The Perfect Minority Trap: White Privilege as Teflon Factor

Dan Le Batard headlines an anti-sports-talk-show sports talk show on ESPN, and has stirred controversy by arguing that Magic Johnson has been named President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA because of Johnson’s charisma and not any essential expertise for such a high office.

Some have called out Le Batard’s remarks as racist, while others have defended Le Batard.

This debate highlights that recognizing and discussing racism in the U.S. remain marred by the codes that blind; in this case, although Le Batard may have good intentions by self-identifying as not racist, his comments about Johnson are steeped in and speak to a racist code: the perfect minority trap.

Particularly important to understanding why Le Batard’s comments ultimately are racist—even if Johnson’s new position is more about his charm than his credibility—is that the comment comes during the rise of Donald Trump to President of the U.S. and his appointments to his cabinet, notably Betsey DeVos as Secretary of Education.

Two dynamics are at play to understand that Le Batard’s criticism is offensive.

First, white privilege created the Teflon Effect in which wealth and being white as well as male allow virtually nothing to stick to a person who maintains his statues. The two most powerful examples of this is Ronald Reagan, often called the Teflon President, and Trump himself.

Let us imagine if Barack Obama as a candidate had done even one of the outlandish things Trump did during his run to the White House. Would Obama’s political career have survived? No way.

Second, and related, is the Perfect Minority Trap that mandates perfection for any marginalized group—by race, gender, or economic status.

Consider the demonizing of people in poverty who depend on welfare by The New York Times through misrepresenting their purchasing of soft drinks, which actually is at the same rate for those on welfare and those not on welfare.

The poor, the narrative goes, must be perfect in order to deserve public assistance, but everyone else can do as she or he pleases.

But if we return to Obama, his presidency was characterized by nearly a perfect ethical record as President and as a person; yet, he continued to be demonized by the Right while Republicans (white, wealthy, and male) skirted along without any actual unethical behavior sticking.

Finally, we must place Le Batard’s criticism of Johnson also in the context of the NBA—where the workforce is overwhelmingly black men but disproportionately positions of power (owners, general managers, coaches, etc.) remain white [1].

If Johnson has received his position on charisma and not qualifications, he is simply experiencing the white norm in the U.S. that includes people receiving advantages by connections and not by earning those advantages. For example, while as president, George W. Bush challenged affirmative action for college admission, yet he gained access to an elite college by being a legacy, connectedness, not his academic achievement.

Legacy admissions—mostly white and affluent recipients—receive little criticism in the U.S., but race-based affirmative action—mostly racial minorities and women—is routinely excoriated by politicians and the public.

And if we remain in the sports world, Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski personify how Lynch is apt to be called a thug (see also Richard Sherman) while Gronkowski is merely a meathead; Lynch must be perfect, and no behavior by Gronkowski receives more than a grin.

That is the U.S.—where white privilege goes unchecked, but as Le Batard’s comments trigger, where minorities must be perfect.

Racism in the U.S. is systemic, and less codified in laws than before the Civil Rights movement.

As such, racism is often coded and perpetuated by individuals who otherwise appear to be good people who would never consider themselves racist.

Le Batard’s criticism of Johnson is a perfect moment for the U.S. to confront how good intentions are not enough when we continue to practice and then deny having one set of standards for white, wealthy males (Teflon Effect) and another for racial minorities and women (Perfect Minority Trap).

Again, if Johnson received preferential advantages for a position he is not qualified to hold, it seems far more pressing to confront how and why Trump has become our president and Betsy DeVos was allowed to buy her cabinet position with billions earned through a less than credible business.

The only qualifications Trump and DeVos have nothing to do with expertise or earning their status—being white and wealthy.

So in the end, yes, Le Batard’s criticism is steeped in racism, a racism grounded in white privilege and different standards for wealthy white men and everyone else.


[1] Let’s note the NBA does receive credit for being at the top of pro sports for racial and gender equity, however.

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One thought on “The Perfect Minority Trap: White Privilege as Teflon Factor

  1. For the record, Magic Johnson heads a company called SodexoMAGIC, one of the major companies which the Chicago Public Schools is using to privatize our custodial services. As a result, our schools are filthy, custodial services workers are treated like garbage, CPS throws away hundreds of millions of much needed money into worse services, and Magic Johnson and the other owners make out like bandits. http://www.chicagotribune.com/ct-chicago-mayors-race-met-0320-20150319-story.html

    Magic Johnson seems quite competent in participating in the privatization and destruction of public education. He is a part of the ruling class, deeply in bed with our neoliberal elites and has harmed many here in Chicago.

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