Skip to main content

Bias vs Bigot: Cuban is no Sterling

By Michaela Angela Davis
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michaela Angela Davis calls Cuban's comments clumsy, but tepid next to Sterling's
  • Cuban, she said, acknowledged inherent prejudices while Sterling denies them
  • Sterling's character was formed in an America battling the birth of the Civil Rights era, she says
  • Davis: It pays for Sterling to be racist, so it would be better for him just to own up to it

Editor's note: Michaela Angela Davis, a writer and activist, was the executive fashion, beauty and culture editor at Essence, editor-in-chief of Honey magazine and fashion director for Vibe magazine. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- I am encouraged by Mark Cuban's clunky remarks.

Granted, when Dallas Mavericks owner made statements about prejudice and Donald Sterling, they were insensitive and ironic.

"If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it's late at night, I'm walking to the other side of the street," he said in an interview on inc.com, triggering fresh painful images of Trayvon Martin. He went on to say if he saw "a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos" he'd do the same thing.

The irony is many members of the NBA are black, several white players have tattoos and many of them likely have a hoodie hanging in their lockers. However, Cuban was willing to be self-reflective in his attempt to voice his bias and made mistakes in that effort -- that is critically important to advancing our public discourse on the complexities of race in America.

Michaela Angela Davis
Michaela Angela Davis

I don't think anyone can disagree at Cuban's basic premise that we all have some level of prejudice or bias. Yet what rouses emotions to a call for action is the most destructive and violent strains of prejudice, bigotry and racism.

What we witnessed in the Donald Sterling interview with Anderson Cooper was not him trying to have an honest conversation about bias like Cuban; what we saw was a bigot in denial arguing his case to keep his property. That property otherwise known as the LA Clippers is slipping from him.

Commissioner Adam Silver said Donald Sterling violated the NBA constitution and is confident the league will be able to force Sterling and his wife to sell the franchise.

Sterling has lost his legacy and will be forever known as a disgrace to the NBA and an icon of ignorance. At this point, the best way Sterling could change the way he'll be remembered in history is to come clean. "Hi. My name is Donald Sterling. I am a racist. I need help."

It's been said the worst thing to be labeled in America is racist.

But why the worst? It certainly is not the most unnatural thing to be, especially if you're from a certain era or region. American history is steeped in racist institutions, ideology and imagery. Being a racist in America isn't the lowest, actually it's highly probable.

Donald Sterling has proven to be an all-star racist and he is part of an American legacy.

Shelly Sterling to handle Clippers sale?
Was there a Sterling scandal cover-up?
Could a cover-up add to Sterling's problems?

All men are created equal: An enlightened philosophy, yet a near impossible practice. Our revolutionary road towards equality is long, bloody, littered with hypocrisy and utterly beautiful. What makes this country great is not its perfect walk to freedom for all, but its commitment to paving the way mile by painful imperfect mile.

Racists are not always hateful or uneducated -- they are complicated, resistant, underdeveloped people, often the product of complex, cruel, greedy times and institutions.

The brutal business of slavery in the U.S. is older than its Constitution. The Declaration of Independence was drafted during the height of the transatlantic slave trade while also slaughtering millions of indigenous Americans. It's complicated.

How can America expect its citizens not to be conflicted? The foundation of our mighty agricultural economy was built on the international institution of slavery. Strong black bodies were bought and sold to perform specific work, which they were able to do with superior efficacy. The extraordinary physical capabilities and the impressive capacity to adapt and innovate of black men (and women) made many white men very rich for many years.

Donald Sterling is not so singular, not some ancient artifact -- he has built his wealth on an old successful American business model. He is not alone or fully to blame for his racist mentality. The belief that the best use of black and brown people is to serve, labor, produce and entertain is part of America's long history and continues to this day.

There are obvious metaphors connecting antebellum plantation operations to Sterling's comments about his ownership of the LA Clippers. However, we don't have to look as far back as slavery for support for why his being a racist isn't shocking.

Donald Sterling (born Donald Totowitz) was born in 1934. Brown v the Board of Education was in 1954. Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 and the landmark civil rights decision in Loving v the State of Virginia happened in 1967. Sterling was an adult with a character and morals already formed before the arrival of the civil rights movement. The movement happened but it's naive to believe the whole country would move with it. Sterling lived and flourished during legal, government sanctioned discriminatory and racists policies.

Wealth for the privileged white male can create a power buffer against the messy work of civil rights. Clearly Sterling is a shrewd businessman. So if there were no obvious or immediate benefit for him to have an awakening of equality, why would he? It pays for Sterling, and has for many others, to be racist.

To declare, "I am not a racist" while clearly communicating racist beliefs is actually the worst. Adding insult to ignorance, Sterling said "I am not a racist" countless times during his interview with Anderson Cooper, alternating it with some of the most racists statements heard in mainstream media this century.

Proclaiming, "I am not a racist " while proving your racist ideology is more insulting and more dangerous than actually being racist. Denial is more diabolical than ignorance. It prevents the possibility of education and evolution. It would be far more encouraging if the next Sterling would just come out say. "Yes, I am a racist".

Or during the inevitable awkward public apology, instead of the expected and lame, "If I offended anybody I'm sorry," be courageous, admit it: "What I said was racist and I am sorry." Now that would be progress.

It's also time for America to be really brave and take full responsibility for its racist past and current racist practices. To stop clutching its proverbial pearls every time one of our neighbors or leaders or landlords exposes their racist education. Our collective denial is stalling our advancement to a more perfect union.

Donald Sterling is accomplished and educated, so one can only imagine the beliefs of the scores of less fortunate and underexposed. Numerous white supremacist groups are thriving right in our back yards. They too are citizens stuck in time, pathetically clinging to a bitter romanticized past where America was ruled solely by white males.

Racists or people holding racist beliefs have to stop being cowards, face their racism and be willing to recover so we can all can get down to the better business of creating a land of the free home of the brave. Being a racist is not the worst. Lying about it, denying it and refusing recovery is.

Admitting racism may very well be the first and critical step to actually ending it.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT