In olden times blasphemers and others were placed in the pillory or stocks and subjected to public abuse. People could throw anything they wished and the victim could not move. Besides rotten fruit and fish, people threw rocks and faeces. If the victim was kept for days, this abuse could be fatal.

With the advent of social media we have invented a new kind of public piling on used to punish people for things such as racism the public finds offensive. It is a growing practice that raises fundamental ethical questions. It could be used against atheists as well as racists.

I have no sympathy for Donald Sterling, the racist owner of the Clippers basketball team—he seems like an ugly personality completely unworthy of sympathy—but the remarks attributed to him were made in private.

I am uncomfortable with the notion that private thoughts and statements are a sufficient reason for public sanctions. When someone makes racist comments in public, they may be a detriment to the business or public office they represent, and they may be punished by removal from their position, but private thoughts and comments are a different matter to my mind.

What happens after something like this is made public, is that everyone piles on and there is no going back to the previous state of affairs. People add insults as a way of patting themselves on the back for not being racist and showing that their own hands are clean. That seems craven.

I'm interested in what people here think about this question. Should we punish people for saying things in private that the public considers offensive? Should people be punished for what they think?

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You don't think she just loved him for his beautiful soul and kind heart?

Recording a conversation without consent is generally illegal.  So is it OK to make such decisions based on an illegal act?

My son just informed me that I am wrong and Sterling's private email or voice tapes cannot be used against him. 

Well, it isn't the first time a loved one disagrees with my position. So, if there were a vote he and I would cancel each other out. 

I wonder what the silent majority thinks?

Here's the actual conversation. It's different from how the short excerpt sounds.  What he's saying is that he doesn't want her to publicly associate herself with black people because people of different races associating or dating or whatever, would look bad to some people.  People around him. 

Wow! Thanks, Luara, for providing the full recording. It differs so much from the clips on TV.

I heard a lovers' quarrel between an old Caucasian man with views appropriate to his past and a young woman of mixed ethnicities with views appropriate to her present.

I heard too a quarrel between a man all but unable to deal with his emotions and a woman able to deal with hers.

Rather like an unmovable object experiencing an unstoppable force.

And, of course, the old man could afford a young girlfriend.

That a private conversation became public?

1. The old guy grew up when no one carried concealed voice recorders.

2. Cultures change as old folks die. BTW, I'm 83.

One of my reactions to the conversation was, she's with this old man because of his money, most likely.  He thinks he can buy her:  dictate her actions. 

I would resent this, in her shoes. 

I agree.  I was surprised to see in Shelby Steele's essay "The age of white guilt: and the disappearance of the black individual" at

The great achievement of the civil-rights movement was that its relentless moral witness finally defeated the legitimacy of racism as propriety--a principle of social organization, manners, and customs that defines decency itself. An idea controls culture when it achieves the invisibility of propriety. And it must be remembered that racism was a propriety, a form of decency. When, as a boy, I was prohibited from entering the fine Christian home of the occasional white playmate, it was to save the household an indecency.

This would have been in the 50's.  Not so long ago - and yet, it's now a startling idea. 

And Sterling is older than Steele - born in the 30's. 

I would call him a dinosaur.  Or a giant toad.  Being his girlfriend would be a fate almost worse than death. 

But the modern self-righteousness over it is also not pleasant to see.

I get something out of reading the black conservatives like Shelby Steele, who aren't part of the black-as-victim discourse.  They have novel thoughts. 

I thought about this when Paula Deen had her downfall for using racist language and revealing that she harbored racist thoughts.  What does that have to do with how much butter she mixes into her biscuits?  The impression I had was, customers would be offended by Deen's racism and stop buying products and watching programs that she was in.  In the end, it seemed like her downfall was not a judgement, and she was not pilloried, but rather it was a marketing decision.  I don't have any pity for her, but I don't know much about her.

Then there was Brendan Eich, the Mozilla executive who gave money to the antigay Measure 8 in California, which was designed to deprive LGBT people of equal marriage rights, which had already been granted by the courts.  While some commentators disingenuously claimed there was a "gay mafia" or a "gay gestapo" that had somehow ended Eich's tenure as Mozilla CEO, it looked more like the employees and customers of Mozilla were fearful that Eich's clear expression of discrimination would have impact on them in the workplace.  If I was an LGBT employee under a boss who clearly said I was not worthy of equal rights, I would be equally apprehensive about what decisions that boss made about me.  In fact, I was harassed out of a workplace a few years ago, and one thing I learned is, people don't say "I'm harassing you because you are (gay, straight, female, male, white, black, latino/a, East Asian, Atheist, Mormon, Raeilian) but what they do instead is gang up on you, exclude you, pass around malicious gossip, deprive you of opportunity, whisper, and make false reports to clueless superiors.  So if there is a boss who hates me for any category that I happen to occupy, I don't want that boss even if they make a PR statement to the contrary.  I give the Mozilla employees a lot of credit for standing up to corporate pressure and saying they did not want that CEO, they had good reason not to trust him, and why should they quit their jobs to go elsewhere, when he is the one who supported discrimination against them?  It wasn't thought police, it was about trust, and again, PR or marketing.

So we get around to the latest one.  If I was Sterling's employee, would I want him as my boss?  No.  The things he said were obviously bigoted.  Would I believe he would give me equal opportunity?  No.  He might say he will, and there might be token employees, even his mistress, who seem to prove otherwise, but how do I remain comfortable with him?  And as for marketing, regardless of how it came out, it did come out.  And once out, the marketing forces take over, and it's hard for sponsors to say "buy our product, and let's not pay attention to the bigot who profits incredibly from your purchase".   I don't feel sorry for this guy.

Over the years, I've known any number of people who were fired for expressing opinions.  I've known people who were discriminated against for "being" something, such as Black, or gay, or female, or male, or just not a member of the "club".  We can feel like these many-times-over millionaires are being persecuted for marketing decisions after making injudicious statements, but there are not a lot of people defending the ordinary person who is fired or harassed or just silently not chosen, for the same reasons.  I'll defend the ordinary person many times over before I shed a tear for Paula Deen, or Brendan Eich, or Don Sterling. 

Some people might be fired for being racist.  But I bet far more people are deprived opportunity, or fired, or passed over, because they are not "in-group members", which includes belonging to the race that Sterling doesn't want his girlfriend to publically hang out with.  Considering he profited tremendously from a franchise that depended on the efforts, skills, work, talents of many African American - and white - players, and sports fans, revealing his stance would cost his company and those very players and other employees.  It was time for him to go.

Well thought out analysis, powerfully written. 

One additional point, this from a response to  Michaelangelo Signorile's Huff Post column:  "Sterling had a contract. No doubt it said something like must not bring the organisation into disrepute."

I think that's pure speculation, but it's possible.  I know there are a number of employers that require such a contract, and there are professions that require it to maintain licensing.  At that point, it doesn't matter that the conversation was private, it became public and whether his fault or not, in guilt by association he brought his organisation into disrepute.  Again, like Paula Deen and her TV and sponsors.  Maybe.

I don't think that a conversation he didn't know was being recorded, can be interpreted as "bringing the organization into disrepute".  

The way he puts it in the recording, what he is concerned about with his girlfriend publicizing photos of herself with a black man, is the association of different races.  His girlfriend responded as if he were saying something against black people, and he says over and over that he admires Magic Johnson, he thinks black people are great, he loves black people, etc.  

Someone who is managing a lot of money probably does have to be careful about appearances.  His concerns might be totally misplaced - his perceptions are likely outdated.  Did OJ's football team ever suffer because of his white wife Nicole? 

And likely he is actually racist.  However, his statements were widely interpreted as a straightforward racist statement that "there's something wrong about black people so you shouldn't be seen with them".  His message, at least on the surface, is not that.  His message is "it would cause me problems with certain people if you publicize your associations with black people". 

My original point got lost in the details of the Sterling case, but I think what we see here and elsewhere is as old as tribal living—public shaming. There is, in the long history of public executions, an element of shaming which civilization had been getting away from until the advent of modern social media made it easy to do.



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