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McKissack: Donald Sterling's plantation mentality is pervasive

Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling watches

Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling watches his team play in Los Angeles on Oct. 17, 2010. Photo Credit: AP / Mark J. Terrill

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was right to ban L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and fine him $2.5 million.

As Silver put it so well, Sterling's racist comments were "deeply offensive and harmful" and "simply have no place in the NBA." Silver also appropriately apologized to Bill Russell and Magic Johnson and other NBA personalities Sterling had offended.

Bigoted clod though he may be, Sterling will leave a winner. His $15 million investment in the Clippers in 1981 will probably fetch him in the neighborhood of $1 billion.

That's billion with a B. So shed no tear for him.

The deeper story, however, is the public recognition, finally, that rank racism still festers in America.

Sterling has a long and notorious history of racist utterings, which the NBA shamefully ignored up to now. But his most recent spewings coalesce in time and space around the ramblings of Cliven Bundy. Both epitomize a basic plantation mentality - not slavery as an accepted institution, but an accepted narrative of white superiority and black inferiority - that is far more dangerous and pervasive than we Americans care to admit.

Very few white Americans embrace blacks on an emotional level. There is still a pervasive belief that whites are smarter and work harder than blacks.

While we may have legally ended slavery and sacked Jim Crow, the power of privilege, coupled with our still largely self-segregation, feeds into a racially stratified system that is morally bankrupt.

The plantation mentality didn't end with Emancipation Proclamation. It didn't end with Brown v. Board of Education. It didn't end with the March on Washington. Or the Civil Rights Act. Or the Voting Rights Act. Or when Michael Jordan won the hearts of the world.

If plantation thinking were truly dead, the NBA would have dealt with Donald Sterling years ago.

Fred McKissack wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.