Every generation has its moment where an older politician brings the fire and brimstone and plays cultural Moses....
-- by Fred McKissack
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was right to ban L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and fine him $2.5 million.
In case you somehow missed it, Sterling made international news this week when TMZ posted audio of racist comments he made to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano. In the recording, Sterling tells Stiviano he doesn't want her to post pictures of herself with African American men on Instagram, or bring black people to games with her.
At one point in the recording, Stiviano says, "Do you know that you have a whole team that's black, that plays for you?"
Sterling responds: "Do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them?"
At another point Stiviano says she did not remove an Instagram picture of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp because "I thought Matt Kemp is mixed, and he was OK, just like me."
"OK," says Sterling.
"He's lighter and whiter than me," says Stiviano.
"You think I'm I racist," Sterling tells her.
As Silver put it so well, Sterling's racist comments were "deeply offensive and harmful" and "simply have no place in the NBA."
Silver also appropriately apologized to Bill Russell and Magic Johnson and other NBA personalities Sterling had offended.
Under the lifetime ban, Sterling cannot attend games or practices, or set foot inside any Clippers facility, or have a role in his team's business decisions or league Board of Governors meetings. Silver also said he would "do everything in my power" to compel the NBA Board of Governors to "force a sale" of the Clippers. Sterling got the maximum fine possible from the NBA but, bigoted clod though he may be, he will leave a winner. His $15 million investment in the Clippers in 1981 will probably fetch him in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
That's billion with a B. So shed no tear for him.
The deeper story, however, is the public recognition, finally, that rank racism still festers in America.
Sterling has a long and notorious history of racist utterings, which the NBA shamefully ignored up to now. But his most recent spewings coalesce in time and space around the ramblings of Cliven Bundy. Both epitomize a basic plantation mentality -- not slavery as an accepted institution, but an accepted narrative of white superiority and black inferiority -- that is far more dangerous and pervasive than we Americans care to admit.
Sterling's comment "I give them food" shows a total lack of respect, or even understanding, that the players on the Clippers team made Sterling a rich man -- not the other way around.
While we may have legally ended slavery and sacked Jim Crow, the power of privilege, coupled with our still largely self-segregation, feeds into a racially stratified system that is morally bankrupt.
The plantation mentality didn't end with Emancipation Proclamation. It didn't end with Brown v. Board of Education. It didn't end with the March on Washington. Or the Civil Rights Act. Or the Voting Rights Act. Or when Michael Jordan won the hearts of the world.
Very few white Americans embrace blacks on an emotional level. There is still a pervasive belief that whites are smarter and work harder than blacks.
If plantation thinking were truly dead, the NBA would have dealt with Donald Sterling years ago.