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Donald Sterling, the NBA and Racism

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Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, in a recorded conversation pleaded with a woman to not bring black people to Clippers games and to not publicize pictures she had taken of Magic Johnson, a black basketball all-star. Sterling's statements were made public by TMZ on Friday April 25, 2014 and within hours it seemed everyone had a comment. From NBA players like Michael Jordan to politicians such as the President of the United States, responding to a question during a press conference while he was visiting Malaysia, everyone had an opinion about the alleged racist rant by Sterling.

On Monday, the LA Clippers team had a silent protest against Sterling's racist words as they wore their warm up suits inside out. Both hard news and sports news shows were covering the story.

Everyone had a comment about the racist statements made by Donald Sterling. Then on Tuesday April 29, 2014, NBA commissioner, Adam Silver banned Sterling from the NBA, imposed a fine of 2.5 million dollars, and that he would endeavor to force Mr. Sterling to sell the LA Clippers team. Silver has the legal authority to do this, with the approval of the league's board of governors. There is pressure from civil rights leaders' such as Rev. Jesse Jackson to make Sterling sell the team as there is no place for racism within our society.

I am happy with the swift decision that has been made by the NBA. For this moment, it sends a message to the team, the players and everyone else involved that racism has no place within the NBA or anywhere in our society.

What concerns me is the way we handle racism in the workplace for the rest of the citizens or residents working here in the U.S. How often is racism accepted within our schools, communities, and living spaces? How often is racism accepted on television by certain highly rated shows such as "How I Met your Mother" and even "Stephen Colbert". Racism is encountered everywhere in our everyday lives.

Racism still exists within our communities. It comes in the form of privileges from those who are considered to be white. It comes in the form of disadvantage and discrimination for people of color. Racism rears its ugly head in many forms. Lives like Trayvon Martin, Vincent Chen and countless others have been lost to racism.

For the rest of us, it takes a long time to recognize that racism still exists within our communities, because it has largely gone underground. It comes in the form of discrimination which may have arisen decades ago and it has never been interdicted because it is subtle and "the way we always did things." It is generally innuendo which belittles the achievements, lives and activities of people of color. Institutional racism allows it to occur without the leaders and supervisors even recognizing that it exists.

Racism is a system that privileges some and disadvantages others, a system created in the past that continues to impact our present. Institutional racism occurs without the leaders and supervisors even recognizing that it exists. Within "the system" where one studies, works, or lives it is often difficult to fight racism.

Racism occurs in many forms that are not caught on tape or is not publicized in an honest fashion. So what happens to the rest of us who become victims of racism within the workplace, school, community and neighborhoods? Unfortunately, neither a legislature nor a court can act as swiftly as the NBA Commissioner Silver did with this case with Sterling.

It is very difficult to fight racism as one becomes afraid of retaliation, losing one's job, or losing one's position within society, because those who make use of it are careful to create an atmosphere of deniability. They can say, "That isn't what I meant." Or "I was misunderstood" usually with a cloud of witnesses who are willing to support the lie. The danger is that when sensational cases such as Sterling's situation arise, the everyday perpetrators of racism become more and more careful, and it becomes more difficult to identify and document. This is the challenge before us.

It is good the NBA responded swiftly in this particular instance. But more work needs to be done to address the racism which permeates much of our society today. It needs to be rooted out systematically so that ordinary people, institutions, structures are also called out and admonished. The lesson we can draw from this action by the NBA is to make it clear that racism has no place within our basketball courts, television screens, schools, workplaces and in our neighborhoods.

Without that which orients the human will and human values to something beyond self-interest, events like “Sterling” will not cease. However, can this situation inspire us to name racism we face, to build alliances, and to engage in the hard work of dismantling racism and building new ways of being community together based on mutual respect, shared power, and doing justice? Our very lives, and our life together are at stake.