RACISM REBOUNDS TO TRUMP THE TRIVIAL
I want to breathlessly report that racism has taken a hit in rich white guy America. This is good news, especially for big-time professional basketball players, who selflessly manned the barricades to express their outrage at racist babbling from Donald Sterling, an octogenarian billionaire team owner, to his mixed race girlfriend. Now, I am all in on this. It is really important to stamp out racism in the ownership club of professional basketball. Assuming that only a handful of the owners of the thirty teams in the NBA actually harbor racist thoughts, getting at that group would reduce the rich white guy racist count in the NBA by somewhere around 10 people. If word spreads to the country clubs and gated communities that these guys inhabit, maybe additional rich white racists might at least rethink the wisdom of blabbing about much of anything to their girlfriends.
However, and unfortunately, it really doesn’t matter very much if the National Basketball Association takes a stand against racism if that stand is limited to shallow self-interest and the cause recedes now that Donald Sterling has been ostracized. In the same week in which the headline-grabbing events involving Sterling and his girlfriend were the talk of the nation, the US Senate was pathetically unable to find the needed sixty votes to bring a bill raising the minimum wage to the Senate floor for legislative consideration. Moreover, less than a month ago, the US Supreme Court shamefully undermined affirmative action programs, and it has been less than a year since that same Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. None of these events garnered more than passing public and media interest, yet each is truly critical to any discussion about racism in America.
The newly-sanctimonious rich white team owners and the rich black players they own had been and continue to be silent on these critical issues while beating their chests about showing some rich octogenarian moron the door. That the basketball hoopla far transcends meaningful discussion about racism in America is a big part of the problem. It is surely not part of the solution. Those offended black basketball players had nothing to say about affirmative action, about the Voting Rights Act, or perhaps most pointedly, about the pathetic wages paid to the stadium servants, hotel servants, and restaurant servants who add richness to their pampered lives. They had the nation’s attention, flexed for the cameras, and then they went right back to shilling overpriced shoes to poor kids.
For reasons far beyond my comprehension, US media and public obsession with celebrity allows us to trivialize the impact of real problems on real people. Just listen to the patter about how “far we have come” when we call out a fool. Then pay close attention to the silence about real racism and real poverty and their relationship to each other. Wasn’t it great to see those basketball players all lined up in protest? But protesting what, that a phone call gone bad might have had a negative impact on their lives. How great would it have been if they had lined up to protest the lack of a fair wage for low-income workers, a disproportionate number of whom are minorities? Maybe they could even have threatened not to complete the playoffs unless Senate Republicans permited a vote on raising the minimum wage. That would be something to behold. That might make the rich white guys think that a new day is dawning – a day when rich white guys can’t buy off rich black guys with a trivial gesture, a day when rich black guys stand up for poor black guys.