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“A Cinder In The Public Eye”: Clarence Thomas Says Black NBA Players Give SCOTUS A Reason To Gut Anti-Discrimination Law

On Thursday, the Supreme Court saved a key interpretation of the Fair Housing Act—a historic 1968 law that prevents discrimination in the housing market—by ruling in a 5-4 decision that a complaint does not have to prove a policy was overtly or intentionally discriminatory to be valid. It upheld the “disparate impact” standard, which allows complainants to show a policy led to unequal results, no matter the original intention.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision, penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He argued that “disparate-impact doctrine defies not only the statutory text, but reality itself.” To make his case, Thomas pointed out that minorities sometimes do quite well. His examples: The Jews in Poland and, in America, the success of black professional basketball players.

Racial imbalances do not always disfavor minorities. At various times in history, “racial or ethnic minorities . . . have owned or directed more than half of whole industries in particular nations.” These minorities “have included the Chinese in Malaysia, the Lebanese in West Africa, Greeks in the Ottoman Empire, Britons in Argentina, Belgians in Russia, Jews in Poland, and Spaniards in Chile—among many others.” “In the seventeenth century Ottoman Empire,” this phenomenon was seen in the palace itself, where the “medical staff consisted of 41 Jews and 21 Muslims.” And in our own country, for roughly a quarter-century now, over 70 percent of National Basketball Association players have been black. To presume that these and all other measurable disparities are products of racial discrimination is to ignore the complexities of human existence.” [Legal citations omitted].

Thomas continues:

And if that “racial balancing” is achieved through disparate-impact claims limited to only some groups—if, for instance, white basketball players cannot bring disparate-impact suits— then we as a Court have constructed a scheme that parcels out legal privileges to individuals on the basis of skin color.”

Sports was a popular example for the dissenting justices. Justice Sam Alito, who wrote a separate dissent, cited the NFL to make a slightly different point:

 Of the 32 college players selected by National Football League (NFL) teams in the first round of the 2015 draft, it appears that the overwhelming majority were members of racial minorities […] Teams presumably chose the players they think are most likely to help them win games. Would anyone say the NFL teams made draft slots unavailable to white players “because of ” their race?

This is the same court that crippled civil rights legislation two years ago by striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.


By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, June 25, 2015

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Clarence Thomas, Discrimination, Fair Housing Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Rich, Still Different From You And Me”: We Still Treat Them As Though Their Feelings About Money Are Similar To Ours

When the news broke that Los Angeles Clippers owner and creepy racist misogynist billionaire Donald Sterling would be banned from the NBA for life (perhaps resulting in him selling the team) and fined $2.5 million, a lot of people probably said, “$2.5 million? The guy’s got a couple of billion dollars! Why not give him a fine that’ll hurt?”

Frankly, I think any fine at all is a little strange in this case. We usually think of fines as punishment for violations of some rule or law, not as a response to someone just being a horrible human being (though there could well be some clause in the the secret NBA owner bylaws about behavior that reflects poorly on the league). The ban, on the other hand, seems perfectly appropriate, even if when he sells the team he’ll net a few hundred million dollars on his original $12 million investment. But the fine—and the weird fact that he was about to get a “lifetime achievement award” from the  NAACP for his contributions to the welfare of black people—remind us that although the super-rich have a fundamentally different relationship to money than the rest of us, we still treat them as though their feelings about money are similar to ours.

Here’s what I mean. Back in the day (and maybe still, I’m not sure), when the United Jewish Appeal was soliciting contributions, they used to tell people, “Give till it hurts.” The idea was that if your contributions hadn’t actually had an effect on your life that you could feel, you could still give a little more. But for someone like Sterling, it would be almost impossible to give till it hurts, whether it’s a contribution to the NAACP to get people off his back about those pesky discrimination lawsuits, or a fine from the NBA.

This reminded me of a memorial service I attended a few years ago with a few hundred other people for a billionaire who had just died. All the speakers discussed how moving and inspiring his generosity was, and he had indeed given away hundreds of millions of dollars to a variety of worthy causes. But all the encomiums to his extraordinary character as evidenced by his financial contributions had me shaking my head. He could have given away 99 percent of his fortune and still lived like a king. It wasn’t as though, when he signed a $10 million check, he said to himself, “Well, no going out to dinner this month.” He still had a bunch of homes, a staff to attend to his every need, and pretty much anything he wanted, even if he had parted with half his assets before he died.

To a billionaire, contributions that make people stagger with gratitude are meaningless, no different from tossing a quarter to a beggar. A billionaire who wanted to undertake a truly inspiring act of generosity would give away all but, say, $5 million of what they had. I don’t remember hearing of a single case in which someone did that. And as it happens, poor people actually donate a greater proportion of their income to charity on average than rich people do.

Of course, the NAACP wasn’t going to give Donald Sterling a lifetime achievement award because they were actually bowled over by his generosity and wanted his lifetime of service to inspire others, but because it’s good fundraising practice. When someone gives you a bunch of money, you have to flatter them, tell them how much you admire them, give them a handsome plaque. And lots of the super-rich are narcissistic or insecure enough that when they make a large contribution they want to see their names on the side of the building, so everyone knows how wonderful they are. Likewise, the NBA isn’t fining Sterling $2.5 million because that amount will make him reflect on what a jerk he is and lead to a change in his outlook on the common threads joining all of humanity, but because it sounds to the rest of us like a sizeable number, so they look like they’re serious about delivering a serious punishment. But Sterling won’t even feel it.

On the other hand, given that he is now one of the most (rightfully) hated men in America, he may have a slightly harder time finding women in their twenties who’ll agree to screw him if he buys them a car. Or at least we can hope.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 30, 2014

May 1, 2014 Posted by | Donald Sterling, Plutocrats | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Words, Ideas, Actions, And The Tangle Of Race”: Sometimes Language Isn’t Really The Problem

We seem to be having one of those moments when a series of controversies come in rapid succession and make everyone newly aware of the relationship between language, ideas, and actions. And naturally, it revolves around our eternal national wound of race.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to see that in a few of these controversies, we aren’t actually arguing about what words mean. This is often a focus of disagreement when somebody says something that other people take offense at; for instance, when Paul Ryan said a few weeks ago that “[w]e have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities, in particular, of men not working, and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of the culture of work,” conservatives believed he was being unfairly tagged as racist for using a common phrase, while liberals objected to the connection between the word and the idea that followed. There’s nothing racist about the term “inner city” in and of itself, but when people say it they are usually referring to urban areas where black people are concentrated, and when you then describe a pathological laziness that is supposedly prevalent there, then you’ve said something problematic.

But when Cliven Bundy offered his fascinating thoughts on the state of black America, people weren’t appalled because of his use of the outdated term “Negro” in “Let me tell you another thing about the Negro.” It was what came afterward. He could have said “Let me tell you another thing about the African-American,” and it would have been just as bad, and not only because he was about to paint all members of a race with the same ugly brush. (Cliven, it’s safe to surmise, would never say “Let me tell you another thing about the white,” because the idea that all white people are the same in some fundamental way would be ridiculous to him.) To conservatives’ credit, they got this immediately and ran away from Bundy as fast as they could, even if there was still plenty to criticize about the fact that they embraced him in the first place.

And then there’s Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner who has apparently been caught on tape telling his “girlfriend” (I put that in quotes because there’s just no way to even think of a relationship between an 81-year-old billionaire and a 31-year-old model type without being seriously repulsed) that he doesn’t want her publicly associating with black people, putting pictures of her with black people, or bringing black people to his games, despite the fact that we’re talking about an NBA team here. Even weirder is that the black person in question is Magic Johnson, one of the most revered and beloved sports heroes of the last half-century or so.

A statement released by the Clippers said: “Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life.” Which is the kind of thing you say when there’s a dispute over the interpretation of a word or phrase. We all say things we don’t exactly mean sometimes, or say something in a way that can be misinterpreted. But when you go on and on about how you don’t want people to know that your “girlfriend” hangs out with black people, that’s hard to misinterpret. And so, no one is defending Sterling. Some ridiculous conservatives have tried to make the case that since he donated money to a couple of Democrats a couple of decades ago that this is yet more evidence that Democrats are The Real Racists (Michael Tomasky vivisects that here), but not even many of their compatriots are going to bother with that.

As Jay Smooth points out, it’s interesting that Sterling’s longstanding and widely known record of racist actions, like trying to keep blacks and Hispanics out of rental buildings he owns, weren’t enough to generate calls for him to get booted from the NBA, but some racists words were. Despite all our arguments about the ambiguities of language, it’s his language—or, more properly, his ideas expressed through language—that everyone can agree on. And there wasn’t a racial slur in his conversation, as though he knows which words are OK to use and which ones aren’t, but he still thinks it’s OK to express racism toward black people, so long as you just call them “black people.”

Which brings us back to Paul Ryan. McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed has a piece out today about Ryan that features this exchange:

At one point, as he tells me about his efforts during the presidential race to get the Romney campaign to spend more time in urban areas, he says, “I wanted to do these inner-city tours—” then he stops abruptly and corrects himself. “I guess we’re not supposed to use that.”

His eyes dart back and forth for a moment as he searches for words that won’t rain down more charges of racism. “These…these…”

I suggest that the term is appropriate in this context, since it is obviously intended as an innocuous description of place. He’s unconvinced, and eventually settles on a retreat to imprecision: “I mean, I wanted to take our ideas and principles everywhere, and try for everybody’s vote. I just thought, morally speaking, it was important to ask everyone for their support.”

Ryan is laboring under the misimpression that all he did wrong before was use the term “inner city,” and if he banishes that term and any other dangerous ones from his vocabulary, then everything will be cool. Sorry, Congressman—it’s not so easy.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 28, 2014

April 29, 2014 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Far More Sinister”: Donald Sterling Is Not Cliven Bundy, He’s Much Worse

It is tempting to compare racists. That’s especially true when you look at what’s happened in the last week, when two white men—Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling—have drawn massive and warranted scrutiny over abhorrently racist remarks. Those lines are already being drawn.

Cliven Bundy’s story is well-known by now. The Nevada rancher, who had become a cause celebre among some conservatives for fighting the federal government over overdue grazing fees, went on a rant last week about “the Negro,” suggesting that life for black Americans may’ve been better under slavery.

Donald Sterling’s case is more complicated. An audiotape released to TMZ late Friday night purports to reveal the Los Angeles Clippers owner berating his mixed-race girlfriend for bringing Magic Johnson, a black former NBA all-star, to Clippers games and for posting a picture of him on her Instagram account due to his skin color. On Sunday, Deadspin released the full, unedited recording, which gets much, much worse.

More than just the comments, what’s really astonishing here is what pulls these two men apart: While Cliven Bundy is just a rancher, Donald Sterling is a massively powerful, wealthy, and influential man. What’s hard about Sterling’s case, and what makes it completely different from Bundy’s, is that it reveals that even at the top of one of America’s proudest, most diverse institutions, an abject racist can still pull the strings.

Cliven Bundy owes the federal government slightly more than $1 million in fees. Donald Sterling owns a basketball franchise that’s valued at well over $500 million. Bundy may’ve had his moment in the media spotlight, but Donald Sterling has been firmly ensconced in wealth and power for decades.

Of course, the actual comments allegedly from Sterling aren’t really a surprise. Sterling has a notorious history here, whether it’s settling for nearly $3 million in a case over racial discrimination at apartment buildings he owns, or heckling his players from his courtside seat. Or the detailed racial-discrimination lawsuit brought against him by Hall of Famer and former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor. Or Sterling celebrating Black History Month (which is February) with a March Clippers game featuring limited free tickets for “underprivileged children”—because, you know, black = underprivileged.

The problems with Sterling’s power aren’t lost on NBA players. The NBA, as Charles Barkley said Saturday on TNT, is a black league. African-American players made up 76.3 percent of the league as of last June. For all players in the NBA, Sterling’s ownership sends a message. “The thing is, [Sterling] is probably not the only [owner] that feels that way,” Portland Trailblazers all-star Damian Lillard said Saturday. It’s very hard to imagine what it’s like for black players on the Clippers to pull on their jerseys and play for a man who appears to detest them. It’s very hard to imagine what it’s like for black Americans anywhere to work under the same circumstances. Undoubtedly, there are plenty who do daily.

“The United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race, slavery, and segregation,” President Obama said Sunday in response to Sterling’s alleged remarks. “And I think that we just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it.” So far, it seems like that’s coming. While Sterling’s past actions have largely been swept under the rug by the NBA, there’s some reason to be optimistic about the league’s new management, although it’s still not quite clear how much Commissioner Adam Silver can do. And by calling on the help of former player and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the NBA Players Association has a proven ally on its side (and all you political watchers out there: file away that name).

It’s been an unbelievable week for the NBA. The first week of the playoffs saw seven consecutive games within one possession of victory in the last 10 seconds. It’s been a showcase for new stars (looking at you, John Wall), and for old dudes who just won’t give up (hi, Tim Duncan). But for all of those amazing things, everything that should’ve added up to the best week for the league in recent memory has been overshadowed by an 80-year-old, seemingly repugnant man. Unlike Cliven Bundy, and barring extreme NBA intervention, Donald Sterling will only go away when he’s well and ready, and he’ll likely do so with a big check in hand.

The defining image of this last week in the NBA should have been Vince Carter’s buzzer-beating game winner for the Dallas Mavericks, or Kevin Durant’s absurd four-point play for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Instead, it’s of the Los Angeles Clippers players taking the court in Oakland on Sunday, black and white, their warm-up jerseys turned inside-out, black armbands on their wrists, trying to figure out how to keep themselves together in the face of a power that belittles them, that oversees them, that owns them.


By: Matt Berman, The National Journal, April 28, 2014

April 29, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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