"Race in America is always an inflammatory, volatile thing," chirped NPR sports commentator Tom Goldman on this morning's "Morning Edition. Goldman was sounding off to David Greene on the woes of Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, who expressed himself too candidly on matters of race in a private phone call.
The word "always" apparently now means, "for the past 40 some years of government race-baiting and media-induced stupefaction." Once upon a time, people could say, even in public, pretty much anything they thought or felt about ethnic and religious groups. Not that racial aspersions were a big part of American conversations. I never heard a single ugly word from my parents. My father dealt with innumerable black ballplayers and had a black employee, whose weekly antics he always forgave. Of their Jewish friends, I never heard a peep of disapproval, though my father did observe that his New York Jewish partner was disliked by his Southern Jewish relatives who found him "pushy."
Besides, until the race-baiters took over our country, there were better things to talk about than racial sensitivity. Today, it is all there is. Everybody probably remembers the joke about the class of international students to whom the teacher assigned a paper on the elephant. The German wrote on "the taxonomy of the elephant," while the Frenchman wrote on "the sex life of the elephant." You can fill in the blanks until you get to the Jewish student who wrote an essay entitled "The Elephant, and the Terrible Problem of Anti-Semitism." Today we could extend the joke with gay, transgender, African-American, Latino students who are required to look at the world with lenses designed to magnify their own importance.
It used to be possible to escape the racist-sexist-transgenderist media obsession by reading the sports page, but over the past 30 years sportswriters have increasingly devoted themselves to the really important issue of more funding for the women's sports that no one watches and to the perverse refusal of team-owners to hire more black quarterbacks, baseball pitchers, and managers. You see, owners and managers are so bigoted that they would actually prefer to lose than to hire minorities. It is a good thing I long ago learned to take no interest in sports. Professional sports are for men what soap operas are for women: semi-erotic fantasies of bliss and fulfillment.
The response to Sterling's gaffes on tape has been a rhetorical frenzy among the namby-pambys of our ruling class. Pundit after pundit after celebrity after poltico have weighed in on the greatest act of wickedness since the conviction of the Scottsboro Boys. Racism, we are told everyday, is the greatest crime in the history of the human race, and when the FBI informant Klansman killed three Gentiles thinking they were Jews, the media-heads were demanding that he be accused of a hate crime, as if racism were worse than murder. I believe it was George W, when faced with a similar outcry, who said he thought it was enough to execute a killer without wasting time on penny-ante charges.
Reading Oprah's hysterical response—WE'RE NOT ON THE PLANTATION—I was reminded of a fairly prominent bigot I used to know. He worked on Capitol Hill and liked to hang out at the South African Embassy. One evening during a reception at Embassy, he was waxing eloquent on his favorite topic. One member of the embassy staff, getting a little bored with the subject, remarked, "So, God and race, that is pretty much it for you?" The racialist fanatic responded with disgust: "S---w the Lord, race is the whole ball of wax." Thirty-five years ago, I found the remark funny—a characteristic of an obsessive personality. Now it is everyone on both sides of every question. Racists can be very boring, because in their monomania they reduce the richness and complexity of human life, but anti-racists are even worse. The racist is content to divide people into categories he likes or does not like, while the anti-racist is always sniffing the wind for hints of deviation. I have heard of psychotic anti-Semites who claimed to be able to smell Jewish blood in someone passing for a Gentile. Mutatis mutandis, they might be Eric Holder.
The only thing that is surprising in this case is that anyone could reach the age of 80 and still think he was safe in speaking his mind in the privacy of his own home. It is bad enough that the IRS is persecuting anyone who did not vote for Obama and the NSA is spying on everyone else, but now one has to worry about false friends and professional lovers.
That is the story no one seems to be interested in. With all the blather going on, it was easy to miss one piece of intelligent commentary from a highly unlikely source: Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks. While deploring etceteraetcetera Sterling's insensitivity (etceteraetcetera), Cuban pointed out that the abhorrent etcetera remarks were made in the privacy of Sterling's own home. To use private remarks as the basis for forcing someone to divest himself of his property, "that's not the United States of America," and added "In this country, people are allowed to be morons."
One might go a good deal further. The rent-a-girl who ratted out her rich benefactor has done something that is not only unethical but illegal. Taping people without consent and then using the tape for personal gain is the only criminal act that has been committed. Why isn't Ms "Stiviano" or rather Ms Perez—under arrest or at least denounced in the media?
I am surprised that no black nationalist has tried, so far, to rev up the anti-Semitism that is so prominent in "the community." Donald Tokowitz—"Sterling" is just one name for the god he has worshipped all his life as ambulance-chasing lawyer, aspiring slum-lord, and the discriminating property owner who refused to rent to blacks in Beverly Hills. If Tokowitz were smart, he'd claim to be a Holocaust survivor or the child of Holocaust survivors. Then we'd have a sensitivity duel—and may the worst man win!
No one seems to care that Sterling is a disgusting old rake who pays the nasty young thing with whom he cheats on his wife. NBA owners were willing to hold their noses and endure his stench until he became victimized by a designing floozie. Now they have banned him for life. A lifetime without the NBA? He should consider himself lucky.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.