Donald Sterling was more than just a “painful episode”

The Clippers owner has been publicly shamed and banned from the NBA. But that won't fix the root of the problem

Topics: donald sterling, cliven bundy, Racism, clippers, NBA, Editor's Picks, Race,

Donald Sterling was more than just a "painful episode"Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling (Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart/AP/Mark J. Terrill/photo collage by Salon)

This week’s racist is Donald Sterling, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. As of this writing, he has now been publicly shunned. He has been permanently banned from the NBA and fined $2.5 million, the maximum penalty allowed. The NBA has conducted a “thorough investigation” in recent days. In a letter posted on the NBA website, commissioner Adam Silver writes, “This has been a painful episode for all members of the NBA family,” demonstrating a lack of understanding of the word “painful.”

We can pretend this rebuke is, somehow, an appropriate punishment, but it isn’t. The fine, given Sterling’s net worth, is laughable. Banning Sterling from attending NBA games or participating in team management is laughable. Sterling will continue being a wealthy, racist man. Racial inequality in the Untied States will persist because racism, history has shown us, is not a problem that can be solved through such small-scale punishment. As of now, Sterling still owns the Clippers and will only be forced to sell if a majority of NBA team owners vote as such.

For now, the NBA’s punishment is, like the security theater to which we are subjected at airports, an elaborate performance. “Look,” the NBA is saying, “look how quickly we have dispatched with this racist aberration in our midst.” Unfortunately, it is not a new revelation that Donald Sterling is racist (and sexist). He is not an aberration. He has been made to pay for his racism twice before — in 2003 and 2009 — in housing discrimination lawsuits, which are far graver infractions than his racist comments and behavior over the years. The NBA simply remained silent in 2003 and 2009 because there wasn’t yet enough public outrage for them to have to perform some kind of response. It took a splashy gossip spill from TMZ (and what an unexpected meter of justice that site is) for Sterling to face any kind of comeuppance that is not really comeuppance.



There has been and there will continue to be vigorous discussions about race in America. I worry that little will come of these discussions because we aren’t addressing what must be done to change the current racial climate. Donald Sterling’s lack of interest in having black people at Clippers’ games is on par with rancher Cliven Bundy’s nostalgia for slavery as a means of giving black folk something to do. These men’s racial attitudes are troubling and indicative of the racist beliefs far too many people hold. More important, these men and their ilk are propped up by a system for which the consequences for extolling such beliefs are painfully inadequate. They are propped up by a system that enables voter suppression, segregation, the retrenchment of affirmative action supported by even the Supreme Court, a glass ceiling in far too many industries, and the list goes on.

What truly worries me, though, is that far too many people seem surprised when racists like Sterling or Bundy are revealed, as if these men are closer to the exception than the rule. What worries me is that I am not at all surprised when these men are revealed for who they truly are. What worries me is that “post-racial” America is not that different from the Americas that have preceded us, and it might not ever be.

Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay's writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2012, Oxford American, the Rumpus, the Wall Street Journal and many other publications

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...