When LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks came to light and spread over the Internet like wildfire, the NBA acted quickly to ban him from the organization. We applaud the NBA’s forceful disavowal of Sterling’s ugly remarks. But it appears that, for the NBA and others, words continue to speak louder than actions.
Nevertheless, we remain concerned that there was little public attention and outrage five years earlier when the Justice Department fined Sterling $2.73 million for refusing to rent his apartments to African-American and Latino tenants (and for reportedly saying “Black tenants smell and attract vermin”). Without a doubt, Sterling’s recent remarks were shocking and deplorable.
But his well-documented actions – denying homes to African Americans and Latinos and advancing crude stereotypes about potential tenants – hurt a great many more families and individuals. A cursory look at NAACP LDF’S legal docket will tell you that housing discrimination remains an ongoing problem in America. The perpetrators are often individuals, but in some instances have also been our own government.
The challenge now is to sustain our outrage long enough to challenge the systemic discrimination that is so much more harmful to the life chances of families of color, than repugnant words. In a nation where banks foreclose on African American homes at twice the rate of white homes, where schools suspend black children at three time the rate of white children, and where our prison population has swelled with African Americans convicted of non-violent drug-related crimes, we cannot return to business as usual simply because Mr. Sterling has been punished by the NBA.
At LDF, we believe that the health of our democracy is best promoted by ensuring that our laws and policies create opportunity for those who are the most disadvantaged. As we approach the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education — in which the Supreme Court so powerfully articulated the principles of racial equality and nondiscrimination — we hope that everyone who has condemned Mr. Sterling’s comments will stand with us in the ongoing struggle for civil rights.
Together, we have the power to make a difference.