Kevin Powell Weighs In On Donald Sterling, Civil Rights, and American Racism


| April 29, 2014 - 4:14 pm

It was Albert Einstein who said it best, long ago: insanity is saying or doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Well, American racism is a form of insanity, a mental illness, as central to this land as the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of African people, and everything from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement to apple pie and Coca Cola to the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin.

That there is widespread outrage and condemnation of the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner for his alleged racist rants on a telephone call with his “girlfriend” (Mr. Sterling is married too) is not surprising. Mr. Sterling disses African Americans, Latinos, and we know for sure, that he has a lengthy track record around housing and other forms of racial discrimination as it concerns communities of color; and that former Clippers executive and NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor documented, in his lawsuit against the owner, quite serious instances of unrepentant racism.

The problem with us, with America, is we will do what we have been conditioned to do: we will be outraged, we will demand action, boycotts, protests, petitions; we will cast Mr. Sterling as the modern-day Bull Connor, a latter-day Klansman, and push until he has been reprimanded in a way that allows us to believe justice has been served. The racist boogeyman gets remixed once more, and this time it is Donald Sterling, whether he was set up by his mistress or not.

For me whether Mr. Sterling is suspended or even stripped of his ownership is beside the point. Do I think he should be punished in some form? Yes. But I also feel we completely fool ourselves, forever, if we actually believe that because the NBA is 80 percent Black, the National Football League similarly composed, and because we have Barack Obama in the White House, Oprah and Beyoncé as global icons, tastemakers and trendsetters, that we’ve somehow made so much progress in America that we live in a post-racial utopia with mere hiccups like Donald Sterling along the way.

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