The Sterling Interview Trumps the Tape
One of the strongest arguments against punishing Donald Sterling for his blatantly racist comments was the inherent violation of privacy that accompanied the broadcast of the surreptitious (and possibly illegal) recording. However, that issue became totally moot after the voluntary interview he recorded with CNN’s Anderson Cooper aired every day last week — an interview that served only to confirm the vile racism and vicious personal attacks heard in his private remarks.
The primary purpose of the interview was for Sterling to apologize, but even in this simple task he missed the mark. He first issued a general apology to “… all the people I have hurt.” But a proper apology would have identified his offense and made a direct apology to those offended. Sensing this, Cooper asked specifically whom he had hurt. Sterling responded with a bizarre (and highly suspect) tale of his granddaughter missing out on the distribution of candy at her Catholic nursery school because she had been contaminated by his racism.
Sterling showed himself quite capable of a proper apology when it came to his estranged wife, Shelly Sterling. “I hurt my ex-wife. She is a beautiful person. She didn’t need this. Her whole life blew up,” he said. Sterling was also very clear when it came to the other owners (and let us be clear that when Sterling said “league” he meant the owners). “Let me just say that I apologized to the league. … The league is a good league, all honest people. … I embarrassed the league. I humiliated them.”
Sterling had no such plain language for the Clippers players (to say nothing of the other NBA players). When asked about his reaction to the Clippers players’ sartorial protest (they reversed their warm-up jerseys during a late April playoff game) he replied, “I really didn’t pay attention to that.” To ignore the clearest statement yet by his players (as well as those with the Miami Heat) shows how little regard he has for the players themselves.
Sterling had no plain language when asked whether he had apologized to Magic Johnson. He gave one of those conditional non-apologies, saying, “Well, if I said anything wrong, I’m sorry.” But he clearly feels he said nothing wrong, for he takes this opportunity to launch into an even more insulting attack on Johnson than anything heard on the earlier tapes. “But I will say it … I just don’t think he is a good example for the children of Los Angeles, that he would go and do what he did and then get AIDS. I mean, come on. What has he done? Can you tell me? Big Magic Johnson, what has he done? He’s got AIDS.”
In these few sentences he managed not only to put his racism on full display and insult one of the most highly regarded African-Americans in the country, but he expanded the breadth of his hatred to the entire HIV/AIDS community.
And most of all, he had no apology for the rank racism he expressed toward African-Americans as a people. Far from an apology for the hateful things he said, he added the following insult to the previous injury: “I spend millions on giving away and helping minorities. Does he do that? That’s one problem I have. Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people. And some of the African-Americans — maybe I will get in trouble again — they don’t want to help anybody.” Yes, Donald, you are in trouble again.
This is totally consistent with statements in the longer version of the audiotapes attributed to V. Stiviano in which Sterling said, “It’s the world. You go to Israel; the blacks are just treated like dogs.” Stiviano: “So you have to treat them like that too?” Sterling: “The white Jews — there’s white Jews and black Jews, do you understand?” Stiviano: “And are the black Jews less than the white Jews?” Sterling: “A hundred percent. … A hundred fifty percent!” Stiviano: “And is that right?” Sterling: “It isn’t a question — we don’t evaluate what’s right or wrong, we live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.”
Obviously, Sterling has no interest in changing the culture. He complains to her that by associating with blacks his “girl” undermines her image as a “delicate white or delicate Latina girl.” Few have commented on how denigrating this comment is to black women! His “girl” challenges him to stand up to the racist world that he lives in, but he refuses. “I don’t want to change the culture because I can’t. I don’t want to change it.” This reveals both his racism and his abject cowardice.
Donald Sterling’s protestations aside, the racism that he has displayed is instructive because it demonstrates how oblivious he is to its reality. For him, it’s just the way it is. He is no more or less racist than the rest of his “world.” Exactly.
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