EYES OFF THE PRIZE: Punish them all!


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.”

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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."
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.

Sterling seems to hold tragically loony beliefs. Then too, there’s the new Salon.


  1. "That said, we’ll have to admit that we’re glad to see Donald Sterling getting the boot."

    Nobody cares about this.

  2. Digby is now writing for Salon, and she sounds very happy to be there.

  3. Years ago I worked in community activism in Chicago, much like Obama did and during the same time period. That gave me a lot of experience with slumlords. In that very segregated city, slumlords didn't care who rented their apartments. They cared about making maximum money for the least investment. Whatever Sterling's statements to his girlfriend, I suspect he was the same. His desire to spend less money on upkeep by excluding troublesome tenants, defined as members of certain races, is financial, not ideological. If you want to eliminate that kind of racism, work on getting rid of plutocrats, not controlling beliefs -- though I wouldn't mind reintroducing the idea that greed is in fact bad.

  4. yesterday Sterling was the scapegoat.

    Today blogger is glad he got the boot.

    As always, Sterling is only "crazy" - nothing worse than that.

    Giuliani went after a non-crime really - "the squeegee people" - they'd come up your stopped car with a vile-looking squeegee and clean your windshield whether you like it or not and try to intimidate you into paying.

    And sure enough by not tolerating this mild form of uncivil behaviour and graffiti, he created the atmosphere to reduce real crime massively in NY City.

    Sterling is a racial squeegee person - he himself may not be too harmful - but this kind of talk may lead to more hate being allowed in public discourse and eventually real crimes against blacks.

    To say that athletes also commit crimes against women is this context is vile, even for the blogger.

    1. Is it a crime against blacks that Sterling didn't want his girlfriend to bilk them out of millions, the way she did to him?

      If Sterling had said racist things in public, in any of the forums available to him as a wealthy man or Clippers owner, I would agree that these sanctions are warranted. He was recorded in a private conversation with someone he trusted, not saying racist things (she did that), but asking her not to post photos of herself with black men on Instagram and not to appear with them at Clippers games. That suggests a motive other than racism, perhaps related to his authority or his status as her gentleman provider (euphemism). Whatever Sterling's views on race, there is little evidence he acted upon them or stated them for public consumption, or did anything racist warranting this kind of harsh reprisal.

      If someone like Sterling can be treated this way, what recourse would any of us have if we were targeted by someone with animosity, someone we trusted? That is the essence of a police state -- where you cannot trust friends or relatives not to turn you in for thought crimes or trivial behaviors deemed against the state's values. It is control and intimidation far worse than anything Sterling did.

      When something like racism is so ill-defined and when only those who are members of minority groups are permitted to define it, and when it is defined as thought or belief not just actions, there is no protection for the average person against any accusation if it is shouted loudly enough.

      You might respond, well just don't be racist then. But we have given members of minority groups permission to be racist against whites and each other, so this is a crime that is defined as being only applicable to white people. Further, racism is whatever someone complains about -- so there is little way to live one's life and conduct business without garnering an accusation of racism arising from some conflict. If someone doesn't get a seat quickly in a restaurant that must be racism, if you complain that they are smoking in a theater, racism again. If you charge a certain amount for a product (and the same to everyone else), racism. If you give a B+ instead of an A, racism. If you dislike your future son-in-law, must be racism. Calls for punishment in this context are scary.

      And now I fully expect to be called racist for expressing these concerns -- because I cannot be white and say anything negative about the way racism is being discussed in this country. Nor can Somerby, as has been demonstrated here already.

    2. Nobody cares about this.

    3. Moron at 12:23

      "When something like racism is so ill-defined"

      blogger did his job well on this retard.

      It is clearly not sexual ownership


      “You can sleep with them, you can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that and not to bring them to my games.”


      It s out and out revulsion at blacks.

      And also

      "In 2009, Sterling spent $2.73 million to settle another suit, this time brought by the Justice Department, which alleged Sterling refused to rent his apartments to non-Korean tenants, preferring that black and Hispanic prospective tenants look elsewhere. The lawsuit quoted Sterling as saying in sworn testimony that “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” adding that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”


      You are seriously sick to be defending this person.

    4. Well said, AnonymousApril 30, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      Sterling won't be missed, but it's a concern that any random American could face severe punishment if an anti-racist mob focused on him or her.

    5. "Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building."

      This sounds pretty racist unless you've lived in a Hispanic neighborhood where it is a cultural tradition to sit on the front steps of the building, drink beer and talk with friends or relatives.

      Sterling refused to rent to non-Korean tenants in Koreatown and non-white tenants in Beverly Hills. It sounds like his policy was to stick with the existing demographics, not to discriminate against a particular group.

      I also don't see a lot of out and out revulsion at blacks inherent in telling his girlfriend she could sleep with blacks, go places with them, but just not post Instagram pictures of herself with blacks. There is something about the publicity that bothers him, not the association with blacks per se.

      If Sterlings words are to be used to convict him, shouldn't all of his words be considered? He repeatedly states that he is not a bigot, not racist, and that he likes black people.

      The larger issue of his attempts to control his girlfriend, her using him to get expensive cars, a $1.7 million home, and her refusal to return those items to him when his wife insisted, her invasion of an expectation of privacy by recording their convesation and then leaking it to TMZ. She has ulterior motives. She is clearly leading him in the tape of their conversation, putting racist words into his mouth which he continually denies.

      I agree with Somerby that perhaps there should be some concern about his mental status, particularly since such large sums of money were given to this woman. When you hear elderly people with frontal lobe deficits saying socially inappropriate things, you discount them because of their mental disability.

      Why is there no consideration of any mitigating circumstances for Sterling? Either he has made a lot of enemies in his life or people are acting upon some strong ulterior motives -- or perhaps both.

    6. 2:29, thank your for refuting Somerby's silly point that Sterling is just an isolated example of a bigot whose warped views are held by no one but him.

    7. Right, as I predicted, anyone who wants to talk about the complexities of race will be called a bigot.

      I was once a teaching assistant for a course on racial attitudes in which nearly all of the students were African American. I was shocked by the routine and frequent expressions of racism against whites, the misinformation and ascriptions of racial characteristics to white people that were spoken in class and written on exams, all without comment (much less discussion) by the professor.

      There is plenty of racism to go around in this country. As long as only one race is bigoted (whites) and all other races are victims of bigotry, there can be no discussion of race and little progress at resolving issues of concern to us all.

      African Americans in particular need to acknowledge that discussion of problems of the black urban underclass do not constitute prima facie evidence of racism. It is the generalization to the broader group of black people that is racist.

      What makes the example of NBA players as slaves inherently ridiculous is the generalization of lingering problems of slavery to an advantaged subset of African Americans (and other athletes). What makes current discussions of affirmative action contentious is that there now exists an advantaged upper and middle class among African Americans that is arguably more privileged than the students they displace when given preferential treatment. If Affirmative Action is aimed to punish whites for past mistreatment of blacks, then that kind of equity issue is irrelevant. If it exists to level a playing field, it makes no sense to continue it for privileged students, no matter what their race.

      These issues are complex. But name-calling is always easier than thinking.

    8. " was once a teaching assistant for a course on racial attitudes in which nearly all of the students were African American."

      BZZZZZZZ! Logical fallacy of "appeal to authority". When you have to qualify what you are about to say with "credentials" then we can rest assured what follows is bullshit.

      Here is also another helpful thing to remember. In an internet forum in which all parties are identified, the actual expertise held is always in inverse proportion to the expertise claimed,

      Then you proceed to prove it with pseudo-intellectual bullshit.

      Nice of you to throw in your rant about Affirmative Action, though, which had not been brought up yet. But then again, it doesn't seem to take long in any discussion of race for a boy who grew up white and privileged to try to work Affirmative Action into the conversation, no matter how clumsily.

    9. Describing a personal experience may be anecdotal but it is not an appeal to authority.

    10. @5:20 Who grew up white and privileged and who is male? Lots of assumptions being made.

  5. Somerby, and his devoted fans, will now demonstrate why Bundy and Sterling really aren't so far from the "norm."

    Is there any allegation of racism he will not minimize, discount and then dismiss?

    1. You mean other than these two very examples?

    2. Welcome to the blog, Matt. I can see you are new here and unaware of the years Somerby has spent wringing his hands and rending his clothes at "we liberals" any and every time race is the issue.

    3. Anonymous 2:50 your comment proves it is you who are either new or inobservant. Most of us know Matt well from his long standing remarks in response to those making original comments critical of Somerby. He used to be a size 8 1/2. He may have shrunk in the laundry recently.

    4. 12;47, yes indeed. You too can be a Bob Fan and believe, as our verbose friend does above, that the real crime was Sterlings girlfriend keeping the stuff he gave her, think that racism is merely a "belief," think that Hispanics sit on porches and drink, that there are "mitigating circumstaces" that excuse Sterling, then claim to be a "teaching assistant" in a course on African American studies who opposes Affirmative Action as no longer necessary because all those privileged black kids have reached critical mass.

      But never mind. None of that is "racist" because it is he, not minorities, who decides what is racism.

  6. OMB (Bungling in Good Faith With BOB)

    Eyes on the Parts: Just for counting purposes, this is Part 4 of "obvious pseudo-discussion than the current pseudo-discussion, the enthralling pseudo-discussion about the weird, incoherent and pitiful things Donald Sterling apparently said."

    That said, we think Part 2 was the best thus far.


  7. Outstanding post! Great contrast between Somerby's old school compassionate liberalism and the creepy Professor Gay, a "liberal" scold who wants to inflict punishment and cleanse society of those with improper "attitude". It takes a ill mind to equate the absurd ugliness of the 1/18,000 rancher and billionaire sports owner as representing "the rule" regarding "these men" ("the white male"?) That's some deep seated hatred going on.

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  9. Blogger's meme - Red states are also a multiracial coalition , just less so than Blue states doesn't stand up to facts:


    Modern conservatism is not fueled by rampant hate-every-black-person racism
    By Moyers & Company
    Thursday, May 1, 2014 6:25 EDT


    "The vision Novak reported of a “White Man’s Party” now looms: whites make up almost nine out of 10 Republican voters, as well as 98 percent of its elected state officials. Meanwhile, a recent study found that roughly four out of five Republicans express resentment against African-Americans, a staggering 79 percent (this contrasts with a still discouragingly high 30 percent among Democrats).


    Blogger is a POS for cozying up to Bundy, Sterling etc. with his half-assed disapproval ("crazy"), These ideas can seriously poison race-relations and lead to ugly violence eventually.

  10. 1. Somerby has not asserted that Red states are a multiracial coalition (whatever that means). Red states are certainly multiracial, especially Southern states and Texas & Arizona. Are you perhaps using the phrase red states to refer to the Republican party instead of the states themselves?

    2. Somerby has not cozied up to Bundy or Sterling. He has said highly negative things about both.

    3. Are you seriously suggesting that Bundy has any impact whatsoever on race relations or racial violence? He lives on a ranch with a bunch of cattle and other white guys. His opinions are irrelevant to racial issues and he IS obviously demented. Treating oddballs like players trivializes racial issues.

    4. This continually threatening that without attention to race-relations there will be violence is itself ugly.

    5. Arguably you are a POS for being unable to discuss any point of disagreement with Somerby without calling him a POS.

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