Mark Cuban Apologizes To Trayvon Martin's Family, But He's Missing The Point
The National Basketball Association’s Board of Governors has initiated the process of ousting banished Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, and that is troubling Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban. Though Cuban’s maintained his disgust with Sterling’s racist comments, he’s also expressed his discomfort with the league’s decision to exile his former comrade. In an interview with Inc. this week, Cuban expanded upon his initial comment that banning Sterling from the NBA is a “slippery slope” that might result in unexpected consequences.
Only, in order to make his point, Cuban evoked dangerous rhetoric that represents an even slipperier slope than the one he first pinpointed. Cuban's comments to Inc. show us how little we understand as a culture about stereotype threat. Biases are innate, but how we view threat based on those biases can be life-or-death.
Cuban's remarks are harmful because he's conflating the historical fear associated with black men to that of white men with tattoos. And it's simply not the same thing.
First, let's review the facts: Sterling-gate began April 23rd when TMZ released a recording of the Clippers owner spewing racist remarks about Magic Johnson, Clippers players, and other people of color to his then-girlfriend V. Stiviano. The recording went viral, leading the Clippers and the Miami Heat to stage silent protests.
The NBA acted swiftly in the aftermath of the tape's leaking. Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from participating in all NBA-sanctioned and related events, fined him the maximum $2.5 million penalty, and encouraged the Board of Governors to start the process of ousting Sterling as an owner. The Board of Governors began that process last week, but Sterling has publicly said that he will not pay the $2.5 million fine and has every intention of battling the NBA in court.
Yet while the country was reeling from Sterling's comments, Dallas Maverick's owner Mark Cuban remained mostly mum. His first comment was we should all remain focused on the NBA playoffs rather than Sterling, but he retracted that in a subsequent April 29 press conference.
He expressed moral outrage over Sterling's comments, but then told the Associated Press that "regardless of your background, regardless of the history they have, if we're taking something somebody said in their home and we're trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that's not the United States of America. I don't want to be part of that."
Now, almost one month later in his interview with Inc., Cuban is still singing a similar tune.
"In this day and age, this country has really come a long way putting any type of bigotry behind us, regardless of who it's toward,” Cuban said. “We've come a long way, and with that progress comes a price. We're a lot more vigilant and we're a lot less tolerant of different views, and it's not necessarily easy for everybody to adapt or evolve."
Cuban's mentality is nothing new. The promising economic progress blacks were making during Reconstruction was halted with the passing of Jim Crow laws, the banishment of people of color from their own established towns, and the rise of lynchings.
Similar patterns can be seen throughout American history. President Barack Obama’s election has often been held as evidence of post-racialism, but that doesn’t account for the undermining of important legislation, like successful Supreme Court challenges to affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act. Racism is also erecting structural barriers that keep people of color from moving into specific neighborhoods, as Donald Sterling learned when he was forced to fork over more than $2 million in a housing discrimination verdict.
To top it all off, Cuban added this gem during the interview:
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.
Cuban has since apologized to the slain 17 year old Trayvon Martin’s parents for not recognizing how his analogy trivialized Martin’s death. (Cuban's reps refused Bustle's request for comment.) But beyond that, Cuban's remarks are harmful because he's conflating the historical fear associated with black men to that of white men with tattoos. And it's simply not the same thing.
Centuries of racial stereotypes have instilled a fear of blacks that sends people, like Cuban, to the other side of the street and also costs black men their lives. While a white man with tattoos may alarm Cuban, that man is less likely to be perceived as an actual threat that must be stopped.
What Mark Cuban fails to understand is that racism is pernicious. It seeps into every crevice of American life, and it has clear consequences. It puts a bullet into Oscar Grant's back. It steals Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin from their families. It turns black men into savage bucks and black women into sapphires who must be stopped by a bullet or a prison cell. Merely existing is dangerous.
Black boys in hoodies get shot for being black boys in hoodies. And when they do, it's a result of a bias that quickly turns into deadly action. That's what Mark Cuban doesn't understand.
In the end, Cuban noted that he’s not perfect, and that he tries to fight against his own biases. That’s all wonderful for a billionaire with resources, but second chances aren’t afforded to those slain because of another person’s prejudices.
Mark Cuban could've opened a dialogue about why Sterling's comments aren't as harmful as his housing policies, as Attorney General Eric Holder did so eloquently last week, but instead, he only offered backward and dangerous rhetoric. You were almost on the right road Mark — but you missed your exit.