LA Clippers' Donald Sterling and the future of racism

It’s apparently been a banner week for those who enjoy writing about racism in American culture. Hot on the heels of the dust-up over recorded comments by Cliven Bundy (still under dispute in various forums) we now have a an alleged recording of some rather blunt statements by LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. A tape has surfaced which allegedly contains inflammatory comments he made to his ex-girlfriend.

TMZ has released audio of the owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers franchise, Donald Sterling, making racist comments in a conversation with a former girlfriend (click above to listen). It’s not immediately clear how the tape surfaced, though its provenance almost surely involves the ex-gal pal. As TMZ summarizes the contents:

This is already prompting calls for the league to relieve Sterling of his ownership position. The transcript is available at the TMZ link above, so there’s really no point in embedding it all here. Before going any further, though, it’s worth noting that the Clippers’ home office has initially denied the authenticity of the tapes. It also merits mention that the ex-girlfriend in question has already – again allegedly – lifted some serious cash from Sterling and the antipathy between them could be a factor, at least until the authenticity of the tapes is settled once and for all.

But the Sunday morning talk shows were all over this, being quick to draw comparisons between Sterling and Bundy, as well as the overarching story line of racism being alive and well in America and in need of additional government attention during election season. This is very common, but even if you accept the accusations against both men at face value, they may provide a useful example of a different message.

What do Bundy and Sterling have in common? First of all – aside from the obvious fact that they are white – they are old. And I don’t mean old like me… we’re talking really old. And second, each in their own way are old men who live in a form of isolation. Bundy lives in a geographically isolated, rural region. Sterling lives in the rather insular world of the very wealthy. They also come from a different generation, growing up among attitudes which were common beyond notice in their day but which would probably shock many people today. Without going into graphic detail, I’ll just say that I can relate to that, being raised by a member of that same generation in a rural, farming area.

I contrast this with much of what I see today and at the risk of offending all of the usual race card players in the political arena, I have to say that people who live in the same bubbles being describe here are dinosaurs, and the world has largely moved on and left them behind. Anecdotally, I recently attended a conference of conservative writers in DC with a number of young, aspiring activists. They and their friends painted a very different and multicultural picture than that being described in these stories. Groups of all colors and both genders were working together and not only was it not strained or tense, but race and gender differences didn’t even seem to be noticed.

I’ve noticed the same thing hanging out with a couple of my nieces and nephews – twentysomethings working in a variety of fields. Their circle of friends is such a diverse mix that they could be the cover photo of a progressive magazine. Questions of racial differences seem to be a foreign concept to them. This is not to say that there aren’t any areas where more segregation exists along community and economic lines, but we seem to be raising a generation of young adults who simply don’t fall into these old pigeonholes and are more interested in the joint challenges they all face in today’s society.

Is actual racism completely dead in America? No… I’m not saying that. But from the looks of things out on the street it’s dying a natural death. I wouldn’t read too much into the comments of septuagenarians who grew up steeped in a different culture.

UPDATE: (Jazz) As is being pointed out repeatedly in the comments, there are two other items of interest. One, Sterling is up for an NAACP lifetime achievement award. The second is that he is apparently also a significant Democrat donor. One has to wonder how much that will tamp down the media coverage of this story.

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David Strom 3:31 PM on November 30, 2022