In our zeal to appear righteous or courageous or free of bigotry, a ratings-pleasing mob hell-bent on revenge turned Donald T. Sterling -- a victim of privacy invasion and white supremacy -- from villain to martyr.
In a society filled with impurities, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers committed the crime of speaking impure thoughts in the privacy of a duplex he apparently provided for his mistress. And now an angry, agenda-fueled mob provoked NBA commissioner Adam Silver into handing Sterling a basketball death sentence.
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWhen private conversations become public, it's important to react with logic and not emotion.
On Tuesday, just 72 hours after the release of Sterling's Pillow Talk Tapes by TMZ, a rookie commissioner imposed a lifetime ban on a flawed man whose rights were violated.
Mob rule is dangerous. Well-intentioned, TV-baited mobs are the most dangerous. They do not consider the consequences of their actions, and they're prone to take a simple-minded, instant-gratification approach to justice rather than a strategic one.
Removing Donald Sterling from the NBA solves nothing. It sets a precedent that will likely boomerang and harm the black players and coaches who are shocked and outraged that an 80-year-old man with a documented history of bigoted actions also has bigoted private thoughts.
Let's be careful here. From the owner's box to the locker room, professional sports are overrun with wealthy men in complicated, volatile sexual relationships. If TMZ plans to make "pillow talk" public and the standard is set that "pillow talk" is actionable, it won't be long before a parade of athletes joins Sterling on Ignorance Island.
A right to privacy is at the very foundation of American freedoms. It's a core value. It's a mistake to undermine a core value because we don't like the way a billionaire exercises it. What happens when a disgruntled lover gives TMZ a tape of a millionaire athlete expressing a homophobic or anti-Semitic or anti-white perspective?
Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who called for Clippers fans to boycott Game 5, seems quite vulnerable to mob rule. Jackson is super-religious. He's previously been extorted by a stripper he kept as a mistress. And some of the LGBT community views Jackson as homophobic.
The conversation revolving around Donald Sterling is unsophisticated, and so was the heavy-handed punishment. They're driven by emotion rather than logic. It does not serve the greater good of the offended black community. Sterling is a scapegoat. He is an easy target, a decoy so that we do not address the elephant he walked into his mistress' bedroom.
"We don't evaluate what's right and wrong," Sterling is heard telling his black-and-Latina mistress when she asked if it was right to treat black as less than white. "We live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture."
Sterling adheres to a pervasive culture, the hierarchy established by global white supremacy.
"I don't want to change the culture because I can't," Sterling says. "It's too big."
This was Sterling's one moment of clarity. The culture of white supremacy created Donald Sterling. He did not create the culture.
Much of what Sterling said on the tape is a rambling mess that can be interpreted many ways by sophisticated, mature and objective ears. To my ears, he doesn't care that his mistress has black friends. He doesn't care if she has sexual relationships with black men. He's married. They're not in a monogamous relationship. He simply does not want her extracurricular activities, particularly when they might involve black men, flaunted at his basketball games or all over Instagram.
This conversation, while grotesque and abhorrent, is not remotely unique or limited to old white men. My father was hood-rich, good-looking and a playa who enjoyed the company of a younger, kept woman. Many of his friends had similar tastes. Their private conversations about dating could sound every bit as abhorrent and grotesque as Sterling's. I've heard young black men and women engage in equally grotesque and abhorrent private conversations, particularly when their feelings are hurt or they feel betrayed.
No. The substantive meat of Sterling's Sex, Lies and Audiotape is his point about the culture that created his worldview. He is adhering to the standards of his peer group. He is adhering to the standards of the world he lives in. It's a world inhabited by all of us. It's a culture that shapes everyone's worldview on some level. It fuels the black self-hatred at the core of commercialized hip-hop culture, and is at the root of the NAACP's initial plan to twice honor an unrepentant bigot with a lifetime achievement award.
White-supremacy culture is created, maintained and run by rich white men, Sterling's peers. He is the longest-tenured owner in the NBA. Former commissioner David Stern had multiple opportunities to run Sterling out of the league for his bigoted actions. Sterling's peers have always protected him ... until he had the audacity and stupidity to be caught on tape explaining the culture they maintain.
It's comical to watch the well-intentioned mob circle around Sterling as if his unintended transparency says nothing about his peer group. It's equally comical seeing this issue framed as a "black issue," with black people running to suggest ways to clean up Sterling's mess.
White people should be wearing black socks, turning their T-shirts inside out, protesting outside the Staples Center. This is their culture, their Frankenstein. Or maybe they agree with Donald T. Sterling.
"I don't want to change the culture because I can't. It's too big."
It's also too beneficial. It's too comfortable.
Well-intentioned white people should be holding nationally televised panel discussions focusing on ways to lessen the damaging impact of white-supremacy culture. Well-intentioned white people who work within or support the NBA should be demanding that the NBA power structure cede some of its governing power to men and women who look like the overwhelming majority of the league's players.
Instead, the mainstream fanned the flames, enraging the angry black mob looking for a quick solution, a sacrificial lamb -- and now, by the end of the week, we'll be back to business as usual, pretending the stoning of Sterling harmed the culture that created him.