Two men appeared on the national stage in April in the form of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and Los Angeles Clippers basketball team owner Donald Sterling. Both made racially insensitive statements.
Americans righteously blistered both of them in the court of public opinion. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, or the Staples Center in this case: Bundy gets shunned while Sterling gets eyed for a second lifetime achievement award from the NAACP.
I kid you not. That was on the table for the NAACP last week.
At the same time the NBA barred Sterling for life for his remarks, fined him $2.5 million and began the process of forcing him to sell the Clippers — all of which happened Tuesday — the NAACP unbelievably explored giving Sterling a pass and an award.
A recording surfaced last week featuring an argument between a man and a woman said to be Sterling and his girlfriend, Vanessa Stiviano. Here’s an excerpt:
Stiviano: I don’t understand, I don’t see your views. I wasn’t raised the way you were raised.
Sterling: Well then, if you don’t feel — don’t come to my games. Don’t bring black people, and don’t come.
Stiviano: Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black that plays for you?
Sterling: Do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have — who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?
There’s more ugly race talk on the recording that shows Sterling harbors great disregard for people of color. It’s hard to even make up the scenario of an NBA franchise owner telling his mixed-race girlfriend not to bring black people to “my games.”
But there it is, recorded for the whole world to hear.
Yet the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP — which has already embarrassed itself by honoring Sterling with one lifetime achievement award in 2009 and was set to honor him a second time until the recording surfaced — said Monday it was still open to “working” with Sterling.
NAACP Los Angeles President Leon Jenkins — who resigned Thursday over the debacle — says his chapter has had a relationship with Sterling for 20 years and that Sterling has been an important financial contributor.
“God teaches us to forgive …” Jenkins said. “We are negotiating with him about giving more money to African-American students at UCLA,” Jenkins said.
What in the world is that all about? Is the L.A. chapter of the NAACP selling indulgences to racists? Give the chapter money and — what? — you too can earn a lifetime achievement award as if this were all some kind of ShamWow infomercial.
For those who don’t know much about Sterling, you might be inclined to think that I’m failing to give the NAACP and Sterling a proper amount of charitable understanding. But here’s the deal: Sterling’s racism in both word and deed has been well known for years.
The black community knew about. The white community knew about it. The NBA knew about it. The federal government knew about it.
In 2003, 19 people sued Sterling for housing discrimination. The lawsuit said he told staff that Hispanics were lazy; blacks should be made to sign in before entering the building; and, when possible, only rent to Koreans. Sterling settled the lawsuit, paying $5 million in legal fees.
In 2006, he faced federal civil rights charges from the Department of Justice for refusing to rent to blacks. He settled that one for $2.65 million.
Too many Americans, I think, find solace in clucking their tongues at racially insensitive speech, but then fail to muster the proper outrage when people such as Sterling hurt people by actually carrying through on the rhetoric.
Using skin color to decide who gets housing is racism in action. It is more despicable than ignorant, ugly speech.
Yet the NAACP honored Sterling knowing his racist record.
That’s more than a travesty. That’s profiteering on human misery. There isn’t anything right in that.
Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.