In Re Sterling: Wherein Jason Whitlock Finds A Few Acorns

ESPN‘s Jason Whitlock, in “Culture Clash: Removing Sterling will not fix the systemic racism that gave birth to his attitudes,” finds a few acorns–which he places in the service of a faulty, dare I say evil meta-narrative (emphasis added).

In our zeal to appear righteous or courageous or free of bigotry, a ratings-pleasing mob hell-bent on revenge turned Donald T. Sterling — a victim of privacy invasion and white supremacy — from villain to martyr.

I’m with you on the highlighted section–although “victim” is a little over the top, even if in a larger sense the release of a private conversation for public consumption is at least immoral, if not illegal (whether the conversation was obtained illegally has not yet been established conclusively).

In a society filled with impurities, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers committed the crime of speaking impure thoughts in the privacy of a duplex he apparently provided for his mistress. And now an angry, agenda-fueled mob provoked NBA commissioner Adam Silver into handing Sterling a basketball death sentence.

Hyperbole aside (which is obviously designed to further his meta-narrative that Sterling is a victim of a culture dominated by white supremacy), a fair enough summary.

On Tuesday, just 72 hours after the release of Sterling’s Pillow Talk Tapes by TMZ, a rookie commissioner imposed a lifetime ban on a flawed man whose rights were violated.

Flawed? Now Whitlock is just being silly–again to further his meta-narrative. Donald Sterling has had a rep as a lowlife for decades.

Mob rule is dangerous. Well-intentioned, TV-baited mobs are the most dangerous. They do not consider the consequences of their actions, and they’re prone to take a simple-minded, instant-gratification approach to justice rather than a strategic one.


Removing Donald Sterling from the NBA solves nothing. It sets a precedent that will likely boomerang and harm the black players and coaches who are shocked and outraged that an 80-year-old man with a documented history of bigoted actions also has bigoted private thoughts.

And what, pray tell Mr. Whitlock, does the fact that he is 80 years old have to do with anything? The torrent of vitriol directed at Sterling, justified or not, has been accompanied by a constant undercurrent of ageist bigotry–as if Sterling’s attitudes are a function of his age. The references to age are usually offhand and passing, as if everybody knows that age explains racial bigotry, and the assertion needs no explication. It is a nonsensical and ugly subtext that precious few people spouting off on Sterling have managed to avoid. And how ironic that a story that is purportedly about the horrors of one form of bigotry should embrace another form of bigotry!

But wait, I thought he was merely “flawed.” Which is it?

Yes, it makes a lot of sanctimonious grandstanders appear either willfully blind, or criminally stupid. For instance, the NAACP. Tiny violin. The NAACP and the rest, like Sterling, made their own beds and can now, of course, lie in it. (And of course there is a delicious irony that the NAACP has named vicious anti-Semite Al Sharpton as their Person Of the Year.)

And to argue that the banishment of Sterling solves nothing misses the fact that it furthers the very narrative–that America is systemically racist–that Whitlock advances. Heads on pikes are always useful to mobs.

Let’s be careful here. From the owner’s box to the locker room, professional sports are overrun with wealthy men in complicated, volatile sexual relationships. If TMZ plans to make “pillow talk” public and the standard is set that “pillow talk” is actionable, it won’t be long before a parade of athletes joins Sterling on Ignorance Island.

That’s a huge acorn you found there, Mr. Whitlock. Indeed.

A right to privacy is at the very foundation of American freedoms. It’s a core value. It’s a mistake to undermine a core value because we don’t like the way a billionaire exercises it. What happens when a disgruntled lover gives TMZ a tape of a millionaire athlete expressing a homophobic or anti-Semitic or anti-white perspective?

They go to work for MSNBC?

At least Mr. Whitlock implicitly admits above that bigotry cuts both ways, and that blacks are just as capable of it as whites–although it undercuts his meta-narrative about white supremacy.

 Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who called for Clippers fans to boycott Game 5, seems quite vulnerable to mob rule. Jackson is super-religious. He’s previously been extorted by a stripper he kept as a mistress. And some of the LGBT community views Jackson as homophobic.

It appears we have a candidate for the next banishment campaign.

The conversation revolving around Donald Sterling is unsophisticated, and so was the heavy-handed punishment. They’re driven by emotion rather than logic. It does not serve the greater good of the offended black community. Sterling is a scapegoat. He is an easy target, a decoy so that we do not address the elephant he walked into his mistress’ bedroom.

Here we go!

“We don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong,” Sterling is heard telling his black-and-Latina mistress when she asked if it was right to treat black as less than white. “We live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.”

And so Mr. Whitlock quotes Sterling’s weak excuse-making with the implication that it is a legitimate argument.

Sterling adheres to a pervasive culture, the hierarchy established by global white supremacy.

“I don’t want to change the culture because I can’t,” Sterling says. “It’s too big.”

This was Sterling’s one moment of clarity. The culture of white supremacy created Donald Sterling. He did not create the culture.

And so Sterling’s convenient excuse-making becomes the core theme of Whitlock’s piece.

Much of what Sterling said on the tape is a rambling mess that can be interpreted many ways by sophisticated, mature and objective ears. To my ears, he doesn’t care that his mistress has black friends. He doesn’t care if she has sexual relationships with black men. He’s married. They’re not in a monogamous relationship. He simply does not want her extracurricular activities, particularly when they might involve black men, flaunted at his basketball games or all over Instagram.

And the argument loops back on itself.

This conversation, while grotesque and abhorrent, is not remotely unique or limited to old white men. My father was hood-rich, good-looking and a playa who enjoyed the company of a younger, kept woman. Many of his friends had similar tastes. Their private conversations about dating could sound every bit as abhorrent and grotesque as Sterling’s. I’ve heard young black men and women engage in equally grotesque and abhorrent private conversations, particularly when their feelings are hurt or they feel betrayed.

So this is all still about white supremacy, or not? You seem to be contradicting yourself.

No. The substantive meat of Sterling’s Sex, Lies and Audiotape is his point about the culture that created his worldview. He is adhering to the standards of his peer group. He is adhering to the standards of the world he lives in. It’s a world inhabited by all of us. It’s a culture that shapes everyone’s worldview on some level. It fuels the black self-hatred at the core of commercialized hip-hop culture, and is at the root of the NAACP’s initial plan to twice honor an unrepentant bigot with a lifetime achievement award.

White supremacy is responsible for black self-hatred? For the NAACP’s willful ignorance and greed?

Damn, we white people are really diabolical bastards, aren’t we?

White-supremacy culture is created, maintained and run by rich white men, Sterling’s peers. He is the longest-tenured owner in the NBA. Former commissioner David Stern had multiple opportunities to run Sterling out of the league for his bigoted actions. Sterling’s peers have always protected him … until he had the audacity and stupidity to be caught on tape explaining the culture they maintain.

NBA players, most of whom are black, don’t profit from their association with the NBA?

Hey, if white people are responsible for black NBA players being rich, where do I sign up for a commission?

It’s comical to watch the well-intentioned mob circle around Sterling as if his unintended transparency says nothing about his peer group. It’s equally comical seeing this issue framed as a “black issue,” with black people running to suggest ways to clean up Sterling’s mess.


White people should be wearing black socks, turning their T-shirts inside out, protesting outside the Staples Center. This is their culture, their Frankenstein. Or maybe they agree with Donald T. Sterling.

Sure we do, Jason. Sure we do. Smart take.

“I don’t want to change the culture because I can’t. It’s too big.”

It’s also too beneficial. It’s too comfortable.

Then by all means, stop writing about the NBA. And the players can find less dishonorable work in accounting or engineering. Deal?

Well-intentioned white people should be holding nationally televised panel discussions focusing on ways to lessen the damaging impact of white-supremacy culture. Well-intentioned white people who work within or support the NBA should be demanding that the NBA power structure cede some of its governing power to men and women who look like the overwhelming majority of the league’s players.

No thank you. I’d prefer to concentrate on issues that aren’t fueled by racism masquerading as anti-racism.

I have a better idea. Why not encourage every business endeavor to be driven by merit, rather than by demographics. Or would you prefer that the black/white ratio of NBA players be reversed? Mr Whitlock, do you want the NBA to be diverse, or even more exclusively black than it already is? Why not embrace Larry Johnson’s advocacy of an all-black league? Would that finally eliminate the white supremacism you see all around you?

Instead, the mainstream fanned the flames, enraging the angry black mob looking for a quick solution, a sacrificial lamb — and now, by the end of the week, we’ll be back to business as usual, pretending the stoning of Sterling harmed the culture that created him.

Mr. Whitlock misses that fact that the intensity of the outcry against Sterling speaks volume about how racist America isn’t. If everyone had shrugged their shoulders, his meta-narrative might make more sense. They didn’t.



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