Item: Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the NBA Clippers, while speaking with his mistress/girl friend/ escort in the bedroom, announces that he doesn’t want her bringing black men to Clippers games. In the process, he does not say anything specifically derogatory about African- Americans. He believes the statement is private, and that he is talking to someone he could trust.He was wrong. A recording of the conversation was leaked to the press, and Sterling has been roundly vilified as a vile racist, threatened with a boycott by the players, mostly African-American, in the NBA, fined 2.5 million dollars and banned from the game.
Item: Via Mike Wise, Washington Post sports writer—
“Following Wednesday’s Pacers-Wizards game in Indianapolis, during the time when NBA rules permit media members to be present, the music blaring in the Indiana locker room was filled with vile language: racist, homophobic and misogynist. Afterward, I complained on Twitter that if Commissioner Adam Silver truly wants an inclusive league, he ought to address this (common) practice.”
Result: Wise, who is white, was attacked as a racist. What NBA players listen to in the locker room is none of his business, he is told (but what Donal Sterling says in his bed room is their business.) The NBA has done, and is expected to do, nothing.
Item: Appearing on ESPN where he is a commentator, Charles Barkley, former NBA star (and an African-American), decided to deride the women of San Antonio, Texas as fat. “There’s some big ‘ol women down there,” said Barkley. “That’s a gold mine for Weight Watchers.” He added, “Victoria is definitely a secret. They can’t wear no Victoria’s Secret down there.” A spokesperson for a fat acceptance group protested:
“Making slurs about body size is just as offensive as making comments about body color. One would think being a black man, he’d be more sensitive to having his physical body criticized. It’s totally out of line. He should absolutely apologize.”
Barkley not only refused to apologize, but defiantly challenged anyone objecting to his remarks, jokes or future comments to “change the channel.” Nobody expects Barkley to suffer any consequences from this series of events.
Item: In 2007, talk show provocateur Don Imus got into a facetious discussion with a broadcast team member about how te women’s basket ball team from Rutgers was “rough looking” and had some “nappy-looking ho’s.” He also referenced Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” and the film’s “Jigaboos vs. Wannabes.” Imus apologized profusely, pronouncing the exchange inappropriate, thoughtless and stupid. Under pressure from various civil rights groups, WFAN, which produced his show, fired Imus, who has never regained his previous prominence.
Item: In 2013, media professional Justine Sacco tweeted a race-based joke before boarding a plane to Africa: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” A furious cyber mob condemned her as a racist, and demanded her punishment. When she landed in Africa, she learned that she had been fired.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today is…
What the hell is going on here?
All right, this isn’t a typical quiz, but I have to wonder how long rational, fair-minded citizens can tolerate this. How can these situations be reconciled with consistency, transparency and fairness, or the United States of America? Black athletes endorsing sexist and racist music is a matter of choice and privacy, even when reported in a major newspaper, but private conversations between a couple in a bedroom is grounds for massive penalties and vilification? Publicly denigrating a largely Hispanic population as fat is acceptable by a black commentator, but a white man publicly joking about a black women’s basketball team is sufficient provocation to wreck his career? Or are consistency, transparency and fairness irrelevant to the question, and whether a single bigoted statement condemns one to horrible, life altering consequences depends on…one’s color? Celebrity? Socioeconomic class? Politics? The power of one’s target? The relative popularity of target and utterer? The mood of the Twitterverse? What?
Over on the conservative political blog Power Line, Paul Mirengoff has a theory…cynical, infuriating, but it certainly reconciles the inconsistency of the facts above:
“…[M]odern liberalism isn’t about inclusiveness or preventing people from being offended. Modern liberalism has established a pecking order in which the rights and feelings of some groups trump the rights and feelings of others…”
Mirengoff adds that the feeling of white, gainfully employed males are at the bottom of the list, and “irrelevant.”
It is a tempting theory, but I think Hanlon’s Razor applies here. I think this incoherent, unjust, destructive hysteria over words is just chaos spawned by the unpredictable collision of a lot of unrelated factors—technology, the rise of social media, America’s guilt over not addressing certain inequalities for so long, a race and gender grievance industry that has proven profitable, the abdication of American journalism from its duty to seek objectivity, competence, diversity and fairness, the toxic polarization of the political parties resulting from the bad luck of Bill Clinton’s libido, the 2000 election tie, 9-11, the botched Iraq War, the first black President, and a black President who, tragically, decided that if he couldn’t be competent or effective, he had to be divisive as a matter of political survival.
I think the phenomenon can and eventually will be recognized as beneficial to no one and un-American in its content and results, however well-intentioned it might be in some cases. It can be irradicated too, but that will require the creation of societal pressure…
- To reject racial double standards in every aspect of American life, at all levels. They are divisive, unfair, and undermine racial understanding and respect.
- To embrace free thought and speech as a core American value, not just a “right” that the government cannot legally infringe. Nobody, for example, should have to pay a $2.5 million dollar fine to anyone for a single, private statement, no matter what its content. Countenancing this undermines free speech across the culture.
- To use the Golden Rule frequently, liberally and well, to focus on whether any of us want to live in a society where an ill-considered word, phrase, joke or expressed thought can ruin our lives. (See: Justin Carter…remember him?)
- To identify, call out and condemn hypocrites, race-baiters, race-hucksters and censors as vociferously as they have attacked their victims. …except without demanding that they be fired or burned at the stake.
- To encourage the news media to resist speech-bullying and mob censorship, rather than participating in it.
- To embrace sincere apologies and voluntary reparations as the proper remedy for a single offensive statement, except in truly exceptional circumstances.
- To reward companies, corporations, associations and other organizations for showing courage in the face of unjust threats and boycotts, and refusing to capitulate when the result is unfair to an employee. If this means erring to the extent of allowing someone like Martin Bashir to keep a job he deserved to lose, so be it.
- To create a cultural consensus that conduct rather than words, especially spontaneous, briefly considered words, is the measure of ethical character.
- To resist and condemn all efforts at boycotts, mob justice, and other organized collective efforts to bend the words, beliefs, opinions and political view of others to the will of a well-funded, media-favored, or politically correct group.
- To condemn social media hit squads and hashtag attacks aimed at getting individuals fired for mere words or free exercise of political activism.
- To pronounce private utterances, made in reasonable assumptions of trust and privacy, as off-limits for public attacks.
In what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite wise observations, Clarence Darrow once said that in order to have enough freedom, it is necessary to have too much. Those who react vengefully to the occasional abuse of freedom of speech are becoming a dire threat to freedom of thought. This threatens the foundations of American life, and the core values of the United States. It has to stop.