Friday, May 02, 2014

Donald Sterling Tape

It appears that Americans are losing the ability to distinguish image from substance.

Talking heads on TV are outraged by a tape of a conversation between a person called Don Sterling and V. Stiviano. The NBA actually demanded that Don Sterling give up ownership of his team because of this conversation. People were making such a big deal of the recording that I decided to listen to it. I knew nothing of Don Sterling other other than the feigned outrage and that he is losing millions because of the tape. Here is a YouTube of the conversation:

The conversation involves the topics of age and race; so the age and race of the speakers matters. I Googled the names. Don Sterling is 80 (born in 1934). He was born Donald Tokowitz. He is of Jewish descent. V. Stiviano is thirty-something and of mixed race. She changed her name from Maria Vanessa Perez.

The two had some sort of relationship in which Don Sterling, a billionaire, was getting companionship and V. Stiviano was getting things and access to people. The conversation was apparently preceded by an argument about pictures posted on Instagram. It appears that the conversation was recorded secretly by V. Stiviano.

While listening to the conversation, it is important to understand that Ms Stiviano knows about the recording. Mr. Sterling does not. The recording starts with Mr. Sterling recognizing that they were currently in a fight. Ms. Stiviano's claim that she is not fighting is obviously untrue because she is recording the conversation. The rest of the conversation is simply one in which Ms. Stiviano calmly throws out bait with Mr. Sterling deflecting.

If you think about the words of the conversation, the bait that Ms. Stiviano calmly tosses out is actually much more incendiary than the gruff deflections of Mr. Sterling.

Much of the conversation is about the irony that Jewish people, who were clearly victims of persecution, treated black people claiming to be Jewish poorly. People in the House of Israel claim to be descendents of a given family. There is natural skepticism of people who appear to be a different race making claims to that heritage.

Here in the United States, people in the Navajo Tribe are dubious of white people who walk onto the Reservation claiming to be Navajo. Quite frankly, I find more fault with white people who falsely claim to be Navajo than with Navajo who react to such claims with resentment.

A primary theme of the conversation is about changing culture. Ms. Stiviano says that she wants to change culture. Mr. Sterling says that he has no desire to change culture and is content to leave people as they are.

Which of the two views is more racist: A person who is content with letting people have their cultures with all their cultural faults or people who set forth to change the culture of others?

The persecution of the Jewish people was punctuated with well-intentioned people who took it upon themselves to change the Jews.

I am inclined to see those who set forth to change the culture of others as "cultural imperialists." I see cultural imperialism as a deeper form of racism than those who are willing to let people be with all of the faults that people have.

The terrible part of the conversation comes at the end. Apparently Mr. Sterling had been giving Ms. Stiviano tickets to invite personal friends to the games. Mr. Sterling had not been clicking with those friends. It is not uncommon for people to dislike the friends of their friends. Ms. Stiviano had made race the focus of the conversation to this point, and Sterling takes the bait.

There is an important question here: Does a person have to automatically include people of different races into their network of personal friends to prove non-racism? Mr. Sterling had included Ms. Stiviano in his network of friends. She was mixed race.

Judging solely on this conversation, I find that I am more offended by the baiting done by Ms. Stiviano than with the gruff deflections of Mr. Sterling. IMHO, the people who are raising this conversation as an example of "racism" are doing the world a disservice. Mr. Sterling might be a racist, but the form of the conversation does not prove it.

The person who is recording the conversation and who is controlling the conversation with baited statements is using a very simple tactic. She is using a calm tone while making baited statements. The person who does not know the conversation is recorded is deflecting the bait with a gruff voice. I fear that the pundits who pounced on this conversation confused tone with substance. The tone of the person recording and controlling the conversation is clearly contrived.

I find the media and political reaction to the tape far more troubling than the substance of the tape. If the media is incapable of recognizing an obviously baited conversation, then we are all in trouble.

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