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Racist Comments Reflect Ignorance of our Societial Values

I grew up in the 1960s and recall many arguments with my parents over the treatment of African-Americans in the U.S. The differences were not whether schools should be segregated or blacks should sit in the back of the bus or that businesses could refuse to serve black people. It wasn’t that blatant an offense that we disagreed about. It was the more subtle issues such as whether blacks were as capable as whites to make a success out of their lives and be contributing members of society or whether they could learn as well as whites or whether they have the same work ethic as whites. I tried my best to convince my parents that the differences they perceived which, in their minds, made blacks an inferior race were born out of a time when blacks were blatantly discriminated against. In other words, the mistreatment of blacks in America for so many years was the basis for thinking they could not accomplish what whites could. How could they at that time given their ability to progress and accomplish what whites had done was held down for such a long period of time.

The legacy of white folk treatment of blacks is marked by years of slavery in America. I believe discrimination still exists today and goes cuts deep into the very core of how we treat others. When I was growing up I remember some of my friends looked downward when a black person passed by or crossed to the other side of the street. This is the essence of racism and, today, we see it in stupid comments made by people such as Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA franchise Los Angeles Clippers.

In case you live on another planet, someone named V. Stiviano, who claims she was Sterling’s personal assistant (perhaps best friend/perhaps lover) taped a conversation with Sterling, presumably without his knowledge although her lawyer says otherwise, in which he made racist comments directed toward the legendary NBA player and über-successful business owner, Magic Johnson; comments that are insulting to all African-Americans and white people of conscience.

In the audio, Sterling tells Stiviano not to "promote" her relationship with black people or bring them to games after she posted a picture on social media with Magic Johnson. These comments reflect what is in Sterling’s heart – a disdain for black people in general even though they are the main reason he has become so wealthy through their on the court performance.

To make matters worse for Sterling, at least in my mind, from an ethical perspective he did not admit to making the comments or show any remorse for having done so. The essence of forgiveness is to admit one’s mistake, accept responsibility for the action, and promise never to do it again. Of course, even if he wants to say these things, and we all know he doesn’t, Sterling has lawyered up.

Forrest Gump famously said that “stupid is what stupid does.” How appropriate it is in the Sterling matter. To demonstrate his stupidity he added fuel to the fire when he said in an interview with DuJour magazine "I wish I had just paid her off."

As for Stiviano, she gave an interview to Barbara Walters in which she says that she thinks Sterling should apologize for his racist remarks. "Yes. Absolutely,” Stiviano said when Walters asked her during an exclusive television interview in Los Angeles.

"I think he’s highly more traumatized and hurt by the things that he said himself,” she added. “I think he can’t even believe or understand sometimes the thing he says, and I think he’s hurt by it. He’s hurting right now."

This is the height of hypocrisy. Stiviano asserts that Sterling did something wrong, which he did, in making the racist remarks but she doesn’t get it that her surreptitious taping also was wrong. I suppose in her mind the ends justified the means.

Stiviano’s lawyer is trying to sell the story that his client sent two snippets of the conversation with Sterling to a friend for safekeeping in case anything happened to her and the friend then released it without Stiviano’s permission. Of course the lawyer would not identify the friend. It didn’t take long for the lawyer to mount a defense for her his client based on “plausible deniability.”

This story gets more bizarre as additional facts come out. In March, Sterling’s (estranged or strange – you make the call) wife sued Stiviano for $2.5 million for gifts she allegedly received from Sterling including luxury cars and a $1.8 million duplex that has her name on the title. The whole story is like a bad soap opera: an old white man chasing a younger woman (by 50 years); a wife suing the alleged lover of her husband; the lover trying to cash in big time and get her 15 minutes of fame. I think Bravo should consider a new show, “The Stupid things People Say and Do in Beverly Hills.”

The only hero in this story is NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who fined Sterling $2.5 million and banned him for life from the Clippers and the NBA. Commissioner Silver also is seeking a vote of team owners, acting as the Board of Governors of the league, to force Mr. Sterling to sell the team.

Does the punishment fit the crime? Yes, but it also would be nice if we could go one step further and cut Sterling’s tongue out of his mouth so no racist, ignorant, and hurtful comments will ever be spoken through his lips.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on May 5, 2014

Professor Mintz teaches at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and also blogs at: www.workplaceethicsadvice.com

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