If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street.
— Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
If Mark Cuban has a fault — and if you listen to the “thought police” jumping all over his latest remarks, he surely does — it is that he is brutally honest and introspective.
We should all have that fault.
As the sports world continues to be a window into our society, maybe it is time we all worried less about being “politically correct” and more about being “personally honest.”
If we are, as Cuban suggested in comments that launched
charges of racial insensitivity, then we must face the fact that all of us carry prejudices and stereotypes with us. Despite what the do-gooders may preach, pretending they don’t exist really doesn’t solve anything.
Putting on a “politically
correct” face doesn’t confront the feelings lurking within us. Instead, it is more important that we be personally honest about how we feel and understand whether those have a legitimate basis.
Cuban’s latest comments are the extension of a dialogue that started with the release of secretly recorded comments from embattled Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling. As you may recall, Sterling’s girlfriend released a tape of the 81-year-old complaining about her relationship with black men, particularly Magic Johnson.
While the rest of the world attacked Sterling as an arrogant racist, Cuban dared to address the more important question (in my mind, at least) of whether people are free to speak openly in the privacy of their own home.
Now, he is taking that a step further and suggesting that we all carry prejudices with us. The real harm is in not recognizing them.
“And the list goes on of
stereotypes that we all live up
to and are fearful of,” Cuban said in expressing concern of society’s intolerance of contrary views regarding race and culture. “So in my businesses, I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I’m not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it’s not appropriate for me to throw stones.”
As with his earlier comments about Sterling, many looked completely past what Cuban was saying and focused instead on how he said it, suggesting that his example brought up memories of the 2012 Trayvon Martin shooting.
LeBron James and other Miami Heat players condemned Cuban’s remarks by posting a photo of the entire team, all wearing hoodies, their heads bowed, their hands stuffed into their pockets.
That reaction is simplistic; it is not personally honest.
One of my nightly habits is to turn on the police scanner as I fall to sleep, a ritual that also reminds me that I am becoming my father in yet another way. Especially listening to the Marion County channel, rarely a night goes by without a report of a convenience store or pizza delivery driver being robbed by a young man in a hoodie.
Going back to Cuban’s example, am I going to cross the street, too? You can count on it. Does that make me a racist or a bigot or whatever else you want to call me? Or, am I simply being appropriately cautious based on my experience?
I really don’t care what name you use, I am still going to cross the street. And, like Cuban, I will cross back if approached by rough-looking white guys.
The issue of how we interact in a pluralistic society of many races and cultures is complicated. Yes, we draw judgments based on appearance and a number of verbal and non-verbal inferences. Those sometimes may be based on irrational fears.
One of the greatest virtues of sports is that it allows us to learn how we all fit together. It helps erase those fears. This is a process that is evolving and generational.
It also is a process that is never-ending. Racial and cultural differences can divide us, but they also make us stronger as a society, adding a rich texture.
We should celebrate the differences but also be mindful of the prejudices and stereotypes those differences can harbor.
It does no good to simply kick the problem down the road, as Cuban suggests is being done with the NBA’s lifetime ban of Sterling.
The politically correct thing is to pretend it doesn’t exist and condemn those who differ. The personally honest thing is to recognize it does and decide how to respond responsibly.
That makes the NBA’s June 3 hearing on Sterling’s fate a unique opportunity to make this moment transformative in society’s discussion on race relations.
As the shoutdown of Cuban’s thoughtful remarks suggest, it appears that moment will pass without the introspection that could provide greater benefit.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to email@example.com.