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Donald Sterling and Mark Cuban: Jim Crow and Jim Crow Jr.

The nation has been abuzz in discussion over the recent remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The billionaire’s racist comments were made public via a secretly recorded conversation he had with an assistant or girlfriend. The popular belief is that she is his girlfriend who taped him making the racist comments to extort money from him. Essentially, Sterling did not want his girlfriend to be seen publicly with African-Americans. To a large degree, he espouses a professional and social segregation.

To Sterling, it is OK to own a basketball team where African-Americans are laborers, but you do not socialize with them in public. He does not view African-Americans as equals in his professional life or in his social life. As a result, he wants his girlfriend to adopt the same viewpoints. Ironically, she was OK with the idea though she claims to be an African-American Latina.

Without going into details, the past actions of Sterling are disgusting and his recent audio recordings and interviews are abhorrent. No doubt, the man is a racist. That is, he has the power and resources to act on his prejudices and bigotry. Unsurprisingly, he has a defender in another white billionaire owner of an NBA franchise. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, did not openly defend Sterling, but did say it was a “slippery slope” to punish someone for having undesirable thoughts.

Cuban thought it was too much to take away the team from Sterling because of what he thinks.

Why would Cuban risk his relatively good reputation in this instance by defending someone most of America has panned, ridiculed, and exiled? Because he holds similar beliefs. Yes, in a May 21 interview, Cuban confidently stated that we all have “prejudices and bigotries.” He spoke about us all living in glass houses and that we need to catch ourselves when we act on our prejudices and bigotries.

He even offered an example of how he deals with his. He said when he sees a “Black kid in hoodie,”  he crosses the street. Not to be perceived as a racist, he balances one racial prejudice with another. He said when he sees a white man with a bald head and “tattoos all over his face,” he then walks back across the same street.

While the nation was in a tizzy over Sterling’s remarks, not many were upset about what Cuban said. In fact, some commentators like Charles Barkley and Stephen A. Smith of ESPN defend him. They, like many others, consider Sterling’s comments worse than Cuban’s comments.

The episode brings to mind Jim Crow and Jim Crow Jr. Jim Crow is overt, state-sanctioned discrimination against African-Americans. Jim Crow Jr. is covert, state-supported discrimination against African-Americans. Both are bad though conventional wisdom holds that senior is worse than junior. Like with Jim Crow, many knew of the injustices, they just did not care or they benefited from them.

Like with Sterling, many spoke out against what he said, but not nearly enough spoke out against the comments of Cuban. Donald Sterling has a sequel. He is Mark Cuban aka Donald Sterling Jr.

In my opinion, Jim Crow Jr. is more damaging than Jim Crow. It is also my opinion that Donald Sterling Jr. is more harmful to society than Donald Sterling (senior). Yes, Mark Cuban’s remarks are worse than the comments of Donald Sterling.

Note the false equivalency. It does not have to be a Black adult to scare Mark Cuban, just a Black kid. He does not fear a white kid in a hoodie. He only fears white men with bald heads and “tattoos all over his face.” Statistically speaking, he is afraid every time he goes to and from an NBA game, since undoubtedly he will come across Black kids in hoodies, some his own players. When will he come across a white bald-headed dude with tattoos all over his face? My guess is never.

Statistically speaking again, Black kids in hoodies are victims more often than they victimize others. I am not even going to discuss police brutality visited upon Blacks or how poorly they are treated in the educational system. Moreover, crime statistics show that Blacks do not harm whites as often as whites harm other whites. In dollar amounts, white and white-collar crimes damage more lives than the crimes committed by Blacks.

Cuban said that we all have prejudices and bigotries. That is not in dispute here. The intent of his comments is not the issue, but the consequences of his comments are. The insidious nature of his comments is that he encourages people to act on those prejudices and bigotries. He thinks it is reasonable to fear a “Black kid in a hoodie.” Yes, that means you, the Black valedictorian in a hoodie. While you are just a teenager, you scare the bejesus out of Mark Cuban, so if there are others who fear you, then they should act accordingly. Yes, that means you, the little Black kid dressed as Mark Zuckerberg on Halloween. You instill more fear than a serial killer.

Seriously, Sterling’s comments and Cuban’s comments are apples and oranges. Sterling made his comments privately and he was not suggesting that the public or society follow what he does. While  his views were ugly, they were a reflection of his thoughts. Mark Cuban made his comments publicly, doubled down on them, but did suggest people act according to their prejudices and bigotries.

Cuban’s comments were ugly and a reflection of his thoughts, his behavior, and a prescription for how others should behave. When people with power and resources, like these billionaires, act on their prejudices and bigotries, we call it racism. Cuban provided cover and a justification for racism.

Indeed, as Jim Crow Jr. is worse than Jim Crow, Donald Sterling Jr. is worse than Donald Sterling.

Dr. Maruice Mangum is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas Southern University.


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