Racism is as harmful to society as Zika virus is to human body
I for one couldn’t be happier with the decision of the NBA to give LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling a lifetime ban. The recordings of his racist rants as well as his history of racial discrimination are distasteful, and I am being kind when I use that term. The man is entitled to his opinion, naturally, but the rest of us are entitled to react. That the NBA has decided there is no room in their organization for such a jackass is fantastic, and the swift and heavy retribution is apt.
But to tell the truth, most of us don’t have the kind of power the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver exercised in getting rid of this weapons-grade asshat. We have to make do with less direct means of dealing with the various -isms by which one person is wrongly treated by another. In my experience, which is a bit greater in this regard than I would like, the most powerful weapons in our arsenal are shame and mockery. Both have been on display in the sports world in the last few days, and they offer us a quick reminder of just how effective social pressure can be.
Shaming the racists, sexists, homophobes and their fellow travelers used to be rather difficult. These bigotries were socially acceptable not all that long ago. In my lifetime, an Alabama governor pledged, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” But thanks to a lot of hard work by people much braver than I, racism is not socially acceptable, except in the most backwards circles. Bigots now have to start with, “I’m not a racist but…” And that makes shame a very powerful tool.
Take the action of the LA Clippers at the game following the revelations of Sterling’s bigotry. Even if you have never been part of any kind of team, it’s easy to understand the pride the players take in being members of an NBA team. And so, when they came out for warmups before the game, they left their warmup jackets on the floor. They wore their red T-shirts emblazoned with the team logo inside out, hiding it. They were showing that they were ashamed of their team’s owner. In that one act, they forced the rest of the NBA to pick a side. Either you’re with the racist or you’re against him.
Now, I’m not so starry-eyed about this that I believe the NBA acted because of its offended moral sense. Sterling’s racism has been a documented fact for years. As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in TIME magazine, “He [Sterling] was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then?”
We should have been upset years ago, but the NBA finally acted because his bigotry was going to hurt the bottom line. The league is a profit-making venture. If bigotry turned it a profit, you could buy little black Sambo dolls at the popcorn stand. Kareem also wonders about the recording of private conversations, and I agree that we ought to be outraged by that as well, but that’s a different story.
Shame, in this case, worked beautifully. But there is also mockery. Bigots engage in their small-mindedness because they want to feel superior. Nothing undoes that quicker than mockery. There was a wonderful example of that in Spanish soccer almost the same moment the Clippers were warming up in their inside-out tees.
Dani Alves plays for FC Barcelona, one of the greatest soccer teams ever to take the pitch. He’s a Brazilian national, and he has some African ancestry. Now, I love soccer, and it bothers the hell out of me that there is so much racism among the fans even to this day. FIFA, the world governing body for the game, has struggled against it for decades. What happened when Barcelona played Villareal was not really unusual. When Alves was about to take a corner kick, some dickhead threw a banana at him. I’ve seen that happen before, and it’s disgusting.
What Alves did, though, turned the insult around. He picked up the banana, took a bite, and then took the kick. Well, the video of it went viral, and #weareallmonkeys blew up on Twitter. Fans around the world posted pictures of themselves eating bananas. The guy who threw the banana is now under arrest. Had Alves not done as he did, that guy would have gotten away with it — they usually do. Now, this bozo (which is Spanish for “bozo”) will face a judge and wind up in the newspapers, and not in a good way. I doubt he feels very superior now.