Thank you, Mark Cuban.
After every major racial fracture in this country—from Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis to the old crank in New Hampshire who called the President Obama the n-word—progressives want to have a “national conversation on race.” When I hear people demand this conversation, I imagine some big auditorium in Berkeley where racists from other parts of the country are shipped in and told about their sins.
Because it’s not a national conversation people want; it’s a lecture. They just want to hear themselves talk.
Conversations are messy. Mark Cuban showed us that this week. In his interview at the GrowCo conference on Wednesday, Cuban walked straight into a thorny conversation. He admitted that he’s intimidated by young black men with hoodies walking on our streets, just like he’s afraid of white men with shaved heads and tattoos. He said he has his own biases, and he said we all do, too. He laid it out there, knowing there would be responses. He went there.
And in response, many progressives have tried to shut him up. One author implied that Cuban is the “next Donald Sterling.” Some civil rights groups proclaimed themselves offended, and suggested that Cuban is now not fit to be an NBA owner. But by taking this approach, they’re making a fatal mistake.
Do I find Cuban’s remarks offensive? Yes, at some level I do. I’m sad that he’s scared of the same boys I know so well—brilliant young men who have hopes and dreams and fears just like anyone else, even if they look a little different from Cuban’s kids. Boys like my 14-year-old brother, or like myself 14 years ago; I probably would have scared Cuban to death with my late-’90s cornrows alone.
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.
Mark Cuban: I’m glad you made your implicit biases explicit. If we ever have a chance to talk, I’ll tell you what I know about those young men in hoodies—they’re probably a lot more like you than you think. And yes, I’m going to talk a bit about history, like Ta-Nehisi Coates did this week, because you need to know that, too. Then you can tell me about those white guys in hidden boardrooms that sometimes scare the crap out of me. We’ll have a real conversation, not some phony PC charade where everyone lives in fear of a soundbite or a negative headline.
Because ultimately, that’s the only way we’ll figure this stuff out—this painful, hidden, hurtful stuff called race.