"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, April 28, 2014

On Donald Sterling and the Thought-Crime of Racism

I hold no brief for Clippers' owner Donald Sterling who has been vilified over the weekend because of racist comments he made during an argument with his then-girlfriend that were recorded by the girlfriend and then released to TMZ.com, a sleazy gossip website.   I don't know him and what I do know of him suggests that I probably wouldn't like him very much.   But a few additional facts seem important, to me anyway:
  • Sterling is 80 years old.   I.e. from a generation that may have habits of thinking about race that are difficult to break.   I.e. also at an age where he may or may not have some signs of dementia.  
  • The ex-girlfriend is in the midst of a lawsuit with the Sterling family.   I.e., she has motives to sully his character.  
  • The ex-girlfriend is herself of mixed-race.  I.e., his racism apparently doesn't extend to who he chooses to date.  
  • The ex-girlfriend is much younger.   I.e., much of his diatribe has to be discounted as angry jealousy.
  • Sterling's racist rant, interestingly enough, did not include any use of racial epithets.   I.e., no "N" word.
  • Sterling's rant seems to be comprised mostly of asking the girlfriend not to post pictures of herself with black men, because Sterling had been teased about it by a friend of his.   I.e., Sterling may be in part just reporting the racism of another person.  
  • California makes it a crime to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation.   See Cal. Penal Code § 632.    I.e., Sterling was the himself the victim of a crime.  
  • Sterling hired one of the first black GMs, Elgin Baylor.
  • Sterling hired the Clippers' current coach, African-American Doc Rivers.
  • Sterling has received awards from the NAACP.
  • Sterling is a liberal Democrat.
Look, like I said, I hold no brief for Donald Sterling.   But these facts suggest to me that the situation is more complicated than simply putting a big Scarlet "R" on his chest and thenceforth forevermore shunning him from society.   Does anyone really want to live in a country where you are read out of civilization because of something you said in private during an argument with your lover?   Where you get a lifetime ban from your business because of something you said in a private conversation?


And if that's the case, the next time an NBA player or NFL player is charged with an actual crime (and not, like Sterling, a "thought-crime") such as, oh, beating up their wives or girlfriends, will the same punishment apply?    Because I for one happen to think that beating up your wife or girlfriend is a more serious crime than saying a mildly racist comment in a private conversation.  

So, I guess here's where I come out.   I like to think of myself as a Christian.   If Donald Sterling sincerely asks for forgiveness, he should be forgiven.   An old man who said the wrong thing in an argument with his young girlfriend is to be pitied, methinks, not demonized.


  1. I thought enforcement of "thoughtcrimes" was a fearsome thought to all educated folks. I thought too much I think.

  2. Racism is ugly. Yet, education is the way to fight racism not punishment. Also, "thought police" in a society is as ugly as racism. Darkness cannot drive out darkness - only light can do that.