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Sterling and…

April 29th, 2014
In the wake of Sterling's alleged recorded comments demonstrating his racism, major sponsors for the Clippers are now pulling out, and the NBA may be considering suspending Sterling for “conduct detrimental to the league.” Fans are boycotting the games and merchandise. The NBA could eventually put enough pressure on Sterling as to essentially force him to sell the team. People are comparing Sterling's remarks to Bundy's, but I see an even more appropriate comparison: Brendan Eich. Now, Sterling has been accused of institutional racism for years, most notably in two suits brought against him, one for housing discrimination (favoring Korean tenants over blacks and Hispanics), and one for pay discrimination. Both involved allegations of racist remarks by Sterling, but there was no definitive proof. His contributions to an array of minority advocacy groups may have smoothed over the ruffled feathers—enough, apparently, that Sterling was about to receive his second lifetime achievement award from the NAACP. How does this compare to Eich? Well, keep in mind that there was no firestorm over Sterling until the recording was made public. While it hasn't been positively proven as genuine, there is little doubt regarding its authenticity. And now pretty much everyone has started shutting down their relations with the man, leading to much harsher consequences than Eich suffered. Remember, there was relatively mild reaction to Eich—employees and users protested, and one company disallowed Mozilla's browser. In response to Sterling, however, fans are in an uproar, employees are protesting, virtually all sponsors are pulling out, and the league is probably going to get involved. In Sterling's case, we suspect that he was discriminating against minorities, while at the same time, we know he was helping them in other ways. The key point is that no great public outrage happened until there was evidence of a racist belief; the charges of actual discrimination have been around for years, and never sparked anything like what we see today. Eich is usually defended on the basis that only his beliefs are in issue—so how is that not equivalent? In Eich's case, however, we know that he not only believed that gays should be denied the civil right of marriage, but that he wanted that discrimination written into law. Not just applied to people he dealt with directly, but to one of the most populous and influential states in the country. Naturally, the two cases do not line up perfectly, but I find it hard to see how the reaction to Eich is unjustified if the reaction to Sterling is justified—unless you consider discrimination against gay people somehow more acceptable. One common response is that the discrimination against gay marriage was more popular, that millions of people voted for it. Is that supposed to somehow make it better? Tell me, if Eich had contributed to a bill that would have made it illegal for non-whites to get married, would the reaction have been different? Would it have been more OK if millions of people had sided with such a proposal?
An amusing side note: though Sterling was already drowning out the Bundy story, conservatives did not waste a minute pointing out that Sterling is a “Democrat donor,” and that “100%” of his political donations are to Democrats. See? Democrats are racist! And hypocrites! What they don't mention is that Sterling has been a registered Republican for the past 16 years. They don't mention that the donations to Democrats were made 22 and 24 years ago and amounted to all of $4000. They also do not mention that Sterling made a grand total of three donations to three politicians. Two of them—Bill Bradley and Patrick Leahy—were basketball players before becoming politicians. How about that. For all we know, the NBA or someone within the organization may have solicited the donations in order to garner support for the organization. The other donation was to a California governor. Sterling has not donated anything since then, suggesting that he is not exactly a political activist. In short, there is as much reason to believe that Sterling made the donations for pragmatic rather than political reasons. Not that I am surprised at the conservative attempts to frame Sterling as a Democrat; it's what conservatives do, especially when right-wingers are on edge about associations of such people with conservatives and conservative causes. Take, for example, mass shootings; whenever there is a notable mass murder involving firearms, there is a common assumption that these people are wingnuts, so conservative forums, web sites, and bloggers waste no time in labeling them as “Registered Democrats.” A recent viral email (which made it into letters to the editor as well) identified a half dozen infamous mass murderers as “Registered Democrats”: Adam Lanza was tagged as a “Registered Democrat” on nothing more than that Connecticut is a blue state. Lanza was said by people who knew him as politically conservative, and he was never registered to vote. Nidal Hasan, the (first) Ft. Hood shooter, was also tagged as a “Registered Democrat”—but lived in states where there was no registration by party affiliation. Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, was called a “Registered Democrat” despite the fact that he was not even a U.S. citizen and thus not eligible to vote. James Holmes, the Aurora theater shooter, was described not only as a “Registered Democrat” but also as staff worker on the Obama campaign, an Occupy Wall Street participant, and a progressive liberal. The voter registration was based on someone else of the same name. The other stuff is complete fiction made up by conspiracy theorists. Finally, while Columbine shooters Klebold and Harris were too young to vote, their families were identified as (you guessed it) “Registered Democrats” and progressive liberals. This claim was never substantiated; the families lived in a conservative suburb; and the boys' ideology was most marked by admiration for Timothy McVeigh. Which is not to say that they or their families were conservative, but rather to point out that what little evidence there is points in neither direction in any conclusive regard. Versions of the email also included “Timothy McVey” (presumably Timothy McVeigh) and the Unabomber. “McVey” is labeled as “Oklahoma City Bombing raised Democrat and pro-Union.” McVeigh was a registered Republican who also voted for Libertarian candidates. His father was a Democrat and a union member; to label McVeigh, his causes, and his inspirations as somehow influenced by ideological opposites simply due to family association is, to say the least, specious. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, is claimed to a “Registered Democrat and inspired by Al Gore's Book Earth in a Balance.” Kaczynski was neither Democrat nor Republican, but a rather specific breed of anti-technology anarchist, and wrote disparagingly of “leftists.” The Gore reference is based both upon a right-wing meme that connected Kaczynski's writings to Gore's book, and an unsubstantiated rumor in the conservative American Spectator that FBI agents had found a heavily notated copy of Gore's book in Kaczynski's cabin, but this was “suppressed” to avoid embarrassing the Clinton administration. In short, more conspiracy theorist crap. In short, just a whole lot more hooey. Not that one could expect much more from a viral right-wing email.

Categories: Race, Right-Wing Lies Tags: by
  1. Troy
    April 30th, 2014 at 11:02 | #1

    leading to much harsher consequences than Eich suffered

    nah, bball is a hobby for Sterling, Mozilla is Eich’s life work.

  2. Luis
    April 30th, 2014 at 12:34 | #2

    Hrm. Got a point there, I was focusing on the scale of the reaction rather than where the offender would land afterwards. If I could rewrite the paragraph, I would focus on the outcry and actions of others to the matter rather than the personal consequences of the person giving offense–it was more to my point, in any case.

    That said, it’s not as if Eich is going to be penniless and alone or anything. Created Javascript, co-founded Mozilla–something tells me he’s quite, quite wealthy. Nor is he necessarily forbidden from working with Mozilla in some way, or striking out on some new exciting project. So I would not really say his life’s work has been destroyed or even derailed, just transformed. Not that Sterling will be crushed either.

  3. Brad
    May 2nd, 2014 at 21:26 | #3

    > I find it hard to see how the reaction to Eich is unjustified if the reaction to Sterling is justified …

    That’s an easy one, Luis. Both reactions are unjustified.

    You know my opinion of the Eich thing. In some ways the Sterling matter has me even more horrified.

    Sterling committed no crime, no racist action. The laws of the land apparently kept him in check. In fact society and racial minorities appear to have been beneficiaries of Sterling (viz the NAACP stating “for the most part, [Sterling] has been very, very kind to the minority youth community”). Mob justice – mob vengeance – was completely unnecessary.

    And yet here we are. Once again the noisy mob is wreaking punishment on a man who has committed no crime. But it’s even worse this time. The mob is punishing a man for *thoughts* – a man’s *beliefs* – expressed in his *own home*.

    No-one is braying about the invasion of privacy. Or protesting the sale of the recordings by a girlfriend who swore she would ‘get even’ with Sterling and is playing the mob like a violin for her own purposes and (presumably) profit.

    The Eich thing worried me, in how it showed a citizen’s open participation in the political process in America can now apparently be resurrected by opponents out to settle a grudge (after they’d ‘won’) years later. How fear and suspicion could be used to damage a man’s career.

    But if you’d told me the mob would punish someone for politically incorrect opinions expressed in the privacy of his *own home* … well, I would have laughed and told you that the time of Orwell’s Thought Police was still a ways off.

    I’m not laughing now. This whole thing frightens and disgusts me. In a free country citizens are supposed to have a right to free speech, so surely it follows they also have a right to hold (unpopular) opinions? In *private* at the very least!? But not in America.

    You taught me a few years ago to be wary of giving people unfettered power, of the wisdom of sticking to the letter of the law to prevent gradual corruption of the system. It’s all too easy to see how things might drift further out of whack in the USA if people continue to stand back and allow mob rule, or rationalising excuses (“But it’s about homosexual marriage! Civil Rights! That’s an exception!”). Why wait years for the courts when a few tweets and a couple of Facebook posts can rustle up quick and easy ‘justice’? Or exact personal vengeance, as Sterling’s ‘girlfriend’ Stiviano has whistled up in this case? We want quick and immediate retribution in this internet age! The law takes too long! And we know better!

    Free speech? Sure, you can go ahead and make a comment. But concerns about being ‘shown the door’, as per that xkcd cartoon, will be the least of your worries. No, you have to instead be continually on your guard for blazing torches and pitchforks materialising outside your home – or job – for daring to employ that most basic of rights. Either now or – as in Eich’s case – years in the future.

    > That said, it’s not as if Eich is going to be penniless and alone or anything. Created Javascript, co-founded Mozilla–something tells me he’s quite, quite wealthy. Nor is he necessarily forbidden from working with Mozilla in some way, or striking out on some new exciting project. So I would not really say his life’s work has been destroyed or even derailed, just transformed.

    That’s not your call, Luis. I can understand how you would like to believe this – you initially had trouble ‘crossing the line’ and lending your support to the lynch mob after Eich, so I imagine you’d like to minimise the damage done, dreaming that “something tells you” that everything is all right, blowing away his troubles as being “just a transformation”. But you can’t scrunch up your eyes and pretend real hard that you’re in his shoes and make assumptions as to how he feels. If *I* were to indulge in your game and play pretend I’d point out that the CEO post is the very top of that career path, now forever out of Eich’s reach. He had ambitions and a plan that were wrecked due to a noisy group of people sore at his opposing them six years earlier and who wanted payback. Or – if you want to be generous – acted out of fear, condemning the man for imaginary crimes, for what he *might* do. The wrong action, and the wrong motivation, either way.

  4. Brad
    May 9th, 2014 at 07:30 | #4

    Hello Luis.

    I see that my week-old comment on this stopic is still ‘awaiting moderation’. Have you forgotten to let it loose?

    Regards, Brad.

  5. Luis
    May 9th, 2014 at 09:07 | #5

    Brad:

    My apologies, the moderation system here is imperfect–the notification went to the spam box for some reason.

    Once again the noisy mob is wreaking punishment on a man who has committed no crime. But it’s even worse this time. The mob is punishing a man for *thoughts* – a man’s *beliefs* – expressed in his *own home*.

    I see what you mean, but there are some conditions here which I think are relevant to the situation.

    First, I do not agree that saying or doing something in the privacy of your home somehow shields you from consequences. For example, if I were at home with a friend, and said something insulting about another friend, and the first friend later reported it to the second friend, I could not very well defend myself by saying that it was spoken in privacy at home. That would not matter. I might be pissed that someone made my private utterances public, but that’s between me and the person who spilled the beans. Once public, I can’t say to others that nothing matters simply because I thought it would remain private.

    Which brings up the second point: the reason for the reaction. You seem to be holding this to the standards of legality, which is not relevant in this case. The consequences are social, not necessarily legal (though it may have bearing in future lawsuits, though that would mean the evidence is handled differently). Here, the situation is not based upon law, but rather is a matter of public reaction.

    In a free country citizens are supposed to have a right to free speech, so surely it follows they also have a right to hold (unpopular) opinions? In *private* at the very least!? But not in America.

    You are making the same error that we see many conservatives making about free speech: that somehow the right to free speech means that you are protected from public reaction to your speech–which is not at all the case. Free speech means that the government cannot punish you. It does not mean that you suffer no reaction publicly. You have every right to hold unpopular opinions. You have no right to expect others to like you or want to have anything to do with you because of those opinions. While I would respect you for not shunning someone for their personal opinions on the grounds of principle, neither would I disrespect you if you broke up a friendship upon learning that the person was a flaming racist. As for the utterances being private, people did not react to where something was said, but rather who the person is, what kind of person they are. As in the case of my private remarks on a friend being related to that person, the location is not relevant. My friend will resent me no less if I insulted him behind his back.

    Which brings me to the third point: are the reactions against the person justified? Are people justified in punishing a person for their beliefs?

    Legally, no. Socially, yes. The specific consequences depend on who it is. If this were Joe Sixpack who worked at the mill, what would the consequences be? He might be shunned by his friends, which would have an impact on his life, but that’s what happens when you make a social faux pas. What if his employer disapproved and he lost his job? Many would object, and there might even be legal ramifications, though many jobs today are “at will” and firings for almost any reasons are legal. I personally hate that idea and think such a firing should not be allowed. However, the likelihood that people in the area would lobby for Mr. Sixpack to lose his job at the mill is pretty much nil.

    However, neither Eich nor Sterling were average people. One was in a leadership role, representing a company, where public and employee reactions can adversely impact the organization, making it impossible for the person to serve. The other was the role of a businessman who depended upon public support for the business to be viable. Like it or not, public reactions are very relevant in such cases–otherwise, boycotts would always be reprehensible. They are not considered so. In addition, Sterling put himself in a position where his peers had the power to fine and ban him, and since their businesses depend upon public support, they reacted in self-interest–but also without impropriety, within the bounds of how the system is set up to work.

    So I would not really say his life’s work has been destroyed or even derailed, just transformed.
    That’s not your call, Luis.

    Not mine alone, no. I cannot dictate who is CEO of a company or who owns a basketball team. But these are businesses which depend upon customers to purchase their product, and if people dislike the face on the brand, that will have a real impact on the business. That’s how it works. As I have pointed out, public reactions do hold weight, whether you like it or not. That’s the world we live in. If these are beliefs that we hold as protected–such as which god you do or do not believe in–then public excoriation is not justified. Had we learned that Sterling was a Wiccan and people didn’t like that, well, people might not have bought tickets to see his games, but a public boycott would be considered highly inappropriate, and moves by the league itself might even be illegal. Expressing irrational hatred of race or sexual orientation, on the other hand, is not a protected belief in our society.

    Not to mention that in both cases, there were real-world implications. Eich had tried to deprive an entire class of people of their civil rights; describing this as “open participation in the political process” is kind of like describing the practice of slavery as “participation in the free market.” While technically correct, it ignores the moral component involved. That this was joined by millions of others does not make it any less harmful to the group whose freedoms were being threatened. We don’t give people a pass on discrimination simply because it was popular or recent. Sterling also had legal charges, lawsuits concerning discrimination. As I pointed out, none of these were legally conclusive, but Sterling’s beliefs could very much have an impact on his actions toward others. In both cases, the beliefs of the individuals were not confined to their own minds, but potentially could impact the well-being of a great many people.

    You taught me a few years ago to be wary of giving people unfettered power, of the wisdom of sticking to the letter of the law to prevent gradual corruption of the system. It’s all too easy to see how things might drift further out of whack in the USA if people continue to stand back and allow mob rule, or rationalising excuses (“But it’s about homosexual marriage! Civil Rights! That’s an exception!”).

    I would be interested in knowing which post(s) or comment(s) in particular you refer to in order to know precisely which principle I was expounding upon and how you are interpreting it (was it about political power, legal power, or the influence of public opinion?), but your mention of “unfettered power” is debatable in this case. As I mentioned, you seem to be conflating legal and public here. Neither Eich nor Sterling were in a court of law. No government power was in play. As for “mob rule,” there are questions as to whether or not public reaction has the right to influence such things, and how far those reactions may go. Eich was not thrown out by a mob, he resigned due to public pressure. Is that never appropriate? As for Sterling, he was ousted by the league under terms he agreed to abide by. Was the league wrong to do this, considering that their interests were threatened in a very real way by the revelations about Sterling?

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