Guest column: Sterling and Bundy — a master class on racism in the 21st century

Robin Abcarian

So … a white NBA team owner walks onto a cattle range.

Strike that.

A white rancher walks into a sports arena …


I’m trying to wring some grim humor out of the news, but I’m getting my racists all mixed up.

Maybe there’s just not a whole lot that’s funny about two creepy old white guys getting caught on tape with their racist pants down.

Unless you count the fact that one of them, apparently, was about to get a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP — now that’s funny — while the other is a hero to conservative wingnuts for defending the Constitution of a government he claims does not even exist.

What we really have here is a master class in how American racism is alive and well. It’s at home on the range, and, incredibly, courtside at the NBA, where three quarters of the players are black.

“We’ve made enormous strides,” President Obama said Sunday when he was asked about the Sterling controversy during his trip to Malaysia. “But you’re going to continue to see this percolate up every so often, and I think that we just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it, and teaching our children differently.”

So, I guess we owe Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, 80, and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, 67, our thanks for giving us the opportunity to show our children how racism expresses itself in the 21st century.

Sterling is a man who feigns brotherly love in public, but appears to spew racial toxins in private.

“You want me to have hate towards black people,” says Sterling’s girlfriend, V. Stiviano, in the recording of an apparent lovers’ quarrel that was first posted by TMZ on Friday.

“I don’t want you to have hate,” says the man who is said to be Sterling. “That’s what people do. They turn things around. I want you to love them     — privately. In your whole life, every day, you can be with them. Every single day of your life. But why publicize it on the Instagram, and why bring it to my games?”

Unlike Sterling, who would probably never say publicly what he is accused of saying privately, Bundy has no compunction about expressing his racist views in public, precisely because he’s too dim to understand that what he’s saying is offensive.

In Bundy’s view, he’s just explaining when he attributes black underemployment to the loss of skills that were acquired during slavery.

“They never learned to pick cotton,” he says. “And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves?”

The man who sounds like Sterling indulges in the same kind of fake sociology in an effort to legitimize his racist world view.

“You go to Israel,” says the male voice alleged to be Sterling, “the blacks are treated like dogs.”

“And are the black Jews less than the white Jews?” Stiviano asks.

“A hundred percent,” he replies.

“And is that right?” Stiviano asks.

“It isn’t a question,” he replies. “We don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong, we live in a society. We live in a culture, we have to live within that culture.”

Bundy is not just a self-styled expert on black underemployment. He also fancies himself an expert on Mexican family structure, and in the process just spouts more stereotypes. In an overlooked portion of his recorded discussion last week, he says:

“Now let me talk about the Spanish people. You know, I understand that they come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders. But they’re here and they’re people, and I’ve worked side by side with a lot of them. Don’t tell me they don’t work and don’t tell me they don’t pay taxes. And don’t tell me they don’t have a better family structure than most of us white people. When you see those Mexican families, they’re together, they picnic together, they’re spending their time together, and I’ll tell you in my way of thinking, they’re awfully nice people.”

On Stiviano’s tape, we hear a similarly moronic analysis.

“What’s wrong with minorities? What’s wrong with Hispanics?” asks Stiviano.

“It’s like talking to an enemy,” the man replies. “There’s nothing wrong with minorities, they’re fabulous, fabulous. … People feel certain things. Hispanics feel certain things toward blacks. Blacks feel certain things toward other groups. It’s been that way historically, and it will always be that way.”

I’ll give the last word to a man whose very life refutes the notion that how it’s always been is how it always has to be.

“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance,” Obama said Sunday in Malaysia, “you don’t really have to do anything. You just let ‘em talk.”

Robin Abcarian is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.