Diss Guy: Mark Cuban
By Kris Fenrich
Unsolicited (and maybe inadvertently – though I have my doubts), Mark Cuban emptied out his thoughts on racial bias and bigotry to Inc. Magazine a little over a week ago. His comments were far from perfect, as my anointing him as Diss Guy will no doubt have its flaws. But for any positives, it has to be acknowledged there was a lot wrong with Cuban’s comments and the subsequent reaction:
- His articulation and equating a black kid in a hoodie to a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos on his face grabbed the most attention and ultimately resulted in Cuban apologizing to Trayvon Martin’s family.
- That the prompting of these comments came as a response to Donald Sterling’s own race-fueled words, while not an explicit defense of Sterling, were presented in a way that they could be perceived as a minimization of sorts.
- Despite obvious ongoing conversations on race in America, mainstream media continues to reserve a special place for the ideas of white men on the topic. For example, in an upcoming biography, Michael Jordan, who recounts a specific racially-motivated incident growing up in North Carolina is quoted as saying “I considered myself racist at the time. Basically, I was against all white people.” And where a Google News search for “Michael Jordan racist” turns up 121 results, a query for “Mark Cuban bias” reveals 477 results.
- Cuban’s (and my own) inability to acknowledge that he’s essentially merging into an existing conversation, not starting it which is one of the benefits of being white in America: the privilege to hop in and out of race-based conversations when it’s a hot topic or just turn a blind eye to them if one so chooses.
If race is constant in American dialogue with rising and falling volumes and pitches, then the conversation and voices were amplified on April 25th when TMZ released the recording of Sterling’s racist comments to his then-girlfriend. Where Cuban broke from the existing mainstream media sound bites of easy condemnation was presenting his loud, privileged voice as an attention-grabbing, non-conformist alternative – specifically in contrast to other NBA owners and the sentiments given attention from mainstream media. But instead of just talking about the “slippery slope” of forcing Sterling to sell, Cuban took accountability for his own bias – which while admirable, is only a step into the conversation that was going on well before Mark Cuban and will continue on long after his comments when he’s bitching about NBA officiating and crying into German beers lamenting time stealing Dirk from him. In his own reckless way, he caught the public’s and media’s attention, and got some people (primarily white people?) thinking about race from an angle different from what may be their normal view.
As I continue to attempt to process Cuban’s comments, I’m left wondering if this conversation (Is that what we’re having when we read and respond or is it nothing more than idle opinion from a self-centered perspective?) is inevitable, if it’s more important than the other conversations we would normally be having (Who’s going to coach Kobe and how will he change his game!?!?), if Donald Sterling getting caught was a good thing, a bad thing, a painful but necessary thing, or just a thing. Whatever judgment is attached to it, a conversation (or a telling, or a venting) has broken out and it includes voices from all walks of media and the blogosphere and no doubt those below-the-fold hideaways where the commenters process – and often troll. The conversation skewers some of Cuban’s comments and applauds others. The discussion, or collection of viewpoints, wraps its arms around the cacophony without consensus.
Of the numerous pieces I read on the topic, there was a line from Daily Beast columnist and President Obama’s “Pastor-in-Chief,” Joshua DuBois that caught my attention for its clarity and its ability to communicate my reasons for finding something of value in Cuban’s comments:
But here’s what I know: the only way to address Cuban’s biases, and the views of millions of others who think like him, is to create a space where those views can be heard. Conversely, the way we get the Donald Sterlings of tomorrow is by shutting up the Mark Cubans of today. If the misguided views that each of us hold about other groups are allowed to fester in the dark, they will become more caustic, bitter. Eventually, they’ll explode into the light—maybe through a surreptitious recording, maybe a nasty outburst in a diner, or maybe in other, darker ways.
There are numerous other stories that offer perspective (personal and scientific), but for as clumsy as Cuban’s comments were and as much as it continues to be an example of the existence of privilege in America, there was saving grace to his admission. For me, his comments have acted as a reminder of my own privilege and of the larger structure of pervasive racism that exists every day in this godforsaken country. For reminding me of that, I appreciate Cuban’s comments and further, appreciate the honest sound board of fellow Diss writer, Kevin Draper.
Miss Guy: Mark Cuban and “Honest Discussions about Race”
By Jacob Greenberg
There’s no small amount of irony in the fact that, even if he hadn’t shared his “honest” views on race and bigotry with Inc. Magazine two weeks ago, Mark Cuban would’ve probably found his way into the Miss Guy section of this column before too long. While I would’ve probably honed in on the “slippery slope” argument he presented when questioned about the NBA’s right to force a sale of the Clippers, I cannot deny that, as a fan, I have never been very fond of the bombastic billionaire owner of the Mavericks; the first of a string of fantastically wealthy owners whose personalities are matched by the amount of revenue they pour into their entities. I was never keen on taking a side in his early battles with the league and its officiating, and as a Warriors fan, I relished watching him glower as we dismantled his 67-win team in 2007. In fact, the time I enjoyed Cuban the most was during 2011, when he famously shut his mouth so as not to be a distraction from the larger goal of his organization: beating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. To me, that was the perfect flavor of Cuban: seen but rarely heard, and mildly surprised by a sense of restraint; that his opinion wasn’t needed on everything. For once, he wasn’t distracting us from the larger picture at hand.
The irony here — one might even say hypocrisy — is that, in my dislike without prior context, am being prejudiced towards Mr. Cuban. If prejudice is primarily defined (by Webster’s) as “an unfair feeling of dislike for a person or group because of race, sex, religion, etc.” and secondarily defined as “a feeling of like or dislike for someone or something especially when it is not reasonable or logical,” then on both counts I am certainly in the wrong. For starters, I have no reason to dislike a man whom I have never met, nor am ever likely to meet. And frankly, as a person-of-color from the middle class, who has said on a podcast that when it comes to race perspectives, regardless of whether you agree or disagree, all perspectives are important, and should be considered before making a “hot sports take”, I shouldn’t have any reason to dismiss Cuban’s perspectives on how prejudice and bigotry operate in our society. A series of proverbs from a vast mosaic of peoples and places emphasize that one should practice what they preach. Yet I feel how I feel, and I am not afraid to admit that. I think what Cuban said was wrong. I feel he is a Miss Guy.
My gut feeling doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there has been ample angst over folks like Cuban for a long time. For example, at around this time last year, Robert Huber of Philadelphia Magazine published an article entitled “Being White in Philly,” where he asserted that the white, affluent population of Philadelphia had stopped seeing low-income folks of color because they were unable to participate in the larger discussion about race in the city. “One of the reasons, plainly put, is queasiness over race. Many of those neighborhoods are predominantly African-American. And if you’re white, you don’t merely avoid them—you do your best to erase them from your thoughts,” wrote Huber in the piece. However, according to the author”white Philadelphians think a great deal about race.” He offers a sympathetic take: “Everyone seems to have a story, often an uncomfortable story, about how white and black people relate.” To prove this point, he interviewed several white, affluent folks — and kept them anonymous — and showed that racial thought was extremely different depending on which side of the “tracks” you were on. This led to a messy picture. “In so many quarters, simply discussing race is seen as racist. And so white people are stuck, dishonest by default, as we take a pass on the state of this city’s largely black inner city and settle for politely opening doors at Wawa, before we slip back to our own lives.” At the same time, Huber writes that “our troubled black communities create in us a tangle of feelings, including this one: a desire for things to be better. But for that sentiment to come true—for it to mean anything, even—I’ve come to believe that white people have to risk being much more open.” The piece was very divisive. Many decried it as racist, including the mayor of Philadelphia. Others felt it was brilliant. In any case, it became the most-read article in Philly Mag during the last calendar year.
One can look at two critical pieces assessing this work published in The Atlantic to get an understanding about the tricky spot glorification over so-called”honest discussions of race.” Ta-Nehisi Coates commented that the piece wasn’t racist as much as it was deeply flawed in its methodology and efficacy. “Writers who focus on race/gender/sexual orientation are often of the mind that the issues that they are tackling have, somehow, never been tackled before, or if so, have not been tackled ‘honestly’ or ‘forthrightly’ or ‘candidly,’” writes Coates, and asserts that “in the arena of race, the notion that Americans ‘don’t talk about race’ is a particularly pernicious rendition of this logic.” Because of this, Coates feels that perhaps we shouldn’t even bother with the “honest conversation” so many folks, like Cuban, are excited to have. You can never write beautifully about the fact of race, anymore than you can write beautifully about the fact of hillsides. All you’ll end up with is a lot of words, and a comment section filled with internet skinheads and people who have nothing better to do with their time then to argue internet skinheads.” Conor Friedersdorf agrees with Coates, but adds a secondary caveat, and one that seems more in line with Cuban’s fear: that even well-intentioned folks can really miss the mark. In this case, he is worth quoting at length:
We’re all vulnerable to publishing dud pieces — to trying hard, getting it right most of the time, but failing once in a while — and while it’s never pleasant to be excoriated in a blog post that is dead on in its critique, the consequences of publishing a dud are magnified wildly if you’re writing on certain subjects — the perilous ones that could plausibly result in a viral outcry or an advertiser boycott or calls for your actually being fired from your publication. Race is one of those subjects.
In a piece for ESPN, J.A. Adande argues that “too many people can’t differentiate between prejudice and racism.” As Adande writes, “they confuse ‘race’ and ‘racial’ with ‘racist.’ They look for false equivalencies where none exist.” In the mind of Adande, “prejudice only becomes racism when those biases are acted upon. Prejudice can be offensive. Racism can be exclusionary, destructive or even deadly.” With that in mind, Adande applauds Cuban for taking the discussion, albeit “clumsily” to a many-layered place that would require something of a linguistic turn. ”In doing so,” Adande writes, “he steered the conversation to a place our society isn’t sophisticated enough to handle comfortably. The failure to even comprehend the terminology is but one barrier on the road to progress.”
By listing Mark Cuban as a Miss Guy, I am hoping I am not creating another “barrier on the road to progress,” as Adande might say. In many ways, I feel like I’ve grown alongside Cuban as a fan of this game. He bought the Mavericks when I was 14 years old, and since then, I have watched him evolve over the years, and in a strange way, he has watched me change and grow as well. I took note of the outbursts and the fines, the spats with league brass and the splits with a few coaches. At the same time, he took note of where the country was at, in terms of dialogue about race. In his view, the time had come to unfurl that ugly flag, and show who he really is. In his view, that was “honesty.” In my view, that revealed racist thought, even if it didn’t pass the “real-life consequences” disclaimer that Adande listed in his piece. In my worldview, no one should be championed for speaking offensively about others, even if it’s in an effort to absolve themselves.
There comes a point in all of these “honest discussions about race” where talking about stereotypes that everyone knows becomes tired, and stops revealing any new truths. One can only hear someone reveal that they can’t help but feel that all blacks are lazy, or all Asians are good at math, or that all White folks are rich and can neither jump nor dance before it just gets old. It is not surprising that Mark Cuban is afraid of young black youths; my suspicion is that most do. At the same time, one could take that prejudiced opinion, and throw back a rejoinder that I was unlikely to give Cuban the time of day anyways; his lack of experience, and his ham-handed tongue, have already indicted himself to me many times over. This is something he is likely unable to overcome, unless we meet each other, shake hands, and he can say, to my face, “I am afraid of you because of your skin, and I feel bad about that.” At that point, I could level my eyes at him, and apologize for writing him off as a rich white dude who, just a week earlier, had vaguely defended Donald Sterling, or at the very least, his right to say what he feels in private, without any recourse.
In this way, and for these reasons, I feel very comfortable making Mark Cuban a Miss Guy. At the same time, though, it’s hard to not feel a little like a Miss Guy, myself.