Eric Holder famously suggested that, on the question of race at least, America represents a “nation of cowards.” After watching the crucifixion of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban over the past couple of days, it’s nigh on impossible not to think that he’s right.
In an interview arranged by the business magazine Inc., Cuban went out on a limb. Answering a question about Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, he started by reiterating his view that not only is cultural censorship a force for ill, but that it is impossible to regulate away unpleasantness (“there’s no law against stupid”), and then moved on to weightier things. America has come a long way, Cuban suggested, but it is “not necessarily easy for everybody to adopt, or adapt, or evolve”:
We’re all prejudiced in one way or the other. 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. 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. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of. And so, in my businesses, I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I’m not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it’s not appropriate for me to throw stones.
Reacting rather violently to this in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, Bill Plaschke put succinctly what became a widely expressed sentiment: Cuban, Plaschke sniped, had chosen to discuss “his own prejudices in startling terms.” “His honesty,” he concluded, “is appalling.”
One wonders at what point “startling honesty” became a bad thing — especially in a realm such as this. On the surface, we claim that we want to talk about these issues candidly. When it comes to it, though, we tend to demur. Honesty, perhaps, has a better reputation than it deserves. It is a virtue, yes. But it also carries with it certain guarantees of discomfort. By its very nature, honesty will not always yield pretty results, nor is it likely invariably to satisfy the claims of the zeitgeist; human nature being fallible, anybody charged with revealing his soul will almost certainly impart sincerely acquired misinformation, a good dose of old-fashioned irrationality, and a reliance upon stereotypes; and, conversations being organic and unpredictable things, any discussion that ranges into uncharted or precarious territory is certain to bring up topics that societies tend to prefer to keep quiet. Do we want that or do we not?
Apparently, we do not. Yesterday, the ever-hysterical ThinkProgress summed up the underlying problem perfectly. Cuban, Travis Waldron griped in a notably confused post, has shown America “how not to start a conversation about racism.” On its face, this is a peculiar claim, is it not? Cuban did, quite literally and deliberately, start a conversation about racism. He talked about specifics, allowing that if he sees a “black kid in a hoodie” on his side of the street, he is prone to “move to the other side”; he personalized his contribution, self-critically contending that he was “prejudiced” and “bigoted in a lot of different ways”; and he broadened his point to society as a whole, positing that “none of us have pure thoughts; we all live in glass houses.” All in all, a pretty good way of kicking off the game.
But, it seems, an unacceptable one, too. This, apparently, was not the conversation that the Left wished to have — nor, perhaps, the conversation that the majority of Americans wish to have. Here, the cynics are right when they claim that the sort of people who call for a “dialogue” in this area really want to hear a lecture, and that those who are ostensibly seeking merely to arrange a forum in which they can ask people what they think wish only that the people with the wrong views will out themselves with sufficient probity that they might be pilloried in public.