The trial and execution of Donald Sterling has been swift and sure, leaving the talking heads crowing about doing the right thing. The problem is, just like Police Chief Bull Connor in the ’60s, Sterling is an easy target; it takes no effort to decry overt racists, the kind who mutter racist drivel or point fire houses at the innocent.
What would be interesting – perhaps even civilized – is if these same talking heads took aim at the insidious racism that permeates American society, the kind of racism that is shrugged off, such as the fact that while the majority of players are black (78%), the majority of coaches (53%) and general managers (60%) and vastmajority of owners are white (96%). While many of these owners might be vaguely beneficent, none are looking to surrender ownership of the plantation any time soon.
This capitalistic wall is the very same issue that grounded Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 when he switched his sights from the blatant racism of the south to the economic racism of the north. It wasn’t a direction that the white politicians and business leaders took kindly too but was a problem quickly and violently solved.When the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies joined the NBA in 1995, the U.S. media was startled to learn that both organizations hired black men as managers – Stu Jackson (Vancouver) and Isiah Thomas (Toronto). This wasn’t much of a story in Canada because these guys knew basketball – one came from the NBA’s Head Office, the other from the championship Detroit Pistons – and that was all there was to it. However the story in the U.S. ran, sadly, like the Sterling story runs today: NBA Serves Justice.Too bad the same can’t be said everywhere else.
Sometimes I think about what might have been if Martin Luther Ling Jr. had not been assassinated in 1968. He might have led the Poor People’s March on Washington that summer and advanced the cause against economic discrimination. He might have advanced the cause for ending the war in Vietnam earlier; indeed he might have become a senator, even president. He might have established a very different course on foreign policy – no wars in Kuwait, Afghanistan or Iraq, genuine aid offered in the Balkans, Rwanda, Syria…
A very different domestic policy – restraints on the rich, opportunities for the poor…Perhaps even understanding and vision for our environment.
Much hoopla has surrounded the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, so much of it reveling in the historic words of Martin Luther King Jr. And yet, as iconic as those words and images have become, there must remain a distinct bitterness not only because a second march on Washington, The Poor People’s March of 1968, failed, but because deep-seated racism – the economic and back room sort – has remained as strong as ever. Martin Luther King Jr. made a most remarkable speech the night before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968, remarkable not only for its eloquence and intelligence but for his understanding of what lay ahead. “(W)e are asking you tonight to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola…not to buy Sealtest milk…not to buy Wonder Bread. (W)e must kind of redistribute that pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies…Now not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis.”
Occupy Wall Street’s failure is nothing new.
The problem is that people – that’s you and me – just don’t care that much about helping each other, that action is only galvanized by violent images of oppression, never by the root of the cause.
The violent imagery from Birmingham (1963) that helped galvanize the Civil Rights Movement.
“And so just as I say we aren’t going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around.” The sad thing is that Martin Luther King Jr. was wrong about that; injunctions do turn everyone around because the enemy isn’t the physical acts of oppression but the insidious inaction of indifference.