Saturday, May 03, 2014

The inherent stickiness of tape

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has written a sharp piece about the Donald Sterling affair. He notes that the now-reviled racist was "congenial" to him when he briefly coached for the Clippers, but that a trend of racism later arose in Sterling's legal doings. It's because of this track record (which should been noticed long ago) and not one single outburst, Abdul-Jabbar says, that we should truly be outraged.

But then he says this:

"Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media?"

Angered? Possibly. Equally angered? No. 

For one thing, the taping was apparently mutually approved, and allegedly leaked by a third party. It's not as if a vengeful ex wore a wire and took his comments out of context to ruin him. (Indeed, V. Stiviano, the woman who made the recording, was said in the above link to be "devastated" by its leak.) But even if that were the case, Sterling's behavior would still be the primary offense. It's worthwhile to consider the implications of recordings and making them public, but putting that on equal offensive par with Sterling's racism is false. Especially considering that the recording didn't paint an inaccurate picture of Sterling — as Abdul-Jabbar says, it simply reinforced what he's put into practice for years.

These are two separate issues with different arguments and implications. It's legit to ask if we should have heard those comments in the first place, but we can't unhear them now. Nor should we. As Abdul-Jabbar said, "Racists deserve to be paraded around the modern town square of the television screen so that the rest of us who believe in the American ideals of equality can be reminded that racism is still a disease that we haven’t yet licked." He's right about that.

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