Why Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy Are Not the Problem

In her heartfelt dissent in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, which upheld a Michigan ballot initiative forbidding schools from considering race as one factor in admitting students, Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race."

Days following the momentous case, the nation was embroiled in discussions of race sparked by statements made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

Although the discussions captured the nation's attention, they were probably not what Sotomayor had in mind. These conversations are ultimately empty because they did little or nothing to illuminate the problems of discrimination today.

Both men made statements that confirmed William Faulkner's observation that "the past isn't dead...[i]t isn't even past." Resurrecting offensive stereotypes, Sterling was quoted as warning his multi-racial girlfriend against being seen publicly with black people, while Bundy waxed nostalgically about all the benefits supposedly enjoyed by black people under slavery.

Both men seem like caricatures of the historical racist.

Few things are more deeply rooted in American history than a person espousing virulent racism in spite of the fact that he is financially dependent on the labor of blacks and is intimately involved with a person of color. Bundy's depiction of slavery, owing more to "Birth of a Nation" than "12 Years a Slave," rehashes the offensive depictions of the antebellum South used to justify discrimination beginning soon after the Civil War.

Both men earned the condemnation that was heaped upon them. But we are mistaken if we pat ourselves on the back for taking the two men to task. In truth, the discussions were more of a sideshow that failed to address the real problems of modern racial inequality. We still have not taken the necessary steps to have the discussion which Justice Sotomayor urged upon us.

That discussion would have been better served by considering a study which received far less attention.

In the study, "Written in Black & White," law firm partners were asked to evaluate on a five-point scale a single memo into which errors were deliberately inserted. Half of the partners were told that the author of the memo was African-American, while the other half were told that the author was white. The partners reviewing the memo that they thought was written by a white person rated it at 4.1 while scoring the exact same memo 3.2 when they believed it was written by a black person.

Most striking was the extent to which the partners were swayed by the believed race of the author. They only found an average of 2.9 errors for the believed white author as opposed to 5.8 for the believed black author, even though the mistakes inserted into the writing sample were totally objective errors, like misspelled words and errors of grammar.

Far from being color blind, these partners were quite literally blinded by color. Their expectations, whether conscious or unconscious, were so strong that they actually failed to see mistakes by people whom they thought to be white.

The partners in the study were probably nothing like Sterling or Bundy. They undoubtedly pride themselves on their fairness and impartiality. But the study demonstrates the powerful effect that prejudice, even when it is unconscious, can have – an effect only magnified by the power wielded by the partners.

Not only do they make decisions regarding their law firms, but they are emblematic of the people who make life-changing decisions, such as who is admitted to a school, who is hired, or who receives a mortgage and on what terms. These people are gatekeepers to opportunity, and the effect that race continues to exert is the real problem we all face.

We need to condemn those who make outrageous statements but, more importantly, we need to look deep within ourselves to find the deeper roots of inequality.

Learn more about racial discrimination and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

View comments (11)
Read the Terms of Use


No, Cliven Bundy is just a disease for which there's no cure.


Watch the entire statement by Cliven Bundy and you will see he is not racist. He may harbor some old ideas, but not racist.


"the past isn't dead...[i]t isn't even past." Unusual use of brackets, especially since what Faulkner actually wrote was "The past is never dead. It's not even past." You realize quotes can be easily verified on the Internet, right? (As Wikipedia observes, this line is often paraphrased, as it was by then Senator Barack Obama in his speech "A More Perfect Union.")

from Richard, V...

One of the best friends I ever had happened to be African-American, but it was called Black or Negro when I knew him (in 1970 and 71.) I can honestly say I'd rather have seen him live than ever to have heard anything come out of Cliven Bundy's mouth at ANY time in the time continuum.
The man in question, my friend that is, was killed in a napalm attack in Vietnam when he was in his 20's. I only knew him for a year but he was still one of the best friends I ever had. I can see nothing fair in the fact that he was taken in his 20s while Cliven Bundy has lived well into his golden years but has nothing to give to the world except a spectacular capacity for hatred. And people with that capacity come a dime a dozen. Besides that, and frankly speaking, I'm positively sick and tired of them.
The hatred has to stop, and there's no better time like the present to end it.


We do NOT all do that. I was a newsletter editor for 10 years. You can't make a clerical error disappear just because the person who wrote it was white. It's either there or it ISN'T there and whether it exists has nothing to do with what color the damn author who wrote it was.
That's how it is for ME anyway, but the founder of the Center for which I worked would have let a person go if they'd done that, probably even if they'd done it "unconsciously."
But I'm the kind of person who sees errors no matter what. There's simply no way I can "unsee" an error just because the author is white.

Kyle Joseph Calkins

I have definitive evidence of direct violations to the United States Constitution of the Patriot Act. I am a natural born United States citizen. My natural born name is Kyle Joseph Calkins. I am a college educated United States homeowner. I own my home in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. My address is N87W6840 Evergreen Ct. Cedarburg, WI 53012. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Class of 2000 earning my Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology. The United States government has been torturing me for the last five years. I have evidence of torture. I worked at Sigma-Aldrich chemical company for 4 1/2 years in quality control chemical sampling department. My occupation was to collect chemical samples for Sigma-Aldrich quality control. I worked in Sigma-Aldrich Milwaukee, Wisconsin Teutonia Avenue facility for all those 4 1/2 years. Chemicals were stolen from that Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sigma-Aldrich Chemical Company facility, possibly millions of dollars worth. The United States government accused me of chemical theft without any evidence. The United States government broke into my apartment in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. At that time the United States government cut into my skin in between my eyes, and inserted a computer chip into my brain. They have been torturing me continually since August of 2012. The computer chip is still embedded in my brain. I am currently trying to get x-rays of the United States government computer chip embedded in my brain. I have fellow Sigma-Aldrich Chemical Company coworkers working at the time that the government computer chip was embedded in my brain that can provide eyewitness depositions to the internal bleeding that was visible to my facial tissue surrounding the embedded computer chip in my head. Blood was visible throughout both my eye sockets (black eyes) and blood was visible throughout the facial tissue in between my eyes. The United States government drugged me while they installed the computer chip above my nasal cavity. I awoke after the computer chip was embedded in my brain, with the skin in between my eyes cut apart horizontally, in a pool of my own blood about a Liter of my blood underneath my sliced open skull lying on the floor of my apartment kitchen four feet from the entrance/exit to the apartment. The entrance/exit of the apartment opens into the tile floor of the kitchen of the apartment which was covered in my blood. This I, Kyle Joseph Calkins being of sound mind and body, swear to be the truth on this day of April 8, 2014. I have witnesses, references, supervisors and coworkers that can bear witness to the torture the United States government has done. My coworkers can attest that my face was sliced open while I was working at Sigma-Aldrich Chemical Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. United States government opperatives broke into my apartment in Cedarburg, WI in August 2012 sliced my facial tissue between my eyes and embedded an electronic transmitting device into the front of my head. They drugged me while they implanted the transmitting device. I awoke in a pool of my blood, just near the entrance of my apartment. The skin between my eyes was sliced open, blood was throughout my facial tissues surrounding both eye sockets, throughout my nose and forehead. The pool of blood was confined to the linoleum floor entrance/exit to my apartment, where I awoke. Not a drop of blood was found on the carpeted areas or furniture throughout the apartment. I am a tax paying United States citizen, I have resided in Wisconsin, and paid taxes working in Wisconsin, all the years of my life.

Millions of dollars in stolen chemicals leads government agency to put transmitter in innocent United States citizen. This is the truth, I have evidence to prove it.

While I was working at Sigma-Aldrich chemical company my coworkers including management stole millions of dollars worth of chemicals and used my logon to blame me.

I believe the government agency that embedded the receiving and transmitting device is still investigating and indeed planning to prosecute Sigma-Aldrich Chemical company for stolen chemicals. ?


And why is no one outraged over the violation of privacy, and perhaps free speech? The ACLU is surely on its way .... yes. http://dandygoat.com/drunk-and-crazed-aclu-vows-to-defend-donald-sterling


In Bundy's case, being branded a racist has proven to be much more effective to his detriment than being declared a domestic terrorist.

As for Sterling, in this climate, even what is supposed to be a private conversation can be used to utterly destroy the reputation and livelihood of a private citizen.

Aren't we all glad the media is working so hard to root out these evil racists? I'm sure that now this kind of speech is absolute political and financial suicide the problem of racism will just go away.


I don't understand how Sterling can be sued for a comment made in a private phone call to his girlfriend. Can anyone now be sued or jailed or sued for what we say to a private person in a private conversation? Why isn't the ACLU on this. It was obvious he was racist when he had to pay a couple of milling dollars for driving persons of color out of his apartments. So this is not about the sudden realization of his racism. Actually I don't think it is illegal to be racist, or sexist or any other ist's, obnoxious , yes but illegal , no.


And why is no one outraged over the violation of privacy, and perhaps free speech? The ACLU is surely on its way .... yes. http://dandygoat.com/drunk-and-crazed-aclu-vows-to-defend-donald-sterling


Stay Informed