Not Pleading the Fifth

Of all the reactions to Donald Sterling, I liked President Obama’s most of all.

“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance,” said the commander-in-chief upon being asked his take, “you don’t really have to do anything—you just let them talk.”

I couldn’t have put it better or more succinctly myself.  In many ways, that is all that really needs to be said about the episode to which we refer.  At any rate, it would certainly be nice to think so.

As a non-fan of the NBA, I didn’t know who Donald Sterling was until this past weekend.  Now that I do, I wish I still didn’t.

For those who have managed to remain blissfully unaware until now:  Sterling is the longtime owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, and is on record as being a blithering, racist thug.

In the audio of a conversation with his then-girlfriend, recently obtained by the ever-illuminating TMZ, Sterling says, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” later adding, “You can sleep with [black people].  You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want.   The little I ask you is not to promote it on that…and not to bring them to my games.”

This plea was apparently triggered by an Instagram photo the woman uploaded, which depicted her with some black guy by the name of Magic Johnson.

An official statement by the Clippers insists that “what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect [Sterling’s] views, beliefs or feelings.”  While that may be true, it is nonetheless consistent with pretty much everything else Sterling has ever said, according to various sources who have had the misfortune of hearing him talk over the years.

Which begs the question:  If Sterling does not think himself racially prejudiced, why do racially prejudicial sentiments seem to so consistently emanate from his mouth?  Isn’t there an old saying, “If it looks like a racist and quacks like a racist…”?

As such, I think President Obama’s aforementioned assessment is instructive, and it directs us to the fairly reliable truism that, given enough time, a stupid person is just as likely to reveal his stupidity on his own, unprompted, as he would under some sort of interrogation.  People’s most repulsive opinions can only be suppressed for so long before they come blundering out, in all their wretched glory.

Confirmation of this (in case anyone needed it) came at roughly the same time in neighboring Nevada in the form of one Cliven Bundy, the Tea Party flavor of the week, whose widely-circulated (and illegal) claims to graze cattle for free on federally-owned land somehow gave way to his musing about whether black people’s socioeconomic problems occur “because they never learned how to pick cotton.”

“I’ve often wondered,” added Bundy, “are [black people] better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”  When asked to clarify, Bundy only proved capable of digging himself into an even deeper hole.

Of course, the media and the rest of us shine a light on cretins like Bundy and Sterling primarily for comic relief.  We might all say and do things of which we are not especially proud, but once you hear somebody start a sentence with, “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro”—well, you begin to feel quite a bit better about yourself.

Yet there is at least one way in which we should take this ridiculousness seriously, and that is to ask:  So long as ignorance of this sort continues to exist in our culture, would we prefer that it be kept hidden by those most acutely afflicted by it, or should we be grateful for the way it tends to spill out into the open for all to see and hear?

I must say I am rather glad that so many of our most despicable citizens seem so incapable of concealing what they really think about various minority groups.  I think it is just as well.

I would prefer that we be made aware exactly who the idiots among us are, so that we then know in which direction our public shaming campaigns should be directed.

As well, having all the cards on the table should give reassurance to the 90-plus percent of us who feel patronized whenever a “national conversation about race” is proposed, that the idea is not completely without merit or necessity.

However regrettably, you see, some problems cannot be worked around.  They can only be worked through.

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