Full disclosure: I like Mark Cuban. Actually, since I don’t personally know Mark Cuban — which puts me in no position to say that I like him — let me rephrase that. When it comes to the NBA (my favorite professional sports league) I like his energy and intellectual curiosity. I like his willingness to explore unconventional ways to perfect and globalize the NBA brand. And I like the fact that he’s from Pittsburgh.
So, when hearing his comments the other day about profiling and racial biases, I initially dismissed them as Cubes being Cubes. It no secret that he has a tendency to position himself as a “Well, actually…” guy. You know the type. The person always looking for an irreverent angle because doing so makes them feel like the smartest person in the room. And his awkward acknowledgement of his own biases was basically him just saying “Well, actually…we’re all racist. Including me!”
But then I thought about it some more. Specifically, I thought about the fact that while the Cubes was busy “Well, actually…”-ing, the rest of us — well, those who think, talk, and write about race on a regular basis — were like “Duh!” Of course we all have prejudices. Of course we all profile. Of course we all have biases. This is not news to anyone who’s ever had a nuanced thought about race in America. This acknowledgment is not enlightening. It is not smart. And it is not forward thinking. It just is.
And while the people who probably don’t think or talk about race very often were busy high-fiving him for his bravery and honesty, those who occasionally do the heavy-lifting, who regularly discuss and debate concepts like “micro-aggressions” and “appropriation” and “code-switching,” who know that citing “a Black kid in a hoodie” as a hypothetical negative is the single worst thing you can say in 2014 when trying to have people take anything you have to say about race seriously, knew that the “smartest person in the room” just proved he was pretty dumb about race.
Because, if he wasn’t kinda dumb about race, he would have known not to use any combination of “Black kid” and “hoodie” in a negative manner in a sentence attempting to be racially conciliatory. He would have known that putting a White guy with face tattoos and a Black kid with a piece of clothing anyone could have bought at Macy’s on the same level isn’t just racially insensitive. It’s stupid. Face tattoos are abnormal. Sweatshirts are not. He would have known that a statement like that coming from him — a smart, popular, cool, and open-minded White billionaire — gives more power to all the people already harboring dangerous thoughts about young Black kids in sweatshirts. And young Black kids in…t-shirts. And young Black kids in…tank tops. And young Black kids in…their own Black skin. He would have known that, when you’re a relative outsider addressing a sensitive topic, your words need to convey a sensitivity to that sensitivity. He would have known that, if you’re not quite sure how to articulate certain thoughts about certain sensitive topics, maybe you don’t do the “Well, actually…” thing. And maybe you do hold your tongue and just listen.
Everyone’s opinions are valid. But not every opinion needs to be offered.
To his credit, Cuban later apologized to Trayvon Martin’s family for using that example. But, as “Well, actually…” people tend to do, he couldn’t just stop there, as he made sure to reiterate in the very next tweet that he was “standing by his words,” a tactic that basically reads as him saying “Ok, now that I got that bullsh*t apology out the way, let’s talk about what really matters.”
Which was unfortunate, because I do think these types of racial discussions need to include the type of White people who don’t usually participate in them. But, sometimes the best way to show off your smarts is knowing when to shut up.