The Right to Use Wrong Words

This week the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a Northern California Native American tribe ran this ad during the during the NBA finals.

The ad is a shorter cut of a longer version that has been making the rounds on the internet for a few months now. Controversy over the Washington Redskins is nothing new–we covered it here. Last season saw louder and more pointed calls for owner Dan Snyder to change the racist moniker, including a statement from the POTUS–all of which he ignored. Makes you wonder who really is the most powerful man in the world….

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Viewers of the NBA finals are sure to have a leg up on Dan Snyder in the cause-effect relationship between racist behavior and team ownership. Snyder has clearly operated under the assumption that his decision on the team name is his and his alone.

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Dan Snyder, Donald Sterling on the line….what’s that Don? Stripped of my ownership? They can’t do that….

Or can they? That is the lingering question in the slow moving explosion that is the Donald Sterling situation. What seemed so clear in the light of our outrage a few weeks ago was that a team owner could not be a raging racist ruling a plantation of players. Despite hard core hold outs on the wrong side of racial tolerance, most agreed Sterling had to go.  Players from across the league boldly put integrity before profit and pledged not to return to play if Sterling still owned the team come fall.

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Despite all of Sterling’s best efforts to get a beatdown in the parking lot have a butterfly net thrown over him in an interview with Anderson Cooper, he still owns the team weeks later. Reversing an earlier agreement to sell the team for a madly profitable $2 billion, Sterling is suing the NBA for a billion dollars. Before you chalk this up to King-Lear-crazy, sure to end in tragedy, consider Sterling’s peer Snyder.

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The term Redskins is a pejorative, racist name for Native Americans, period. The term has a long and ugly history, connected to a genocide, one of America’s darkest legacies. People directly affected by this have respectfully requested Snyder cease use of it many times. Widespread protest of many people, including fans have been to no avail. At what point does the decision to use the term pass from Dan Snyder to someone, anyone, who might make a change? What role does the NFL and the owners association have, if any?

The National Congress of American Indians  released this poster to call attention to the offensive Redskins logo.
The National Congress of American Indians released this poster to call attention to the offensive Redskins logo.

 

Dan Snyder is not Donald Sterling. It’s easy to dismiss the crazy Sterling circus, but what we do when the perpetrator is less crazy and more entrenched in both sanity and his property rights? With this protest ad running during the NBA finals, Native Americans are definitely letting the NFL know that their protests cannot continue to be ignored in an era where pointed racism is an unacceptable  way to run a sports team.

With the precedent of the blow up surrounding Sterling, we can be sure that there are a few more rounds in the fight to retract the Redskins  name.  But with the outcome of the Sterling situation still in flux, hard questions remain ahead.

Creating a hostile work environment is against the law, but calling the Washington Redskins the Redskins is still legal even if increasingly unpopular.  If we want to be fair, and respect the rights of people to not be represented in terribly racist ways, then we have to keep the pressure on Snyder and the NFL to make change.

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There is power in protest if it is partnered with persistence, but it has to be more than a few lone voices.  Take a moment to shoot your good friend Dan Snyder a tweet here @Redskins, or a Facebook message here–help him avoid another season of shame.

A Nation of Cubans?

Mark Cuban, outspoken Mavericks owner,  has waded into the shark-infested water that is the Donald Sterling situation with comments he made recently at Inc Magazine’s GrowCo conference this week in Nashville.  Take a quick listen to his comments below:

Cue the media firestorm!  Owner makes racist remarks!  Less than a day later, Cuban has tweeted out a 5 part tweetpology:

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Despite justifiable sensitivity to the still open wound of the Zimmerman case,  I want to put a pause on the mob calling for Cuban’s head.

In our 140-character universe, we have a hard time listening long enough to recognize nuance and complexity.   Listen as the Today hosts brush over Cuban calling out prejudiced behavior as explicitly racist, instead opting to say that the threat response is natural.

Feeling threatened and afraid is natural.  When feelings of fear are tied to all  people of that race that’s racist.  All the people of one particular race cannot be painted with the same brush.  The Today hosts and many in the twitterverse point out that we use stereotypical information to assess threats a process of stereotypes.  Listen to that again–we judge people based on stereotypes.  This is bias behavior.  Just because we all do it, that doesn’t mean that it is right, or that it’s who we ought to be as a society.

We do it, now what? Since we don’t make up and manage stereotypes, if we want to avoid connecting these stereotypes to our own personally held ideas about race, then we have to be aware of when that is happening.  We need to call out ourselves–and other–in the moment.

Cuban is right–most people do hold some prejudices.  But Cuban is also right that we must call it what it is–bigotry,  prejudice, and racism.  We’ve got to begin by owning it and being aware of the thoughts and actions we take on a daily basis.

While you cheer the end to the labored Donald Sterling case as he transfers ownership to his wife to sell off, take a good look at yourself. You probalby don’t operate at Sterling’s extremes, but do you think you are bias free?  And which of your biases are tied to society’s stigmas of race, class and gender?

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We are all multifaceted humans living complex lives. Can you be honest with yourself when you judge people on what you see instead of who they are?  I challenge you to call yourself out when you stereotype people with race, gender and class stereotypes. I challenge you to be aware of bigoted ideas that float into your head–whether you want them there or not.  Own them, look at them, and challenge  yourself to think differently.

We can’t change what we won’t see.  Start looking and let me know how it goes!

 

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The Cost of Racism

It’s official: the Clippers–and the rest of us–won’t have Donald Sterling to kick around anymore. The NBA has barred Sterling for life and fined him 2.5 million dollars–the maximum amount allowable. League president Adam Silver says he will “do everything in [his] power to ensure” Sterling will be forced to sell the team.

What did we learn? There really isn’t room for racism in the NBA! Now who’s ready to tackle the racism outside the NBA?

Plantation Daze

Just as the LA Clippers are getting ready to suit up for a promising post season game, Clippers Owner Donald Sterling was busted on tape making a host of horrible racist comments.  Recorded by his girlfriend–a 20-something woman of color–Sterling  ranted for nearly 10 minutes , including these fine comments curated by TMZ:

“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)

Thankfully the officials at the NBA promise to get to the bottom of things with an investigation–and even promise due process!  Wait, has he been charged with a crime?  No, but I don’t think it will take much investigating.  Is that you? Yes? Oh, then we’re done here.

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This of course is not the first time that race has reared its ugly head in sports, nor even the first time that Sterling has broadcast his prejudiced proclivities–he was sued in a housing discrimination case  in 2003 that he settled for 2.75 million, and another case some reports say settled for 5 million.  More than just dislike, Sterling has a history of using his power to perpetuate his racist ideology.

Perhaps most telling though is a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Sterling by Elgin Baylor.  LA Times reporter Lisa Dillman wrote about Elgin’s testimony back in 2010:

Baylor spoke about what he called Sterling’s “plantation mentality,” alleging the owner in the late 1990s rejected a coaching candidate, Jim Brewer, because of race. Baylor quoted Sterling as saying: “Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.” Baylor said he was shocked. “And he [Sterling] looked at me and said, ‘Do you think that’s a racist statement?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. That’s plantation mentality.’ “

So it is well established that Serling is a text book racist. By textbook, I mean he uses his power and position to negatively affect people based only on the color of their skin.  Despite lots of calls for Sterling to face some sanctions or a suspension, will the NBA, who has long known about this guy, do anything meaningful this time?  Doubtful.

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Tonight Doc Rivers and his team will suit up for this owner and play their hearts out.  The team decided not to boycott–for the fans.  The LA times reports that “players considered wearing black socks or armbands in protest during Sunday’s game but worried about being viewed as radical.”  In a long list of Tweets, Rivers’ son encouraged  people to support the players’ decision to play, saying one man’s racism shouldn’t stop the team.

But what if that man is called your father’s owner?  What if that man has made it clear that he is okay with having “poor black boys” play for him but does not want to have to be associated with them? What if that man is long known to have a plantation mentality towards players and staff of color?

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Wait–okay with employing blacks, has a plantation mentality and a history of thumbing his nose at people who criticize him–is..is Donald Sterling the long lost twin of Clive “Better-as-slaves” Bundy, the Nevada rancher who’s comments filled the airwaves this week with these racist gems?

Two men, within one week, making outragoues–and not unconnected–comments about black people.  We have seen this too many times to pretend this is shocking or surprising.  In fact, the idea that blacks are undesirables, poor wretches, depressed sitting on stoops or desperate to take any amount of abuse to play ball, welfare-bleeding baby-aborting self-imprisoning ghetto rachet free-lunch freeloaders, better-off-as-slaves is a prominent thread in our media environment.  From politicians to celebrities to NBA team owning billionaire black-fetishist Donald Sterling, overt racism is everywhere.  Maybe it’s time we stop treating these as isolated incidents and confront  the epidemic in evidence.

If you follow smntks, you know there is no shortage of public people making overtly racist comments, usually followed by a weak apology, or lame reasoning.  We hear this, we stomp our feet and holler, but long term, what do we really do?  Tonight, Donald Sterling will take his seat to watch his “boys” play;  Paula Dean is making a comeback;  Michael Dunn got away with murder.

Clippers player DeAndre Jordan took to Instagram to protest Sterling's comments
Clippers player DeAndre Jordan took to Instagram to protest Sterling’s comments

 

Its time to stop condemning and start acting.  Boycott the game. Don’t vote for the politicians who tripped over themselves to support Clive Bundy.  Stop yelling “black President” and start spreading the word that racism is real and we are all responsible for ending it.

If you think that socks and armbands are radical, then I’m telling you the moment is here.  Put your black socks on.  Rock a black armband.  It is time to get radical.