Beyond Donald Sterling, the Nation Faces a Larger Battle With Embedded Racism

The White Student Union "celebrates European heritage" during May Day demonstrations in Washington DC, May 1, 2013. (Photo: cool revolution / Flickr)

The White Student Union "celebrates European heritage" during May Day demonstrations in Washington DC, May 1, 2013. (Photo: cool revolution / Flickr)

Racism in the United States and its predecessor colonies has a long history, dating back virtually to the original founding of those colonies. In the North, it began in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with paternalistic attitudes towards Native Americans, which quickly degenerated into military aggression, forced removal/eviction, and eventually genocide. In the South of course, it began with the importation of the first slaves. During the course of the 17th century, slavery was justified by the artificially developed dogma of white supremacy, which quickly bred the twin dogma of racism.

The intellectual justification of slavery in the Southern United States was based entirely on the concept of white supremacy, as stated clearly by the Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate states of America:

"Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery - subordination to the superior race - is his natural condition."

I have written on a number of occasions about how the South won the Civil War. Certainly the spread of the dogmas of white supremacy and racism, central to Confederate thinking and to Confederate war aims, has come to infect virtually every corner of the United States. The latter has of course been directed not only at African-Americans, but over time at Germans, the Irish, Italians, Jews, Latinos, and so on and so forth. Indeed, the combination of racism and white supremacy is so powerful politically, that one of two major political parties runs on it (whether it wants to admit it or not). Thus there has and remains a perpetual conflict in our nation, on the part of many US, of many ethnicities, against those who hold to the twin dogmas of racism and white supremacy. And so we come to Donald Sterling, the present and possibly soon-to-be past owner of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise of the National Basketball Association. The story is well known and does not need retelling in any detail here.

What can usefully be considered is whether this outrageous tale might cause our nation to take a major step forward in dealing with the twin dogmas that so infect it and so inhibit its forward progress. What makes this episode any more "outrageous," a word that has been widely used to described the tale of the tape on Mr. Sterling's views on race as a dividing factor among US people, than the countless ones like it and much worse that have occurred throughout US history?

It really isn't, of course, but in history, which is about time and its passage, timing is everything. In the dialectical understanding of history and how it moves forward through time is the following concept. As in, believe it or not, quantum mechanics, change for the most occurs on the quantitative level. But every once in a while, a series of small quantitative changes are pooled together and a major qualitative change takes place. Just as US racism is just about as old as the colonies that preceded it, so, apparently, is Mr. Sterling's racism just about as old as he is (but no, I don't claim to know whether Mr. Sterling was a racist as a child and whether or not his parents were). The fight against racism in the US is just about as old as racism itself, and has won some battles, if not against the dogma itself, at least for its victims, from the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to the passage of the Civil Rights Acts. And the struggle continues now, mainly on the local level, led mainly by civil rights activists (the struggle against racism not being exactly at the top of, let's say, the Democratic Party's national agenda).

But suddenly there is this event that makes the struggle national, and brings into it, for the first time two powerful groups of people. First and foremost are the players of the National Basketball Association, a 70-plus percent African-American group, but apparently unified regardless of ethnicity (probable future Hall-of-Famer Steve Nash being prominent among the group that has been speaking on behalf of the players). This group, like its brother groups in the other professional athletic leagues, has not heretofore been prominent in fighting racism. But here they are, lining up literally and figuratively, demanding not only that Sterling be banned from the league for life, but that he be forced to sell his team.

Apparently the players, across ethnicities, were prepared to jointly boycott the play-off games scheduled for this past Tuesday night (which would have cost the teams, the NBA, and the TV networks a huge sum of money) had not the newly minted League Commissioner Adam Silver announced the life-time ban. Further, Mr. Silver made it clear that he wants Sterling to be forced to sell the team, a move by the League that cannot be made without a 75 percent vote of the other owners in favor. Presumably Mr. Silver would not have made such a statement if he was not confident that he could get the votes.

And so, what does this all mean? Could we quickly go back to racism/business as usual? Of course we could.

But maybe this episode will mark a step forward, where the battle with the central cancer of our nation will be taken to a new ground, with a strange alliance of a suddenly mobilized group of professional athletes not previously known for their militancy (to say the least), led by a former NBA great and now Mayor of Sacramento, CA, Kevin Johnson and the Coach/Senior Vice-President for Basketball Operations of the Clippers, Glenn "Doc" Rivers, and a suddenly mobilized group of mainly white owners whose eyes may have been opened to how truly damaging this national cancer is. Given the quick abandonment of the Clippers by many major advertisers, which could conceivably spread to certain other franchises, some are saying, "well it's all being driven by money." Well hey, that may be the case. But writing this is one long-time New York Knicks fan, who still remembers the day when the 1950s great "Sweetwater" Clifton broke the color barrier for my team (and finally gave us some size in the George Mikan era too), who says, if in this instance money can be a driver to make a major advance against white-supremacy/racism, then let's move forward against racism.