National Commentary

Sterling & Other White Male Pigs

nfbentonpicThe veritable explosion that has rocked the professional sports world this week, triggered by the despicably racist comments caught and exposed on tape by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, should serve as a warning to anyone who harbors views like his.

True, but it goes much deeper. It is not only Sterling’s explicitly hateful racism that is at issue here, but his entire social posture. Here is an arrogant billionaire who self-servingly cloaks his personal views with philanthropic efforts while exuding an attitude of personal entitlement to be filthy rich, to sit shamelessly on top of a society where 85 percent of the people live one paycheck or less from the mean streets.

Look at this man in the face, and you get a clue at what’s wrong with America today. It is not just the racism, per se, although the fact it got “outed” to the public in a way that causes one to wonder how many other “respectable” white men, especially those with conservative political and economic prejudices, feel the same in private.

We’ve had a spate of similarly unsavory cases recently, namely the public statements (not exposed private remarks as in Sterling’s case) of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was given a national platform based on his standoff with the feds over his cattle grazing illegally on federal land, and the “reality show” Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, who let his true feelings all hang out, so to speak, in an interview published in CQ magazine recently.

Bundy, who’d become the overnight darling of all sorts of Republicans for his anti-government views, suddenly took to a microphone with national TV news cameras whirring and decided to pontificate about how African-Americans were better off under slavery than on welfare.

Robertson, who raised eyebrows with his comments about homosexuality, expressing views that are still openly held by a significant minority of Americans, said far worse things about race. He stated, referring to the Jim Crow south he grew up in, “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers…They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

These three high-profile cases – Sterling, Bundy and Robertson – all surfaced in recent months and belie an unsavory underbelly of our society, and not three isolated cases of individual bigots. In all three cases, the racism expressed came from the mouths of hateful white males.

One does not have to be a white supremacist neo-Nazi cultist to harbor such sentiments, but such views tend to come from people who oppose welfare and social entitlement programs for the poor, as in a modest increase in the minimum wage.

The cases of Sterling, Bundy and Robertson taken together are a common personality archetype that is grounded in hate and built upon a residual but still very potent notion of white male entitlement.

One could test a whole gamut of views they undoubtedly also share about women, women’s issues, and gays, and the same boiler-plate forms of prejudice and hate would emerge. You want to know what’s wrong with America today? It’s this.

The Sterling case is especially important because it sparked a virtual revolt within the ranks of the NBA and its fan base. The decision by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to impose a lifetime ban on Sterling was driven by his knowledge that NBA players in the predominantly African-American league were preparing to boycott Tuesday’s playoff games if anything less than such a severe punishment had been prescribed.

Is America beginning to awaken to the systemic injustices, more generally, that Sterling and his ilk, including all those entitled “too big to fail” bankers on Wall Street, are imposing on our society?

If the same kind of anger and calls for revolt began to move off the basketball court into our society as a whole, then some real changes would occur.