retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Michael's column this week is a message of hope and optimism.

This morning's Eye-Opener, not so much.

Because I find myself disheartened by the degree to which continued racism in this country has been on display over the past week or so.

There's Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who seems to bring a plantation mentality to running a sports franchise. And Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher accused of owing the US government a million dollars in unpaid grazing fees for letting his cattle feed on federal land, who went from not recognizing the federal government to suggesting that African-Americans might've been better off as slaves.

Disgusting.

On the other hand, while the musings of these two people were truly depressing, there was a bright side. With few exceptions, both men's attitudes were almost instantly reviled in the courtroom of public opinion. Which counts, I guess, as some sort of progress. The problem, of course, is that these guys are not alone. They just happened to have microphones thrust in their faces (whether they knew it or not).

In the case of Sterling, who apparently made racist comments about African-Americans in a conversation with his mistress that she surreptitiously recorded, the commercial impact was immediate. Mercedes Benz, Diageo, Kia Motors, Virgin America, Red Bull, Aquahydrate, CarMax and State Farm all either ended or suspended their relationship with the Clippers, citing Sterling's comments as being unacceptable.

If there is a business lesson here, it is how fast this kind of ugly discourse becomes public. It is like a wildfire, and there's no way to tamp it down.

But somehow it seems insufficient to look at this case and take only a business lesson from it. Because there also is a much broader life lesson about the ugliness of intolerance.

As of this writing, it is impossible to know what will happen next in the Sterling case. The National Basketball Association (NBA) may be legally limited in what its responses can be; even if Sterling can be forced to sell the team, he'll make hundreds of millions of dollars from such a sale. I suspect - or hope - that even if the NBA can't do anything, market forces will work against Sterling.

Still, there are two Eye-Openers here. One is the degree to which ugly racism still exists in this country, even if it is on the fringes. And the other is the speed of response from people for whom racism and bigotry are unacceptable options.

BTW…it is worth reading a commentary about racism written by the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the Time website. You can read it here.

Also…I thought that, as usual, Jon Stewart hit it out of the park last night with his treatment of Sterling, which you can watch here.
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