Donald Sterling's most egregious racism wasn't seen in the words and attitudes that were contained in that 9-minute tape that was released by TMZ. Instead, Sterling's racism took a much more quiet and concrete form: actions that harmed many people yet stayed largely under the radar.
Sterling made his fortune in real-estate, often times as a landlord in Beverly Hills. In 2003, 19 plaintiffs sued him for housing discrimination. He was accused of telling his staff that he didn't like African-American or Hispanic tenants, citing their behavior.
When Sterling first bought the Ardmore, he remarked on its odor to Davenport. "That's because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they're not clean," he said, according to [Summer] Davenport's testimony. "And it's because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day." He added: "So we have to get them out of here."
ESPN: The Magazine cites another example of Sterling's racist behavior towards POC:
Cultivating his image, Davenport said, meant no blacks, no Mexican-Americans, no children (whom Sterling called "brats") and no government-housing-subsidy recipients as tenants. So according to the testimony of tenants, Sterling employees made life difficult for residents in some of his new buildings. They refused rent checks, then accused renters of nonpayment. They refused to do repairs for black tenants and harassed them with surprise inspections, threatening residents with eviction for alleged violations of building rules.
There are even worse examples of Sterling's racist behavior, including a case when construction to a building caused flooding in the unit belonging to a tenant with disabilities. When she asked to be compensated for the water damage and her damaged belongings, he is said to have told his property manager that he wouldn't pay and that they should just "evict that bitch."
Ultimately, Sterling settled the lawsuit brought by the 19 plaintiffs for an undisclosed amount + $5 million in the plaintiffs' legal fees and settled one filed by the federal government for housing discrimination for $2.7 million (put into a fund for the people he caused harm to) and $100k in fines to the government.
While ESPN: The Magazine reported on Sterling's blatantly racist behavior, few, if any other national media outlets (sports, or otherwise), ever did. His discriminatory and harmful actions were met with near-silence by the media. This isn't the only case where racist actions flew under the radar in ways that racist words won't.
As other GT'ers have noted before, when it comes open bigotry, everyone who has some sense of decency is anti-racist. Even those who question the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act called Sterling's words disgusting and racist.
When it comes to systematic racism, however, we largely ignore the policies and procedures that result in that system. When studies find that African-American students are punished disproportionately for the same behaviors compared to their white counterparts, we hear questions such as "Why aren't black parents doing more?" instead of "Why is the system disproportionate in its punishments?" When we hear that sentences for African-American men are 10% higher than their white counterparts for the same crimes, we don't ask, "Why did they get a more severe punishment?" When we cut food stamps and other public aid, we hear people say "Good, I don't want to support a 'ghetto family' [read: African-American families struggling with poverty] or 'baby mama' [read: African-American single mothers struggling with poverty] with my tax money."
While I'm glad that Sterling has been banned from the NBA, I worry that this is yet another case where people can say that they're "not racist like that" because they've come to see racism as this ridiculous level of overt bigotry, rather than the system of actions, policies, and procedures that disproportionately hurt people of color.
(ETA: Added clarifying information about the settlement of the lawsuits against Sterling)