The racist remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling have been plastered across headlines and editorials, and were on the lips of virtually every news commentator. Once again the flames of the ever-simmering charge of racial injustice have been fanned. Time magazine commissioned a column by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the statements of other leading black sports figures have gotten ample press and airtime. A chorus joins their protest, demanding that all expression of injustice in society be rooted out — including sexism, homophobia, and racism. Righteous indignation is ringing from the rafters.
The situation brings to mind a report about a trio of shoplifters in an upscale suburban mall who concocted a unique strategy for pulling off their heist, capitalizing on stereotypes and diversionary tactics. One of those three “artful dodgers” was a young black male in a hoodie, who would linger suspiciously at one of the clothes counters, giving furtive glances to see if anyone was watching him. Predictably, the store security force was alerted and slowly converged around him. While all attention was focused on this threat, his accomplices — a well-dressed white couple — went into action, filling bags with all the goods they could carry, to be divvied up later.
Like the decoy in the heist, Sterling unwittingly serves as an easy target for the hunt dogs of racism, one who pulls attention away from far more egregious violations against those who are most in need. For example, government positions, first opened to blacks by the hard-won battles of the civil-rights era, have been filled with opportunist politicians
who were elected and entrusted to address the disadvantages of their low-income constituents. Yet in cities throughout the country that have been under their rule (in some cases for decades), these purported spokesmen for the black community have operated like modern-day robber barons, enriching themselves with funds that were garnered in the name of those who have the least.
In city after city, headlines in the local papers have told the story. In New Orleans, while the residents of the ninth ward were trying to cope with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Representative William Jefferson was found guilty of charges that included soliciting bribes, depriving citizens of honest service, money laundering, and using his office as a racketeering enterprise. Nine other members of his family who held positions with the government were indicted for diverting public funds intended to help low-income black teens and other kickback schemes.
In Chicago, throughout the past 33 years, the second congressional district has been represented by three black members of Congress who violated public trust. One was censored for sexual misconduct while on official duty in Africa. Another was convicted of having sex with a campaign aide who was a minor, and the third is currently serving prison time for theft of public funds.
Detroit fell into bankruptcy under the leadership of Democratic mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was convicted on 24 counts, including racketeering, conspiracy, and extortion and sentenced to 28 years in prison. Recently it was reported that the niece of Representative Danny Davis (D., Ill.), Quinshaunta Golden, has pleaded guilty to a kickback scam and faces a sentence of more than ten years in prison. Also in Illinois, Jeri Wright, daughter of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, has been found guilty of stealing thousands of dollars from a job-training program.
While deplorable, Sterling’s race-based insults to the black players on his team pale in significance when compared with the damage that self-serving politicians (and their associates) such as these have inflicted on their most disadvantaged constituents, siphoning funds that were vital to their communities to support their opulent lifestyles. Under their “leadership,” poverty and unemployment have increased and the streets of inner cities have turned into virtual killing fields where, every six months, the death toll from black-on-black homicides is equivalent to the tragic loss of 9/11.
Yet, with the exception of a one-day mention of the sentences that these opportunists have received, the media have made no effort to raise public awareness of the scandals they have perpetrated. They have been able to successfully use race as both a sword and shield against anyone who would speak out against their immoral, unethical, and illegal actions.
If only a fraction of the attention and outrage that has been raised about the comments of an 80-year-old racist could be given to the injury that has been perpetrated by duplicitous “leaders” of the black community, our most impoverished cities might have a chance to heal and the prospects for the future of a seemingly doomed generation might be reclaimed.
— Robert L. Woodson is the founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.