Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban set the media world on its ear Wednesday with his comments about prejudice at the GrowCo conference in Nashville. His admission that he would stereotype a young black boy in a hoodie as dangerous or criminal has many people branding him a racist and comparing him to Donald Sterling and others. Yet it was the way the NBA owner and spotlight lover said the thing that was wrong, and not necessarily the thing itself.
The point that Cuban was trying to make—that everyone has prejudices and biases—is a valid one. Yet he made the mistake of choosing a comparison that would undeniably spark controversy: that of black versus white. Although he pointed out that both races could make him uncomfortable depending on their attire and demeanor, he oversimplified the issue by making it solely about race, and solely about two specific races. Prejudice touches more than black and white, and much more than just race. People judge based on gender, on age, clothing, cosmetic choices, beauty, size, religion and much more. There is no limit to what can affect a person’s bias.
Perhaps if the Mavericks owner had not said the thing wrong like he did; perhaps if he had compared a white boy in a hoodie to a white man covered in tattoos; perhaps if he had eliminated race altogether from the scenario, it is possible the media and the world would not have heard the wrong thing behind his words. Unfortunately, he spoke candidly and, more unfortunately, the media is often primed to inflame controversy as much as possible. What Mark Cuban was really trying to say was he knows prejudice exists, and he knows he is often guilty of it. That self-awareness, a lack of self-righteousness, allows him to see situations like Donald Sterling’s or George Zimmerman’s in a less one-dimensional way. He did not vindicate either man for their actions, but tried instead to understand the “why” which most observers answered automatically with assumptions based on their own biases. A bit pompous, maybe, but Cuban did admit he is not perfect.
If a woman crosses the street to avoid a strange man in a hoodie, despite his color, but does not cross the street to avoid a strange woman, is she sexist? The answer is yes, to some degree. Does that make her a terrible person worthy of being vilified by the media? The better reaction is to step back and assess this prejudice, and ask why she feels the need to cross the street and what it is about passing strange men that makes her feel unsafe. By recognizing the source of the prejudice, one can then try to remove the prejudice from their thought patterns.
As Cuban said, no one is perfect. Casting people aside, or shutting them up, when they talk about issues that make others cringe does nothing to help the situation. When NFL wide receiver Riley Cooper made derogatory comments about black people, the Philadelphia Eagles sent him to sensitivity training. The San Francisco 49ers made the same decision with Chris Culliver in response to his degradation of homosexuals. Whether that training made a difference is something only those players and organizations truly know, but at least they attempted to address the situation rather than simply shoving it to the back of their skeleton closet.
Mark Cuban’s message appeared to be that accepting, understanding, and confronting one’s own stereotypes is the first step to eradicating prejudice—whether prejudice could ever truly be erased is another conversation—and simply pretending one is not prejudiced, or ignoring the rampant prejudice in the world, will only further exacerbate the problem. It may be something Mark Cuban said wrong, but it was not the wrong thing.
Commentary by Christina Jones