Donald Sterling's Racism Shouldn't Dampen History of Blacks and Jews

We're on Magic Johnson's Side Together

Partnership: Blacks and Jews have a shared history and future.
Courtesy of Marc Schneier
Partnership: Blacks and Jews have a shared history and future.

By Marc Schneier and Russell Simmons

Published May 18, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Donald Sterling simply can’t leave bad enough alone.

Having already irredeemably labeled himself as a racist by berating V. Stiviano — who happens to be of Latino and African-American descent — that she should not bring Blacks to his Los Angeles Clippers games, or pose for pictures with African-American icons like former LA Lakers superstar Magic Johnson, Sterling let loose with an equally repulsive rant earlier this week during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

During the broadcast, Sterling spewed his venom on Magic Johnson; falsely claiming that Johnson “doesn’t do anything for black people”. He also sought to drive a wedge between African-American and Jews by claiming that the Jewish community takes care of their own while prominent blacks, like Johnson, abandon black people who are living in poverty. Quick to respond, Magic Johnson stated unequivocally that Donald Sterling “will not harm Black-Jewish relations.”

The two of us, as Jewish and African-American leaders who have worked together for more than 20 years to strengthen black-Jewish relations, refuse to allow Donald Sterling to make false claims about Magic Johnson, the African-American community, and to undermine the noble work that so many blacks and Jews have done over many decades to bring our two communities together.

In this spirit, we salute Magic Johnson’s response to Sterling’s rancor: “One thing great about the African-American and Jewish communities is that they have worked well together over the years, and we will continue to work with the Jewish community.” He furthered his comments by saying attempts “to pit both communities against each other will not work.”

Magic has worked with American Jews in both business and philanthropy to advance mutual interests and he is a wonderful example of cooperation between blacks and Jews. Furthermore, Magic Johnson has given millions of dollars to support the education and success of young people and has brought businesses to minority-majority cities throughout America. For example, Yucaipa-Johnson, his partnership with a leading investment company, invests in companies located in and serving minority and urban communities.

Thankfully, most Americans are fair minded enough to understand that Donald Sterling’s racism completely misrepresents the Jewish community. It was the Jewish community that stood shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement during the 1960’s and has supported the cause of equal rights ever since. Dr. King understood that those who fight for their own rights are most honorable when they fight for the rights of all people. While his focus was certainly on the needs of African Americans, he championed the needs of all, and in particular those of the Jewish community.

King found a special symbolism in Jewish history, a kinship with the Jewish people, and during his life, no segment of American society provided greater or as consistent support to the black community as did the Jewish community. From Selma to the freedom riders, Jewish-Americans marched, fought and died alongside their African-American brethren.

Just under 50 years ago, June 21, 1964, two young Jews from New York City, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman who had traveled to Mississippi to work for the right of blacks to vote, were murdered by the Klu Klux Klan, together with an African-American friend and colleague James Chaney. The ultimate sacrifice made by Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney is the paradigm of Black-Jewish relations both past and present.

This legacy of Black-Jewish cooperation resonates to this very day as African-Americans and Jews nationwide have engaged in programs to explore and to rediscover shared values.

American society grows more diverse by the day and if we hope to continue in America’s great tradition, if we hope to forge a more harmonious society then we must remain vigilant in the face of racism and bigotry - the kind of hateful rhetoric and diatribe exhibited by Donald Sterling.

Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding where Russell Simmons, co-founder of the music label Def Jam, is chairman of the board.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.