That wealthy entities in our society do not pay fairly and squarely for the transgressions and crimes they commit vis a vis their poor, often minority, counterparts is no revelation. Just look at the tropes of Wall Street executives that were escorted out of government offices with fat bail-out and bonus checks for the economic meltdown, due to their criminal activities, they had caused, no less.
Such trends are to be found quite abundantly, across all lines.
For example, last month, billionaire heir Robert H. Richards IV who was found guilty for having raped his three year old daughter, was sentenced to house arrest instead of jail because the Judge in the case deemed that Richards would not fare well “if he is sentenced to prison.”
A court in Florida sentenced an African American woman to jail for 20 years because she fired a few warning shots in the air in self defense against her abusive husband.
Discrimination against the poor (and in our society, racial minorities are disproportionately poor) is well established. In legal matters, it is a prominent factor in the availability of legal counsel.
The death penalty, for example, is fraught with racial and economic disparities, whereby the poor, the friendless, the uneducated, racial minorities, and the despised are unable to get quality legal representation, thus resulting in them more likely to end up on death row versus a wealthy, privileged defendant who can afford top legal representation.
Fairness in capital cases requires, above all, competent counsel for the defendant. Yet approximately 90 percent of those on death row could not afford to hire a lawyer when they were tried. Common characteristics of death-row defendants are poverty, the lack of firm social roots in the community, and inadequate legal representation at trial or on appeal. As Justice William O. Douglas noted in Furman, “One searches our chronicles in vain for the execution of any member of the affluent strata in this society“(408 US 238).
Case in point: OJ Simpson. If he did not have a stellar, and expensive, legal team defending him, he would, most likely have been convicted and ended up on death row. He got out of it – or, his legal team was able to wiggle him out of it, because, unlike underpaid and incompetent public defenders, Simpson’s legal team had the resources and expertise to defend their affluent client.
I will address the terrible injustices and immorality inherent in the death penalty at a later time. What I do want to address with this post is the fact that, overall, in our society, the wealthy are shielded from taking responsibility for various crimes they commit, while crimes, injustices and bigotry committed against and directed at the poor, the friendless, the uneducated, racial minorities, and the despised often go unnoticed and unpunished and bigotry and racism only seem to matter insofar as they affect wealthy entities.
Case in point, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling who has been outed as a rank racist whose racially incendiary remarks leaked to TMZ last weekend.
His remarks, which were recorded by his gold-digging piece – who clearly set him up – lead to a lifetime ban from the NBA and a fine of $2.5 million. Several major Clippers sponsors had previously dropped or were re-evaluated their association with the team, including State Farm, CarMax, Kia Motors America, Virgin America and Red Bull (speak of the pot calling the kettle black), not to mention the athletes for the team and prominent members of the African American community, all of whom are wealthy.
People have been applauding the decision to ban Sterling and fine him, as a victory for the team and a lesson to be learned by racists, but what most people have been missing is that this is not the first time Sterling has been facing accusations of racial discrimination.
In 2006, sports writer and pundit Bomani Jones wrote a column titled “Sterling’s racism should be news” following the Department of Justice suing Sterling for housing discrimination. Sterling allegedly refused to rent apartments he owned to African Americans, Latinos and people with children in the suit.
The charges made against Sterling were stomach-turning. In response to the 2003 suit, one of his property supervisors testified that Sterling said all blacks “smell” and are “not clean,” that he wanted to “get them out” of his properties to preserve his image, and that he harassed tenants and refused to make repairs until they were forced to leave, according to depositions obtained by ESPN The Magazine.
It is interesting that while gross and blatant housing discrimination is Sterling’s biggest offense, it took insulting and alienating a few wealthy athletes in and sponsors during a private conversation to finally do something about this scum.
As alarming as the claims against Sterling are, housing discrimination as a practice is alive and well in America, yet goes largely unnoticed.
“For individuals and families, it limits their housing choices, it dictates where you can and cannot live, and that means limited access to other opportunities: educational opportunities, employment opportunities, health care services, other amenities,” Fred Freiberg, director of the nonprofit Fair Housing Justice Center, told the HuffPost. “It sustains and enforces patterns of racial segregation and poverty concentration, and it creates a whole host of inequalities that we could, frankly, do without.”
All that stuff that’s happening in housing discrimination, which is the biggest reason that we can point to historically for why we’ve got all these dead kids in metros like Chicago and New York fighting for turf, fighting for real estate with poor accommodations and facilities and everything that you’re supposed to have in a city – all these are an economic byproduct of the people like Donald Sterling. Yet, no one paid attention to that. No swift action was taken against Sterling by the Clippers who are outraged now.
On the contrary, the lawsuits took years to go through, because those he hurt are poor and the poor have become invisible in this country and only seem to matter and be brought up when it comes to either slashing funding for them or to vilify and scapegoat them as lazy, unmotivated mooches who allegedly want to take away from the hard-working American blah blah fart.
It is a testament to our sad state of affairs that a bigot’s actions (such as housing discrimination) – which are illegal and directly harm people, and which he has been engaging in for decades – have not ultimately been what got him in trouble, but the fact that he said racially offensive things to his piece of ass du jour in a private conversation, insulting wealthy athletes – who also happen to be racial minorities.
Moral integrity had little to do with why the NBA did what it did as the NBA has known about Sterling’s racism for years and yet they only took action action because it hurt business – because a few wealthy athletes were outraged and because sponsors pulled out.
Having an opinion about blacks is one thing (and I personally think it was wrong to fine and ban him for that opinion), discrimination is another, and Sterling was penalized by the NBA for the former while he got away with the latter for years.
So, if you are sitting there celebrating the fact that the NBA has taken the moral high ground and has zero tolerance for racism, think again. Publicly chastising and punishing Sterling was a good business decision by the NBA to protect business interests and assets. And while Sterling’s racism has been rejected by everyone from Snoop Dogg to the President, when it comes to everyday acts of insidious, life-ruining racism these very, ostensibly men of honor have stayed silent with regard to the Sterlings of the world.
Screaming racism and bigotry when only the wealthy are affected but staying silent when the same happens to poor people everyday leads to the systematic marginalization and exclusion of those very people and their causes. This is how marginalization works, leading to the systemic inequalities that make it impossible for people to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
Karl Marx believed that racism was just another form of class struggle. That it ultimately was not about race that some people were enslaved and subjugated but that race was used as an excuse to morally justify slavery and subjugation to ultimately create an underclass to be exploited; free labor. This is the reason why, ultimately, wealthy racial minorities begin to be have in very much the same way as their white counterparts once they reach the high social class of affluence. In fact, they then become just as “bad” and exploitative as the very “white” people they have been accusing of having done the same for centuries. The NBA’s ignorance towards the black communities that have been harmed by Sterling for decades while the NBA stated silent is the perfect example to the point.