Public more interested in scandal than discrimination
Donald Sterling remarks blameworthy, not surprising
The mainstream media has had a nearly two-week run with the Donald Sterling story, stocking public ire and lambasting the beleaguered billionaire.
The Los Angeles Clippers owner became embroiled in controversy recently after TMZ released overtly racist comments recorded by his (presumably now ex-) girlfriend. The remarks have been widely denounced. Last week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Sterling would be banned from NBA events and would be charged $2.5 million. The besieged tycoon was subsequently forced to sell the team.
The punishments have been widely supported by the public, according to a study by The New York Times. The leak itself has been criticized, however, as a breach of privacy, with fellow NBA owner Mark Cuban opposing the forced sale and Donald Trump opining Sterling's former mistress was "the girlfriend from Hell" for recording the conversation.
There is something to be said of divesting an individual of private property for private comments and the ethicality of a girlfriend egging on those comments. The statements deserved swift reaction, regardless of how they came out.
What is more troubling, though, is that action was not taken sooner.
Since the recording of Sterling lamenting his girlfriend's acquaintance with other African Americans, cries of him being "a racist" have circulated ubiquitously. Yes, he is a racist and his statements were appallingly discriminatory. But this was not a surprise.
The reaction from the NBA came just days later - the reaction was strong, but too late.
Sterling's most recently criticized remarks were not his first instance of expressing racism - and not even close to the worst. They were words, after all. It is worth revisiting Sterling's more shocking and substantive instances of racism, which went all but ignored by the media and public.
The U.S. Department of Justice sued Sterling in 2006 on charges of housing discrimination. A full eight years before his media chastising, Sterling remarked that blacks "attract vermin" and Latinos sit around and "drink all day."
The statements were at least as reprehensible as his latest, and his actions - disallowing minorities in his rental properties - were far more destructive to people's lives than some private racist ranting.
But they went all but unnoticed. Sterling did not lose his team then. He was not rightly ridiculed.
Sterling has similarly been sued for employment discrimination based on race - again, public and mainstream media failed to take note. Perhaps if TMZ did a "gotcha" piece of that, the story would have been different.
What is different about this latest instance is not the seriousness of what he said or how reprehensible the obvious racism was. The media, and then the public, picked up on the issue as a scandalous event, a secret revealed by a private recording.
The story was more sensational, more shocking for the TMZ-driven culture than Department of Justice cases. A mistress of a billionaire records a private conversation that is then leaked to a celebrity-culture website - the story had star potential from its advent.
What was ignored before points to a lack of critical perspective that is necessary in our media - it is indicative of a culture that cares more about scandal than race.
That might not be worse than Sterling's statements, but it is far from excusable.