There aren’t many people defending Donald Sterling. It’s something that I find difficult to do as well. From what I’ve read about him, he is not someone I want as a friend or even a neighbor. Leaving aside the racist comments that brought him down, I’m not a fan of those who lace their words with profanity or disrespect their marriage vows.
Still—as I read comments that charge him with being the worst kind of racist, I can’t agree. Were the words caught on tape despicable? Yes. Were they hurtful? Certainly. Do they invalidate everything else in his life and represent the totality of his views? Maybe, but possibly not.
Ancient Jewish wisdom states that you can truly see inside a person through, “kiso, koso and ka’aso;” when he loses control under the influence of money, alcohol or anger. Goaded to fury by his female friend, Sterling said things he most likely would not have chosen to articulate when he accepted the NAACP’s, Los Angeles Branch, man of the year award in 2009.
Does this make him the worst kind of racist? Is he worse than African-American thugs who “play” the knockout game, attacking people on the street because they are white or Asian? Is he worse than the white hoodlum who throws a stone through a window because he doesn’t want a Black family to move next door? Is he worse than a politician who may very well like people without regard to their color, but whose love of power and money leads him to vote against policies that will allow African-American children to get a good education? If erupting in contemptible words in a burst of anger is the worst racism imaginable, then we are indeed living in blessed times.
Ancient Jewish wisdom states that we should try to make our insides match out outsides. Most of us try to ‘put on a good face.’ No matter how down we are, we tend to put on a smile in public; we behave more politely when others are watching us; we are more truthful when we know our words are being monitored. This isn’t hypocrisy. It simply reflects our complex human make-up. When we internalize the happy, well-mannered and honest demeanor we like to project, we are exhibiting personal growth. “Letting it all hang out,” when we are in a bad mood or automatically succumbing to our body’s desires because, “I have to be true to myself,” is selfish, and not at all commendable.
While I have no desire to meet Donald Sterling, I have met – and I like – Mel Gibson. When he was drunk, a particular failing of his, he too was goaded to an angry outburst, in his case an anti-Semitic one. Certainly, he is responsible for his actions and words. Knowing his weakness, he shouldn’t drink. At the same time, if his words came from deep inside him, but his daily actions when not under the influence of drink or anger show respect and even affection for those he insulted while under the influence, then perhaps the criticism is wrong. It is not irrelevant that the Jews who regularly work with Mel, speak of him with warmth and admiration. None of them joined the legions attacking him.
I don’t know Mr. Sterling in the slightest. He too, is responsible for his words and actions, and maybe he really is a creep. Yet, as a human being with my own shortcomings and flaws, I know that I don’t want to be judged as a wife, a mother, a friend or a person, based on an isolated outburst.
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