Los Angeles Clippers owner and all-around NBA-hole Don Sterling is the hot topic this weekend after a recording surfaced of him making racist remarks to his girlfriend, including a request that she not bring black people to Clippers games. Sterling’s racism is now a global issue, thanks to NBC News’ Chuck Todd, who asked President Obama to comment on the controversy during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia this morning.
“Mr. President, there’s a controversy surrounding some horrendous, racially-charged comments that an owner of the L.A. Clippers made,” Todd said, in a multiple part question. “I was wondering if you care to comment on that.”
After answering Todd’s first question, the President circled back to Sterling, and offered a brief explainer for the locals. “With respect to the statements by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers — for our Malaysian audience, this is a sports team, basketball team in the United States,” he said. “The owner is reported to have said some incredibly offensive racist statements that were published I don’t think I have to interpret those statements for you; they kind of speak for themselves. When people — when ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. And that’s what happened here.”
“I am confident that the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, a good man, will address this,” the President continued. “Obviously, the NBA is a league that is beloved by fans all across the country. It’s got an awful lot of African American players. It’s steeped in African American culture. And I suspect that the NBA is going to be deeply concerned in resolving this.”
President Obama added that “The United States continues to wrestle with a legacy of race and slavery and segregation that’s still there — the vestiges of discrimination. We’ve made enormous strides, 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, teaching our children differently, but also remaining hopeful that part of why some statements like this stand out so much is because there had been — there has been this shift in how we view ourselves.”
President Obama has always had to walk the fine line between addressing issues of race, and making white people feel comfortable. In this case, he took the opportunity to point out progress, and to characterize comments like Sterling’s as the percolating of an outlier. This is the sort of talk that has become popular every time one of these random, completely isolated racial controversies erupt.
Unfortunately, no one has bothered to ask the President about Cliven Bundy’s racist remarks, or anything at all about the Bundy Ranch. Someone should, because whatever your opinion of Don Sterling’s racism, he doesn’t have a small army of well-armed zealots at his command. It is a mistake to underestimate the outliers, as surely as it is to ignore racism when it doesn’t have a lantern hanging on it.