Is He A Racist? Wondering About the Real Donald Sterling

1000-recordingsSo as I was driving back from a Provisors meeting in Costa Mesa today and whiling away the time listening to a Sirius XM repeat broadcast of the Howard Stern show, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon some replays of the now infamous Donald Sterling non-sex tapes. I say this because truly aren't the only tapes one ever hears about "sex tapes" these days?

Anyway, as I was cruising through traffic shortcuts courtesy of my Waze app, I finally had a chance to listen to some of the tapes. I had been hearing about the sensational headlines that characterized Mr. Sterling as a rabid racist but I had never actually heard the tapes. I thought to myself, it's really better to go to the source rather than to pass judgement based on reviews. Sort of like rating a movie based on Rotten Tomatoes rather than actually watching the movie.

So I decided to not pass judgment on Don Sterling until after listening to the tapes – and even then maybe still not pass judgment because I haven't walked a mile in his shoes. And as any loyal Howard Stern fan would tell you, there's nothing like listening to the tapes (ala Benjy of course).

So I started to listen to them. And you know what, I was kind of surprised. I didn't hear all of the surreptitious recordings, but I heard enough to at least write this post today.

Here are some of my observations.

I think it's pretty horrific that a person inside someone's circle of trust revealed, let alone secretly recorded for public consumption, private conversations. In the Google economy we now live in where our privacy expectations have been flattened by the voluntary offerings to the gods of Facebook, Twitter and personal WordPress blogs, I think there's still a remnant of human decency that suggests that I should have the right to keep oral conversations private when they happen in private. I am sure there is an Amendment to this effect actually. And what this misguided (this is my kind term for her) woman did is not something that should be rewarded. Now I know me writing this is in some sense rewarding her but I have not mentioned her name so at least she can't get any mileage out of this post. So as best as I can say this, the journalists should not have sensationalized and publicized this unauthorized rape of Mr Sterling's sense of emotional self. It concerns me that the media is clapping itself on the shoulders for essentially violating Donald's rights to self-autonomy when it comes to his private conversations. A taped 911 call is a totally different thing and that's why I am concerned about how easy it is to record someone with a cell-phone and how this impinges even more on what's left of my privacy expectations.

In the business world I inhabit daily where my company designs and promotes websites, we always talk to our clients about Context. When Google spiders visit websites, each page has to deliver some sort of message within the context of a larger theme. Without context, it's hard to tell if a page entitled Riding is about Horseback riding or Bike riding. Context is everything when it comes to achieving higher conversions and higher search engine rankings. In the case of the Sterling tapes, it's clear this mendacious woman coaxed Donald into saying things that simply lacked the context of a larger conversation. And therefore, the sound bites being published are moments in time rather than episodes in time. It's like watching your first episode of 24 mid-season and then learning that there is a whole season of chaos that takes place in a lengthy 24 hour time frame. So my feeling here is that our ability to really assess the value of the conversation in the tapes is dramatically affected by two things. First, it sounds like he was extemely agitated and saying things without thinking them through. And as Kirk Douglas said about himself as an older man that he wouldn't trust any decision he made at 14 years old, I would not trust the words of an octogenarian when he sounded the way this man sounded on the tapes. The second problem is that the conversations were clearly being manipulated and this ultimately just frustrates me because the man is being judged on the basis of snippets. The whole notion of innocent till proven guilty which is the American way has been tossed out with his civil rights. And no one seems to care that the NBA caved to social pressure and just banned a guy for life without any sense of due process. Now I know the NBA is not required to abide by the laws of due process but nevertheless there is a standard of reasonableness and organizations of the size, stature and history of the NBA should not kowtow to mood swings. They should be resisting this tendency to cave and hold themselves to a higher standard.

Here's likely the most important thing. Now to preface my words, I want to repeat that I only listened to a few tapes so it's possible that other tapes may have suggested a different conclusion than I reached. So here's what I think I heard.

She kept asking him about his opinion of race. And each time she tried to reframe the question, he stuck to his original position early on in the conversation. He said towards the beginning that "there's nothing wrong with black people" and he didn't vary from this statement. What she tried to do though was twist his response to conform to her own agenda. And here's what I saw happening.

He continued to expand on his thoughts by describing the CULTURE we live in and how it has rules for the society that govern it. Now to be clear, my role is not to pass a ruling on the veracity of his opinion but rather to simply interpret what he was trying to say. And here's what I think he kept trying to drive home.

His opinion is that the world is racist, or anti-semitic or simply very opinionated about the backgrounds of peoples and habits attributed to them (whether rightly or not). He did not say in any of the tapes that I heard that this was HIS shared opinion. In fact, when she asked him about why he would not take a stand to change this state of affairs, he said very matter of factly that he did not feel he could make a change. And therefore, in order to live in this world, in a matter in which he had become accustomed over so many years, he made a choice to not try to change the world view. This is like exercising your right not to vote. Sure we have the right to vote, and far too many people do not vote in elections. Isn't there choosing not to vote a demonstration of their feeling of powerlessness to make a change? Is Mr. Sterling to be judged differently because he has more money than the next person? Isn't everyone's vote supposed to be counted equally in this country?

And once I came to the conclusion that he was taking an approach of INACTION or possibly even avoidance, the rest of the conversations I heard on the tapes got filtered through a different lense.

No longer were his comments about black people or hispanics per se. But rather, they were about his concern that he would be stoking fires in a conversation he simply wanted to avoid – and not because he was racist but rather because he wanted to continue living a vanilla life in a rainbow world that so far had given him lots more ups than downs.

Now let's be clear. I think what he said sucks because no one should ever feel powerless in this country to think we can't effect change. But at the same time, rich people and poor people all need therapy for their own particular issues. Howard Stern loves to talk about all the days in the week he goes to therapy. It's hard for me to relate to in all honesty because I put him up on so many pedestals for things he's done in his life. At the same time though, there's so many gaps in his pursuit of happiness that it sort of does make sense why he can't find a way to cope with the world and extract all the goodness from it instead of getting bogged down by all the distractions.

Well just because Mr Sterling is a public figure and a wealthy one at that does not mean that life is easy for him. We all face challenges of getting along in this world and finding our way. It's called the pursuit of happiness in our heritage because it simply isn't easy. But it is our right to pursue it in any way we see fit and in the privacy of our own homes and as long as we don't impinge on the rights of others.

And this is ultimately why I felt compelled to write this brief siloloquy (because how many people will really read this current monlogue). I may not like very many things and yet I hope that if I share my dislikes privately with a trusted person that those dislikes don't end up being broadcast on the front pages of the newspapers (sorry for this soon to be antiquated reference point). And if they do get broadcasted I think it's shameful for people to reward the perpetrators of these violations of one's inalienable rights to privacy. And most importantly, if my views are not impinging on other people's liberties or rights, then those same views are simply protected and should not be subject to anyone's assessment without my volunteering my views for others' review. If Mr Sterling, or anyone for that matter, is looking to live in this world and find a way to cope with the demands and pressures and judgments (whether real or assumed) then we owe it to each other to respect personal and private opinions (again, so long as they do not impinge on other people's rights or liberties) and hold our privacy laws to a very, very high standard.

Now I will conclude with this final thought. As this now newsworthy distraction from larger issues in the world tragically gains more traction and attention, it appears that Mr. Sterling has previously made comments on numerous occasions that suggest he has a racist perspective on the world. And that he may actually exhibit racist tendencies too. I am not a fan of such actions if they be true. I have not read more articles on Donald Sterling because honestly I have more compelling and interesting things to do like play with my new rescue dog Meatball (ok, the kids call her Lacey), rough it up with the kids or listen to another replay of the Sirius XM town hall with Billy Joel yesterday.

My point is that from the tapes I heard, Donald Sterling got shafted. He has been judged unfairly and readers should consider that this episode should be reframed as a battle cry for help from Donald's friend that the perceptions of the world should be challenged. Despite the fact that we've elected a non-white President, is Mr Sterling right that we still live in a racially charged society where even people of wealth feel that they have to hide their true feelings and just submit to the will of the People.

I ask you this based on my analysis of the tapes:

Is it possible that Donald Sterling really is not a racist and was too chicken to say otherwise even in the privacy of his own residence?

And if so, is this not a sorrier state of affairs than his alleged racist comments?

I reserve my final opinion for the moment as i know there are more tapes to hear. But at the same time, an episode of something on Netlfix is calling me. Priorities priorities.