Commentary: Thank You, Mark Cuban

Keith Boykin is happy the Dallas Mavericks owner admitted his truth about his views on race.

Posted: 05/22/2014 01:19 PM EDT

I'm not a big fan of Mark Cuban. I have nothing against him, mind you, I'm just not a fan. Nor do I care for the Dallas Mavericks, the NBA team Cuban owns, especially after they defeated LeBron James and my Miami Heat three years ago for the NBA championship.

But I have to say thank you today to Mark Cuban for saying something that really needed to be said, and really needed to be said by a privileged white man.

"If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street," Cuban told Inc. magazine. That's a pretty honest statement for a 55-year-old billionaire who owns a basketball team. It's particularly revealing in light of the controversy surrounding the case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old Black kid in a hoodie who was shot and killed in February 2012.

But Cuban's statement was not designed to blame or shame the Black kid in the hoodie, as George Zimmerman and Geraldo Rivera and much of white America did to Trayvon Martin two years ago. Instead, he was using the story to demonstrate his own issues around racial bias.

I'm glad somebody finally admitted the truth.

Nothing bothers me more than to hear simple-minded white people go on and on about how they don't see color, they don't have a racist bone in their bodies and they're not at all racist. As I've said for years, that's impossible. We all see differences in color, skin tone and physical characteristics. And, of course, we all hold racial biases and prejudices. Just because you're not wearing a white hood that your great grandfather wore in the old South doesn't mean the legacy of racism has been purged from your familial bloodstream or from the consciousness of our society.

It's important to remember the goal of the civil rights movement was never to eliminate our differences but to celebrate them. The reality is that we all live in the same racist, sexist, classist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, heterosexist, culturally imperialistic society. That means all of us are exposed to these biases from very early stages. No one ever fully escapes these influences, whether they're rich or poor, young or old, Black or white. The way we start to improve our lot is by recognizing these prejudices instead of denying their existence.

That's why I'm glad Cuban spoke up. His comments, of course, come at a particularly sensitive time for the NBA, as the league's owners prepare to meet next month to try to force Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell his team after his racist tirades of the past month. That's why analysts may be parsing Cuban's words to find out what he meant when he said this: "I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I'm not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it's not appropriate for me to throw stones."

Some may interpret his remarks differently, but I don't think Cuban was making excuses for Sterling. Instead, I think he was explaining why the NBA must go out of its way to be better than the individual owners. Given all the momentum of the past month, I find it hard to believe the NBA owners would allow Sterling to continue in his position knowing the enormous political pressure that would fall on the league if they failed to remove him.

Mark Cuban is no Donald Sterling. But he's also no Jesse Jackson. Or is he? Ironically, Cuban's admission of prejudice was very similar to the confession that Rev. Jesse Jackson gave two decades ago. "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved," said Jackson.

Cuban went even further than Jackson in his analogy. "If on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street," Cuban told Inc. His point was "we're all prejudiced in one way or another."

Yes, he's right. Prejudice is a disease that affects all of us. And the people who deny it affects them are the ones most in need of a cure.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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