfriend AND a spouse. The last choice will only cause trouble. As to policing on Belle Isle---I live a mile away and even I've been stopped---for something I thought petty---but I understood where the officer was coming from. They were sending a message. There are new "owners" of the Park and there are rules and we will enforce those rules. No speeding, loud music, open alcohol in cars or drugs. Follow the rules and you will be OK. Misbehave and you will be stopped. Heck even the Mayor was stopped for speeding. Finally as to racism. Yes there is white on black racism but there is also black on white racism. Take for example the savage and senseless beating of Steve Utash. That's justified because somebody was "angry"??? You've got to be kidding. And there is black on black racism too that holds back the African American community from success and progress. What about a black high school student who studies hard and gets good grades because they want to go to college but are mocked and called "sissy" by their peers because they're "too white"? That sounds like racism to me. And it sounds like a problem the African American community needs to admit to and work on just as much as I need to work to change the attitude of the Donald Sterlings in the world. Everybody regardless of skin color or ethnicity is going to be racist because they are human. Racism is a universal failing and is not limited to a specific skin color or race or ethnicity. We should all strive to work on the racism that we practice as much as the racism that effects us. Enough said.
John Q. Public
Sun, 05/11/2014 - 4:17pm
Has anybody reading this article ever been branded a racist after "openly and honestly" discussing race issues? That's why so many get comfortable on the couch and grab the remote.
Sun, 05/11/2014 - 10:55pm
Mr. Plumpe (above) is the first commenter I have seen who seems to have a handle on this racism thing: that white people are not the only ones in this country who can be racist. Yes, Virginia, black people are racist too. What a disturbing idea. And Mr. J. Q. Public (also above) asks if anyone has ever been branded a racist after openly and honestly discussing race issues. Why yes, Mr. Public, I for one have. Can't believe I'm the only white guy who has been so labeled. That has caused me to just give up on the idea of trying. Like Al Pacino said in the movies, fock it.
Mon, 05/12/2014 - 1:22pm
I have to wonder what Christ would have done in the Donald Sterling events. He told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He taught love and compassion. He ate dinner with hated tax collectors. But then people are offended by Him - really?!. Can we have Peace without love and compassion? Far worse in my mind than what Mr. Sterling said in private in response to something his girlfriend said, was the amazing amount of hatred and negative energy that was created by the entire affair. Peace can not coexist with hatred and negative energy. Personally, I don't care what Mr. Sterling's personal feelings are. I do care about the invasion of his personal space and civil rights, because that opens the door to even more loss of freedom for us all. I found it interesting that the coach of his team didn't consider him a racist. Maybe the people he kicked out of his rental units were trashing them - I suspect he has also kicked 'white' people out for the same reason. Why does being black mean you are an upright, law abiding, tax paying, hard working, good person, who is an upstanding member of society? What does color or race have to do with any of it? Me thinks people are feeling so insecure and threatened in this country that they are willing to pounce on whoever they can find to take our their frustrations and fears on and Mr. Sterling fell into the trap.
Brenda Redding
Mon, 05/12/2014 - 3:13pm
Racism is so complex and subtle at the same time. One has to really look at where our ideas come from, our ages, our places of birth, our exposure to events, where we were when we were eleven yrs old, and come to an assessment of what formed our ideas. Racism is taught in minute ways with long lasting effects, like, all the assault on the intelligence ability of one race over another, or questions about one's ability to succeed. It is like studying climate change: the facts have to be embraced, an we must be willing to study the reasons why we are where we are and change wherever we can. It isn't easy, but the end point will be a better world for everyone.
Mon, 05/12/2014 - 6:17pm
I commend Mr. Worthams and John Q. Public and others for asking their questions, for without question there will be no conversation and change is unlikely. The reality is that in most cases stereotyping has become the de facto definition of ‘racism,’ invoking the label of ‘racist’ has become a political tool for media positioning, labeling someone or something ‘racist’ has evolved into emotional manipulations that obscure the real causes of the problem. What is ‘racism’, who is allowed to be ‘racist’, how do we create effective change in spite of the emotions that ‘racism’ evokes? Can ‘racism’ be practice by someone on their own race? Can ‘racism’ be attributed to those who foment the divides between races with their words and deeds? The willingness to ask the questions is necessary to start the conversation, but without answers or comments to the questions there is no conversation. Why don’t we have a conversation?
Jack Urban
Wed, 05/14/2014 - 9:47am
Thanks, David for writing this. For calling out the posturers and the tut-tuters and bringing attention to Mr Sterling's actions. That's where the significant damage is being done.