Donald Sterling's racist idiocy shouldn't be surprising, but we still can't tolerate it

Let's play the "race card" game. You know this game—it was invented by racists and right-wingers who seek to rationalize or cover up singular acts of racism, racist tendencies and the institutionalized racism that still plagues our society in this supposedly post-racial era.

It starts like this: I call out a Racist Old Troglodyte (ROT) like Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the guy whose rent-a-hottie caught him on tape saying nasty things about black people and decided to burn him by going public with it. Then, other people attack me for "playing the race card," in an attempt to belittle valid concerns and

shut down public discussion of racism.

The problem with this game is that it's rigged. The other side has a lot more cards at its disposal than I do. In fact, ROTs and their tacit defenders play their cards all the time, even when I don't play mine. Race cards are routinely played in law enforcement strategies and structures that target minorities while letting wealthy white folks off the hook. They're used in government policy debates to scare poor white people into fearing and loathing people of color, rather than the corporate barons who steal their tax dollars by the billions. And consumer messaging and political campaigns often employ racial cues to obscure or legitimize the ongoing class warfare of rich against poor.

My card is to call out racism openly and straightforwardly, but other race cards are coded, or cloaked altogether. ROTs often try to play their cards subtly or in secret, the way Mr. Sterling did. Nevertheless, his ROT paper trail spans decades. He's been the subject of racial discrimination lawsuits, sexual harassment complaints, federal charges of civil rights violations—you name it, this guy has had a long, diverse and well-documented career as an asshole. The real estate mogul's discriminatory housing practices hurt thousands of minority renters struggling to build better lives.

I've seen several comments pointing out that Mr. Sterling is a Democrat, as if that's somehow relevant. I don't care if he belongs to the "I Love My Grandma" party, his pattern of abuse is long and obvious, and he should've been called out and banned a long time ago. The sad thing is that it took a "gotcha" audiotape on a bottom-feeding website like TMZ to make it happen.

There are reasons for this. The race card game is specifically designed to stifle public discussion of race, and it's quite effective in squelching the timid and often complicit mainstream media's approach to the subject. Not only did Mr. Sterling largely avoid being held accountable for his obviously racist words and deeds over the years, he actually received civil rights awards instead because he made large donations to the right groups—i.e., he was wealthy and powerful enough to get away with his ROT behavior.

Meanwhile, ROT defenders provide cover with "Get Out of Racism Free" cards, which they play preemptively on all sorts of issues, everything from immigration to health care. "Race has nothing to do with it—it's all about the rule of law!" Yeah, except when the "welfare queen" is a white male rancher freeloading on the range in Nevada rather than a Mexican worker looking for a job or a black woman trying to raise healthy kids.

Cliven Bundy, the ROT welfare rancher, is not as good at the race card game as Mr. Sterling. No secret recording was needed for Mr. Bundy—he spewed his lunatic, disgusting racial theories directly to The New York Times, and then repeated them for clarity. His toxic views—however opaque they may have been to the bulletheads at Fox News who tried to make him a hero—were utterly predictable because he belongs to the violent, dissociative and fundamentally racist Posse Comitatus/states' rights movement.

Why is anyone shocked by what these people say? Kudos to the NBA for finally banning Mr. Sterling, but the league should've done it a long time ago. And, sure, the Fox rats and wacko Arizona legislators eventually fled Mr. Bundy's ship, but they never should have given him such a lofty soapbox in the first place. Must it be so excruciatingly obvious, like fresh dog crap on the dinner table, before you call a spade a spade? It's willful ignorance, at best.

At worst, it's an abdication of a fundamental democratic responsibility. You can't make it illegal for ROTs like Sterling and Bundy to think the way they do, or even to say what they think. But you can—and damn well should—make it clear that their ROT poison will not be tolerated in a modern, enlightened society.

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