This week, in McAlester, Oklahoma, a black man who committed a truly heinous crime was tortured to death by the state. No one is going to shed many tears for Clayton Lockett, who shot a teenager and had her buried alive in 1999. But the question that needs to be asked here, loudly and clearly, of each and every citizen of Oklahoma, “Are you ok with the way Lockett was killed?” Because ultimately, governments being empowered by the people that they represent, the responsibility rests with each and every Oklahoman.
And if you’re cool with the state injecting untested drugs into a man, causing him to violently convulse, call out things like “Mama, turn it off,” and die of a heart attack after 43 minutes, if that doesn’t make you at least wince, well, then perhaps the evil you perceive in this world is looking right back at you in the mirror.
Capital punishment is one of the most blatant examples of racism in action in this country, racism with real consequences for disempowered people. Yes, whites do get executed, but the history of the death penalty is one that is filled disproportionately with the state-sanctioned murder of black people.
What does this have to do with L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the tapes of his virulent, awful, racist statements to his mistress about her posting photos of her and black people on Instagram? Go with the Rude Pundit on this:
1. Donald Sterling was a racist cocksucker for years. No one called for his head for any of those statements and actions. Indeed, he atoned for his behavior (or covered it up) by giving shit tons of money (he’s a billionaire, so it meant squat to him) to the NAACP. ESPN’s Bomani Jones sounded the alarm back in 2006 and no one gave a shit.
2. And that’s because Sterling’s earlier actions were affecting powerless non-whites. This time around, he was fucking with rich black guys. He may hate all African Americans, but it’s a fuck of a lot easier when people without pockets are your target. The outrage is because people who could make noise and be heard made noise. Where the fuck were they before now?
3. What happened is that Sterling’s hatefulness could no longer be ignored because he posed a threat to the wallets of people with money. That’s it. That’s the only reason any of this is as huge as it is: because it fucked with rich people.
4. To return to Bomani Jones, he went on an extended rant about Sterling on The Dan Le Batard Show where he laid it out there: “This is the only opportunity people will have within their souls and within their psyches to stand against racism. ‘Cause it’s so easy to do it on this right here. It’s so scandalous…So everybody’s saying, ‘This is my chance to speak down on racism.’ When the next time comes and it’s real racism and it’s me and you just talking about it and the rest of them are being silent, that’s when you get to pop up and say, ‘Well, wait. I said something about Donald Sterling.'”
5. And Jones goes on to talk about housing discrimination in Chicago and how that has led to all of the violence occurring in that city, including the murder of a friend of his. Housing discrimination is something that Sterling engaged in that is far, far worse and far, far more racist than saying he didn’t want his woman seen with black people. (Really, you have to listen to Jones. It’s goddamn amazing.)
6. Sterling’s words ain’t shit compared to what he and his ilk have done to fuck things up in the United States. No one gave a fuck about his actions. If that tape hadn’t been made, Sterling would have gone right on doing what he wanted. Fuck, it still won’t matter, even if he loses the team. There’s barely been a dust speck put on his armor made of billions of dollars.
7. The energy that has been put into the Sterling situation, the time spent covering it, debating it, all of it, will never be spent on Clayton Lockett and what the citizens of a state in this nation did to him. And it matters so much more than Donald Sterling that perhaps it’s too much to get our heads around.
It’s just easier for most people to point at the old, wealthy, white dude and say, “Racist” while ignoring the institutional racism that pollutes our nation.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on April 30, 2014, on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.