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May 08, 2014 - Image 41

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2014-05-08

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oints of view

Guest Columns

Donald Sterling, Jewish owner of the NBA's L.A. Clippers, was recorded making racist remarks
and subsequently punished by the NBA commissioner, inspiring these two very different op-eds.

Lessons From Donald Sterling


n the controversy over racist comments
by Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los
Angeles Clippers, the black community
once again has provided the Jewish body
politic with a lesson on how to respond to
It is a lesson we can't seem to learn; we
are always ready to "turn the other cheek"
even though that is a Christian concept.
After the private remarks by Sterling
became public, black leaders applied so
much pressure with threats of boycotts,
protests, etc., that Basketball Commissioner
Adam Silver quickly banned Sterling from
pro basketball for life, fined him $2.5 mil-
lion and asked other team owners to vote to
force Sterling to sell his team.
Now, that qualifies for getting political
results and sending an unequivocal mes-
sage that bigotry will not be tolerated.
But the Jewish community when faced
with anti-Semitism — public not private
anti-Semitism — disseminates its boiler-
plate response, which includes a statement
that condemns such behavior as "unaccept-
able," usually delivered by the community's
spokesman on this issue, Abe Foxman,
Anti-Defamation League national executive
director. We may demand an apology, write

a few esoteric letters to newspapers, and
publish articles expressing "outrage:'
Consider the following:
• In 2006, the movie director Mel Gibson
spewed anti-Semitic slurs when stopped by
police, but aside from the usual, predictable
criticism, he suffered no other consequenc-
es. He is still making movies.
Nobody voted to bar him from
making films.
• Michael Richards, who
played Kramer on Seinfeld,
went into a tirade using anti-
Semitic slurs publicly also in
2006 yet he continued to play
his TV role, and even the star
of the show, Jerry Seinfeld, who
is Jewish, did not seem alarmed
about Richards' bigotry and
kept him on the show, which is
still being played in reruns.
• Delmon Young, then a Detroit Tigers
outfielder, went on an anti-Jewish rant in
2012 in New York and he "suffered" all of a
seven-day suspension.
Of course, there are countless other
examples of anti-Jewish bigotry that called
for forceful action by Jewish organizations,
but, unfortunately, the overall philosophy

seems to be "don't make trouble:'
(A vital point: the Gibson-Richards-
Young incidents were public while Sterling
revealed his racist views privately. A very
good case could be made that while the
comments are repugnant and ugly, Sterling
has a right to those views. He did not
discriminate against anyone or
impact anyone publicly. Where is
the ACLU on this one? But that's
fodder for another column.)
In Jewish politics, we can't
seem to get angry, even in the
face of the vilest insults. Indeed,
Hadassah, a few years ago,
adopted a policy to never engage
in boycotts even though Jews
continually support and join
the boycotts of others (the Civil
Rights movement, labor strikes,
etc.) We just don't do it when our
own interests are involved.
The ADL also publishes a much bally-
hooed study on the number of anti-Semitic
incidents each year. It has reported that
in 2013 such incidents dropped to 751
from 927 in 2012. Can anyone explain the
value of making any kind of judgment
on a total of 1,698 cases in two years in a

Los Angles Clippers owner Donald Sterling
talks to San Antonio Spurs owner Peter
Holt in May of last year.

country with a population of more than
300 million? This was a drop of 19 percent,
it was reported with some euphoria, but,
of course, when the numbers are so small
(thank heaven), the percentage up or down
will always be substantial.
Black organizations, to their credit, don't
worry about the number of racist cases
each year; they will attack bigots and launch
all their political resources if just one case
insults their race and sensitivities.
They don't waste valuable resources defin-
ing racism; they recognize it when they see
it. And one would think, after thousands
of years, we should be able to do so as well
without spending time, energy and valu-
able resources, as some organizations do,
on studies defining "different types of anti-
Thus, the question is: Will we ever learn?
Judging from history, a very long history, the
answer seems to be pretty clear: never.

Veteran West Bloomfield journalist Berl Falbaum

teaches news writing and media ethics at Wayne

State University, Detroit.

Donald Sterling Represents How Much Of America?


n 2008, as America was on the
verge of electing Barack Obama, I
met with Nobel Laureate and free-
dom icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In my conversation with Tutu, the
former chairman of South Africa's Truth
and Reconciliation Commission said
something that stood out. He said you
can remove racism by constitutional
means, but it can still remain in the
hearts and minds of people.
Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los
Angeles Clippers, embodies what Tutu
said, and it further shows that despite
efforts in improving where America was
decades ago to where it is now, a seg-
ment in this country still will not accept
an increasingly diverse America.
Consider this: Sterling owns the L.A.
Clippers, which has a majority of black
players, and he continues to make
money off the players whose perfor-
mances have increased the equity and
value of his team.
Yet, he says in a recorded conversa-
tion with his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, a
black-Mexican, that he doesn't like black
people in a conversation that would
make any conscientious person sick.
Of note in the tape, Sterling, who is
Jewish and, according to the Jewish
Daily Forward, born to Jewish immi-

grant parents as Donald Tokowitz, tries
to justify his racist views of African
Americans by telling his girlfriend that
there are "white Jews" and "black
Jews" and that in Israel, "the blacks
are just treated like dogs."
After his claiming that
"black Jews" are lesser than
"white Jews," his girlfriend
tries to put a moral lens to
his insanity and Sterling fired
back in defense of his racist
"We don't evaluate what's
right and wrong; we live in a
society. We live in a culture.
We have to live within that
culture," Sterling said.
Well, his America is no lon-
ger governed by a dominant
culture. We now have a melting pot.
To understand the history of slavery
and the Holocaust is to commit to not
return to that low point in human his-
tory. Apparently, Sterling considers
that history insignificant and is willing
to mortgage it on the altar of racism.
As someone who has been invited
to keynote functions of several Jewish
constituency groups like the Jewish
Council for Public Affairs, American
Jewish Committee, Jewish Community

Relations Council, etc., I know individu-
als in these groups committed to the
opposite of Sterling's world view.
President Obama addressed the
issue while on his Asia tour.
"When ignorant folks want
to advertise their ignorance,
you don't really have to do
anything; you just let them
talk," Obama said, noting
that this firestorm over
Sterling shows how "the
United States continues to
wrestle with the legacy of
race and slavery and segre-
The president noted that
the NBA has "an awful lot of
African-American players; it's
steeped in African-American
culture. And I suspect that the NBA is
going to be deeply concerned in resolv-
ing this."
Sterling remains one of the last ves-
tiges of racism and anti-diversity that
we still have to deal with in making our
society more tolerant. It is symptom-
atic of a long-standing problem: our
reluctance to discuss race openly and
to achieve meaningful diversity.
But the Sterling saga is a clarion call
to not only challenge the last struc-

tures of racism and intolerance that are
refusing to melt away, but also to work
to ensure that diversity is part of our
everyday lives.
I recommend that Sterling spend
some time reading the powerful and
incisive dissenting opinion of Supreme
Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor regard-
ing affirmative action and about why
we can't pretend as if race is just a
footnote in the continuously evolving
landscape where diversity is central to
the future of our society.
Beyond Donald Sterling, the ques-
tion remains: How much of America
still represents his racist views and his
moral turpitude?
No matter what happens, good
people continue to uphold and live by
the inescapable truths contained in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
which, among other things, asserts
that "every human being is born free,
equal in dignity and right."
This is my motto, and it prevails over
Donald Sterling's world view.

Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan

Chronicle. This is an excerpt from a longer edi-

torial that was published in that paper on April

30, 2014.

May 8 • 2014


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