As the sports world continues to wait and see how the Donald Sterling v. NBA saga will eventually end, Dallas mavericks owner Mark Cuban again offers some very interesting opinions on what many would consider discriminatory thoughts and behaviors. Cuban wasn’t defending Sterling, rather he was reminding us that we all see the world through our own unique personal prism, one that is often colored with bias, preconceived notions, and even bigoted thoughts. Ironically, Cuban is right on point with his assertions, even if none of us like to think that we have thoughts anything less than perfect and fair to all human beings.
Human perception and judgement
The field of psychology has many wonderful findings to offer as they apply to human perception and judgement. We know, for example, that many factors cloud our perceptions each day, including our level of alertness, the information that is most readily available to us, our mood and attitude at any given moment, and our previous experiences with the person or situation. Unfortunately, we are not robots without feelings only able to analyze data objectively, but instead we are human beings who routinely make errors in thinking and behavior.
None of the factors associated with human bias are designed to let Donald Sterling off the hook here, but perhaps Cuban’s comments will again remind us that forming opinions of others is a fluid, delicate, and often error-prone experience. Cuban admitted that he is full of bigotry by pointing out how he would walk on the other side of the street if he saw a black kid wearing a hoodie, similar to how he would also walk on the other side of the street if he saw a white kid with a shaved head and tattoos. Is Cuban wrong for steering clear of these types of people? Would you instruct your own kids to be on guard if they crossed kids that looked like the ones Cuban just described? Would you call Cuban a racist if he were equally as worried about the white kid as he was the black kid in the examples he provided?
Be careful when judging others
These days, the lines have blurred between what some call racism whereas others call common sense (i.e. like steering clear from people who appear to be dangerous). We are also living in an age where any words you put out there, even in jest, as part of a joke, or used as sarcasm, will immediately be picked up by the media and likely lead to very harsh consequences. Wiping out racism and discriminatory behavior are very worthwhile pursuits for all people from all backgrounds, but we must be careful not to assign the tag “racist” in loose and haphazard ways and without a complete picture of the situation. Ironically, many people today who are criticizing Donald Sterling have made similarly hurtful comments themselves, or likely will at some point in their future when talking about women, homosexuals, or even those who have different religious beliefs.
Mark Cuban’s comments are important, as are 100+ years of psychological research that show how vulnerable we are as humans when it comes to our thinking and judgements. This does not mean we give a free pass to those who display racist actions and discrimination, but that we try and understand where those thoughts come from and how we might all work collectively to minimize and eventually eliminate the ignorant thinking that’s at the heart of hatred toward fellow man, whether he is black, white, or of any other color.