One of the most fascinating things about the Internet is the way it uncovers how many bigots lie in our midst every day. Especially since most of my columns are centered on the tender subjects of race and class, a quick scroll to the bottom of the page here or here or here (nope, it’s not just the philly.com that serves as venue space for digital Klan meetings), and you can see what I’m talking about. It’s not just about your standard differences in opinion; it’s a fundamental belief system that, as the late great Michael Jackson once said, is “too high to get over, and too low to get under.”
The fact that bigotry generally hides in plain sight is one of the reasons LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling is such a fascinating oddity, a walking, talking, living relic of just how staunchly committed a certain type of person can be to their indefensible racism and prejudice. His absurdity was laid bare in his recent interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, where he said he was not a racist and that he was with Cooper “to apologize and to ask for forgiveness for all the people” he hurt.
Minutes later: “Here is a man who acts so holy,” he said of Magic Johnson, the man featured in the photo with Sterling’s friend V. Stiviano. “I mean, he made love to every girl in every city in America and he has AIDS.”
AIDS, that Sterling says he “prayed for.” AIDS (though it’s actually HIV) that causes Sterling, the repulsively oblivious racist, to question Johnson’s merit as a businessman … and as a person.
“Is he an example for children? … Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself. I think he should go into the background,” Sterling posited, without a hint of irony or self-awareness. Much of Sterling’s remarks centered on Johnson and the conversations that they had once the story broke, a diversion tactic if I’ve ever seen one.
Hearing the defiance in Sterling’s voice, I could do nothing but sit back and laugh and wonder how anyone, anywhere could think that post-racialism is anything more than a fairy tale and how accustomed we’ve grown as a society to the coded language of hate. So accustomed, in fact, that we prefer it, because we cannot be responsible for the things we don’t hear. When bigotry is subjective, it becomes someone else’s problem, you see.
Sterling’s comments are shocking, for sure, but they’re not altogether surprising. After all, a quick scroll to most “comments” sections on the web (or a quick look in my spam folder — Hey, to Phillymag.com reader Ron Spivak) shows the type of disgusting vitriol that lies in wait, waiting for an opportunity to bubble over, and burn us all.
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