Part 2—Roxane Gay and the soul of Salon: This site exists to critique our press corps, not our NBA owners.
That said, we’ll have to admit that we’re glad to see Donald Sterling getting the boot.
How absurd a figure is Sterling? This 2009 profile from ESPN makes him sound like he’s next in line to rule North Korea, so weird does his long-time conduct and thinking seem to have been.
(Are you sure there are no organic brain problems? We wouldn’t feel real sure of that.)
For ourselves, we always favor “pitying the poor immigrant.” Would you want to be the country’s craziest person? Would you want to live your life inside Sterling’s skin?
We aren’t big punishment people here. Even so, that doesn’t mean we want our craziest people in positions of esteem and prominence. For that reason, we’re glad to see Sterling go.
On balance, we’re glad to see Sterling getting the boot. That said, the conduct of America’s press corps has perhaps been less than impressive this week. That’s especially true of the pseudo-liberal/progressive press corps now springing up in our midst.
We pseudo-liberals! As we chase this slumlord from our midst, our mainstream press corps keeps presenting NBA spokespersons who have themselves been accused as slumlords; who have themselves been accused of misconduct with underage girls; who have been successfully sued for $11.5 million worth of sexual harassment.
The irony of this juxtaposition seems to escape us liberals, in part because our fiery leaders agree not to mention such facts—just as they aren’t going to ask why the Los Angeles NAACP was honoring a crackpot like Sterling.
Some things simnply aren’t done!
The foolishness and the faux behavior don’t end there, of course. Last night, Chris Matthews engaged in a ridiculous discussion with New York Times columnist William Rhoden, with Rhoden attempting to explain why the current NBA really is like a plantation.
The conversation was baldly absurd; to our ear, it was clear that Matthews understood this. But Rhoden is black, and Matthews now works for a new pseudo-journalistic regime.
Perhaps for that reason, Matthews seemed to know that he mustn’t challenge or question Rhoden. See our next post.
Of course, Matthews himself has long behaved like a journalistic slumlord. This week, the upstanding young people at his cable channel complain about the way the NBA tolerated the slumlord in its midst.
As they do so, they themselves keep tolerating Matthews, whose disgraceful conduct down through the years has been far more destructive than anything Sterling has done.
Whatever! Sterling seems ready to rule North Korea. But on occasion, our tribal leaders may not be enormously better. That thought in mind, we direct your attention to Roxane Gay’s new piece for Salon.
Early this morning, it was the site’s featured piece. We think the piece is illustrative of a new progressive impulse which will prove quite unhelpful going forward.
Professor Gay has a problem with racism, as well she should. That said, we think she reveals an instinctive approach to our nation’s racial culture which typifies the attitude at the new Salon.
This attitude is very unwise on the merits. Beyond that, it isn’t likely to be helpful on a political basis.
Briefly put, Gay seems to want to punish them all, just as others in history have done. In this passage, Gay begins her plea for the type of punishment which will cleanse our world:
GAY (4/29/14): This week’s racist is Donald Sterling, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. As of this writing, he has now been publicly shunned. He has been permanently banned from the NBA and fined $2.5 million, the maximum penalty allowed. The NBA has conducted a “thorough investigation” in recent days. In a letter posted on the NBA website, commissioner Adam Silver writes, “This has been a painful episode for all members of the NBA family,” demonstrating a lack of understanding of the word “painful.”Sterling has been separated from the league. Gay, though, wants to see him punished. Indeed, she seems to want to see him punished on a large scale.
We can pretend this rebuke is, somehow, an appropriate punishment, but it isn’t. The fine, given Sterling’s net worth, is laughable. Banning Sterling from attending NBA games or participating in team management is laughable. Sterling will continue being a wealthy, racist man. Racial inequality in the United States will persist because racism, history has shown us, is not a problem that can be solved through such small-scale punishment. As of now, Sterling still owns the Clippers and will only be forced to sell if a majority of NBA team owners vote as such.
To Gay, separating Sterling from the NBA is not “an appropriate punishment.” It’s inappropriate because Sterling “will continue being a wealthy, racist man.”
(For ourselves, we oppose the death penalty in all imaginable circumstances. Does it possibly sound like Gay might like to employ it here?)
As she continues, Gay criticizes the NBA for tolerating Sterling after he settled housing discrimination suits in 2003 and 2009. That’s certainly a fair criticism, although we’ll guess that, for various reasons, you could argue it flat or round.
For ourselves, we’re much more stuck by Gay’s desire to locate and punish the racists. We’re also struck by her apparent sense of their virulence and their number.
As she closes her short essay, Gay again suggests that people like Sterling and Cliven Bundy aren’t being punished nearly enough—for their beliefs, no less. Most strikingly, she seems to think that their peculiar and/or crazy beliefs constitute the American norm:
GAY: There has been and there will continue to be vigorous discussions about race in America. I worry that little will come of these discussions because we aren’t addressing what must be done to change the current racial climate. Donald Sterling’s lack of interest in having black people at Clippers’ games is on par with rancher Cliven Bundy’s nostalgia for slavery as a means of giving black folk something to do. These men’s racial attitudes are troubling and indicative of the racist beliefs far too many people hold. More important, these men and their ilk are propped up by a system for which the consequences for extolling such beliefs are painfully inadequate. They are propped up by a system that enables voter suppression, segregation, the retrenchment of affirmative action supported by even the Supreme Court, a glass ceiling in far too many industries, and the list goes on.In that passage, Gay considers what we must do “to change the current racial climate.” In her view, we won’t be able to change that climate given our current approaches.
What truly worries me, though, is that far too many people seem surprised when racists like Sterling or Bundy are revealed, as if these men are closer to the exception than the rule. What worries me is that I am not at all surprised when these men are revealed for who they truly are. What worries me is that “post-racial” America is not that different from the Americas that have preceded us, and it might not ever be.
The professor says that Bundy and Sterling aren’t being punished nearly enough for their beliefs. (“These men are propped up by a system for which the consequences for extolling such beliefs are painfully inadequate.”)
More strikingly, Gay seems to think that a ridiculous figure like Bundy represents the current American norm. As she closes her piece, she seems to reject the idea that Bundy’s absurd beliefs place him “closer to the exception than the rule.”
The desire to locate and punish all the bad people is a familiar impulse. That said, history remembers the Kings and the Mandelas. It tends to revile the Maos and the Stalins.
Unfortunately, Gay’s analysis captures the culture at the new Salon. Following the lead of repurposed leaders like Joan Walsh, the children at the fiery site want to find and punish the racists.
They often seem extremely sure of their own moral greatness, which seems elusive to us.
They want to punish Bundy and Sterling, then move on to the rest. This impulse is everywhere in human history. On a political and journalistic basis, it will be massively rejected in this country.
The politics of this impulse are dire. If people like Walsh and Gay didn’t exist, the plutocrats would rush to create them.
That said, we have some very good news to share. At present, most Americans are not like Bundy (details below). The fact that Gay doesn’t understand that is a truly remarkable fact.
Our guess? On balance, Americans would love to be inspired at this juncture. But to the extent that the liberal world gives itself over to punishment dreams, Americans will be prepared to elect Republicans, even into the White House.
We’d say that Gay’s eye is not on the prize. We think progressives should reject the dream of being the punishment people.
Tomorrow: More of the same
Bundy and the norm: Does Bundy represent the norm?
The American norm isn’t perfect, of course. But we would guess that you can’t even see the norm from there.
Does Bundy represent the norm? Consider this passage from Gene Lyons’ recent column at The National Memo:
LYONS (4/23/14): [M]any of my Perry County [Arkansas] friends and neighbors are cattle ranchers for real. It's damned hard making money on cows, but nobody around here imagines they can graze cattle in the Ouachita National Forest for nothing. Every single one pays for his own land, pays property taxes, pays the water bill and pays for any pasture he rents—all things Cliven Bundy takes for free from the U.S. government while styling himself a rugged individualist.18,000 ranchers pay their fees—and then, there’s Cliven Bundy! As she dreams of inflicting lots of pain, Gay pictures him as the norm.
Nationally, some 18,000 ranchers lawfully graze 157 million acres of federally owned property supervised by the Bureau of Land Management, at subsidized rates. No wonder the Nevada Cattleman's Association—not exactly a left-wing organization—has stated that while its membership has perennial issues with the BLM, it encourages obeying the law and "does not feel it is our place to interfere in the process of adjudication in this matter."
Sterling seems to hold tragically loony beliefs. Then too, there’s the new Salon.