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April 30, 2014

Sure Sterling’s a Racist. But, He’s Not Alone

Image courtesy of (Victor Habbick) /

The story exploded over the weekend.

Longtime professional basketball team owner Donald Sterling is under investigation by the NBA for racist remarks he is alleged to have made to his girlfriend.

TMZ Sports obtained audio of Sterling making the racist declaration during a heated argument on April 9 with V. Stiviano, Sterling’s girlfriend, after she posted a photo on Instagram posing with former NBA star Magic Johnson.
Sterling rails on Stiviano — who ironically is black and Mexican — for allowing herself to be photographed with a black person (she has since taken the pic down).

The audio itself is stunning in its depiction of Sterling’s apparent deep-seated racism. Among the comments:

• “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” (3:30)

•”You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want.  The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.” (5:15)

•”I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.” (7:45)

•”…Don’t put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.” (9:13)

Sterling, (shown above with Los Angeles Mayor Marshal Antonio Villaraigosa in a 2005 file photo) has a documented history of allegedly racist behavior — he’s been sued twice by the federal government for allegedly refusing to rent apartments to Blacks and Latinos. In one of the cases, Sterling told investigators he believed Blacks “smelled bad…”

He was also sued by former Clippers executive and former player Elgin Baylor for racial discrimination — though a jury was ultimately not convinced and ruled against Baylor’s case.

Not surprisingly, the reaction to Sterling’s recent comments was swift and in some cases venomous in the angry blowback.

Rapper Snoop Dogg posted this response, if you’re not averse to hearing a stream of profanities.

It even elicited a reaction from President Barack Obama.

At a press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak Sunday, Obama was asked about Sterling’s comments.

“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. That’s what happened here,” the President said.

Obama also said Sterling’s alleged comments are an example of how “the United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation.”

So, what to make of the likes of Sterling and his ilk?

Is he an aberration, or are there more like him in the boardrooms of the nation?

Is it race or is it gender bias that runs through some back currents in the corner offices, in our schools and in the world of sport, in general?

According to The Guardian, a study as recent as 2009 showed there exists an inherent “glass ceiling” for minorities reaching into the upper ranks of executive offices.

Boardrooms across the public and private sectors remain stubbornly white, says a report, Race to the Top, by the British charity Business in the Community (BITC). It analyzed data between 2000 and 2007, and concludes that management prospects are disproportionately bleak for people from a black or minority ethnic (BME) background — and likely to worsen over the next decade unless action is taken.

Image courtesy of (Ambro) /

Image courtesy of (Ambro) /

Sandra Kerr, national director for the BITC’s Race for Opportunity campaign, called the findings “devastating.”

Action was needed right away to “shatter the last glass ceiling” and the government needed to lead by example. “There is definitely a need to put this at the heart of the agenda for government and business,” she said.

The report suggests that since 2000, a number of government-led legal measures and race initiatives designed to increase top-level opportunities for BME managers have had minimal impact.

These include the strengthening of Britain’s 1976 Race Relations Act, the creation of an ethnic minority and employment taskforce, the race equality and diversity action plan, and specialist employment advisers.

But, it’s no better in the United States on many facets of race, where racism is bubbling under the surface in a disturbing trend of re-segregating schools – a practice that was theoretically outlawed in the 1960s.

The Guardian reports in an April 20 commentary there are clear signs that schools are re-segregating, especially in the South.

According to research recently conducted by ProPublica, “black children across the south now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades.” These racial inequalities have been compounded by class entrenchment. In many areas – income, wealth, incarceration, employment – the gaps between black and white are the same as 50 years ago or worse. In a 2012 report, UCLA’s Civil Rights Project noted: “Nationwide, the typical black student is now in a school where almost two out of every three classmates (64%) are low income.”

The ProPublica piece, Segregation Now, by Nikole Hannah-Jones, cites the example of schools in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where schools are now sliding back into black-white divisions.

Image courtesy of (stockimages) /

Image courtesy of (stockimages) /

“In 2000, another federal judge released Tuscaloosa City Schools from the court-ordered desegregation mandate that had governed it for a single generation. Central had successfully achieved integration, the district had argued—it could be trusted to manage that success going forward.

“Freed from court oversight, Tuscaloosa’s schools have seemed to move backwards in time. The citywide integrated high school is gone, replaced by three smaller schools. Central retains the name of the old powerhouse, but nothing more. A struggling school serving the city’s poorest part of town, it is 99 percent black. D’Leisha, an honors student since middle school, has only marginal college prospects. Predominantly white neighborhoods adjacent to Central have been gerrymandered into the attendance zones of other, whiter schools.”

In sports, it seems players themselves are learning their racist behavior from their school days. In recent events: A number of students from a high school in the predominantly white suburbs of Mahopac, New York, were suspended following a series of racist tweets sent out after the boys’ basketball team took a loss to a predominantly black team from Mount Vernon, N.Y.

In Indiana, the state’s high school athletic association is investigating the conduct of fans from Bedford North Lawrence High, a rural school that was playing an urban school from Lawrence, Indiana. Fans from the Bedford team reportedly wore gorilla suits and made racial taunts to the girls basketball team from Lawrence North High School. Bedford’s fans argued they were only dressing to a safari theme dress-up – supposedly “hunting” for the Lawrence North Wildcats.

Racism is rampant, too, in the stands and legions of fans in the European and British soccer federations.

All too many accounts have been cited of fans singing racist songs, chanting racist slogans and tossing bananas at black players.

There should be no surprise that racism is indeed rampant, nor should there be any less outrage at the fact, frankly.

In a world overview on the issue of racism, the website Global Issues, found United Nations and other organizations’ investigations into the problem shows an upward trend in the predominance of racism in many countries around the world.

It’s not just the Donald Sterlings of the world who foster racism and are examples of racist behavior, it’s in our neighbourhoods, in our schools and in our own families.

It’s just the Sterlings of the world who get the press and rightly serve as examples of the sorts of behavior we need to stop before succeeding generations emulate them.

But, as we have found, it’s, sadly, easier said than done.


Chris Malette is a retired newspaper journalist with 35 years of experience as a reporter and city editor. Over his career, Malette covered municipal and federal politics, military, health and court beats. He has reported from Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti and covered relief efforts in Honduras in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. He now works for SPN News as an editorial columnist.