By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
I can’t say that my predictions are always correct: I can remember telling people that the personal computer was just a fad (“What are people going to do with it after they’ve saved their recipes and Christmas card list?”). Even so, I was surprised when it turned out that I was wrong about the remarks about racial prejudice made by Mark Cuban, the owner of the National Basketball Association team the Dallas Mavericks. I thought they were going to be met with universal approval.
Cuban was attempting to put into perspective comments made by fellow NBA-owner Donald Sterling about American blacks, comments that earned Sterling widespread condemnation. Sterling’s comments are hard to defend. But not Cuban’s. He was on the mark. He deserves to be defended. Instead, he is being raked over the coals.
Attorney General Eric Holder is famous for having once said that Americans are “cowards” when it comes to talking about race. Whether or not that is true, Cuban’s plight gives us an opportunity to speak out forthrightly against those who seek to intimidate anyone who takes issue with the demands of the radicals in the civil rights establishment. I repeat: Cuban said nothing wrong. Quite the contrary.
Cuban, in a comment on Twitter, began by noting that “before we can help others deal with racism we have to be honest about ourselves. We’re all prejudiced.” Note that Cuban did not say “bigoted” or “racist.” He said prejudiced, which makes a difference. Prejudice means that we make prejudgments based on our experiences in life. Some of those prejudgments may be rooted in racism and ethnic hatred. But there is no reason to assume that. Cuban offered some examples: “If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street.”
The “prejudice” Cuban is describing has nothing to do with race hatred. He pointed to his fear of the tattooed white guy to make that point. His admission that he would cross the street in these scenarios does not indicate a moral failure. It reflects common sense, good judgment, street smarts, savvy — call it what you will. Only a wide-eyed innocent, or perhaps a visitor from outer space with no knowledge of life in the United States, would not do the same.
Cuban is making the point that he would do everything he can to avoid people who look like thugs. Skin color is not the deciding factor in his decision, as he describes it. (I can’t read his mind. No one else can either.)
I don’t think anyone would argue that Cuban would have crossed the street if he found himself in the path of young black Gospel singers in bowties and suits, coming from a neighborhood church. Nor would he have crossed the street to avoid a group of black midshipmen from the Naval Academy. Or if the white men with shaved heads he encountered were wearing the dress blues of the U.S. Marine Corps.
We could go on. Cuban was describing with his “hoodie” reference the kind or urban blacks who dress in hoodies, baggy pants, and a profusion of “bling” to send a signal to society that they relate to the antisocial attitudes glorified by the “gangsta” rap musicians. Perhaps many young blacks who adopt this pose do not do that, but simply like the edgy style of the rappers, just as many “good” white suburban kids in the 1950s once strutted about in black motorcycle jackets like that worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One. But it asks a great deal of a person to ponder these distinctions late at night on a city street. The reasonable reaction: Cross the street!
Los Angeles Times sportswriter Bill Plaschke will not cut Cuban any slack. In his column of May 23, he wrote, “By acknowledging a fear of a ‘black kid in a hoodie,’ Cuban is admitting he is scared of many of his own players and fans, as the hoodie is a common piece of wardrobe for young people of all races.”
Plaschke, adds, “Just because Cuban says he is trying ‘not to be hypocritical’ does not mean that he can be excused for his ignorance. Simply because he praises this country’s fight against bigotry doesn’t give him a pass to sound like a bigot. Mark Cuban is not Donald Sterling. He doesn’t have Sterling’s racist past. He is considered one of the league’s smartest and most passionate owners. But after making those comments, Cuban appears to be a lot closer to Sterling than anyone ever imagined, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver needs to deal with the dangers of that proximity.”
Baloney. I don’t know what is in Mark Cuban’s heart, but Plaschke delivered a cheap shot. When Cuban used the word “hoodie,” he was using it as a synecdoche, a term used to represent a greater whole. He was referring to the young blacks with the threatening demeanor we associate with “gangsta” rap culture. He would not have crossed the street to avoid four black sprinters in hoodies leaving an afternoon track meet. And I’d bet the ranch that Plaschke would cross the street if late at night he came across a group of skinheads sporting the tattoos and black paraphernalia of Aryan supremacists. Context matters.
We should not forget Jesse Jackson’s famous acknowledgment, “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery and then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.” Jackson is not alone.
Naomi Schaeffer Riley in her New York Post column of May 23 calls our attention to former Spelman College President Johnnetta Cole, who, writes Schaeffer Riley, “has written that in her many conversations with black women, ‘One of the most painful admissions I hear is: I am afraid of my own people’.”
Schaeffer Riley calls Mark Cuban “a rational person making a set of reasonable calculations about your safety based on available information.” She observes, “We all act on incomplete information. Women regularly make the decision not to get into an elevator or a subway car with men they don’t know. It’s not that they assume all men are rapists or murderers. It’s simply that given a limited amount of knowledge, we make calculations about what is safe.”