Barely three weeks after Robert Sarver’s announcement to sell the Phoenix Suns, yet another bombshell drops in Los Angeles.

The cynics among us were probably able to pinpoint that tired plotline from the very start: people in power at last caught red-handed in the act, having escaped accountability until they can no more.  America has seen enough scandal at this point to have its narrative arc down by heart.

Yet if there was anything left to be surprised about Nury Martinez and the LA City Council, it might have been the demographics. Paired together, the contrast between Sarver and Martinez couldn’t be more stark — prototypical white, middle-aged multi-millionaire tycoon meets the self-made public servant and first Latina president of the LA City Council.

Their crimes are just the same though. Both the city council president and franchise owner now find themselves having to explain their horridly racist remarks and reckon with its consequences. Robert Sarver’s list runs slightly longer — it wanders through misogynist and employee-harassment territory as well — but his slurs are no different from those in Martinez’s sordid hour-long tape. Among the expletive-filled soundbites, she refers to the Oaxacans in Koreatown as “little short dark people”and describes them as “ugly”, and calls the son of Councilmember Mike Bonin a “changuito”.

In the end, this is all more reaffirmation than revelation — proof that you don’t have to be white to be racist. Or male. Or fit any of the labels we might usually associate with that other gun-toting, flag-flying half of America. The racist is really a fuzzier figure than the one we might expect, a role with no defined character archetype.

Martinez goes the way of many other disgraced politicians, issuing a statement that tries to hide at least a bit of their shame. Part of that resignation letter trumpets a maternal role as she directly addresses her daughter: “I will strive to be a better woman to make you proud.”

The distinction shouldn’t matter. We would think that Martinez — mother, or not — might set a better example.

That’s where the problem lies. Martinez, as with so many others, clearly knows her way around political sloganizing — in just the letter’s fourth paragraph she regurgitates the importance of “[representing] and [fighting] for the people who don’t have a voice” — yet has managed to maintain a doublethink-like form of moral compartmentalization the whole while. Martinez vowed for racial justice after the killing of George Floyd and served in a governing body with disproportionately little Latino representation.

Yet the leaked recording also shows that she has successfully passed one generation of racist thoughts down to the next under the cover of motherhood, “compassion”, and “[uplifting] Angelenos.” If this hour-long rant can happen in the legislative halls of America’s second-largest city, I try not to imagine what flies across the dinner table every night — or what other values she has left behind. Racism is perpetuated by the obvious systems of incarceration and poverty, but also through the thousands of other insidious pipelines — cultural, implicit or otherwise — that allow us to transfer our unsaid prejudices about who matters, and who doesn’t.

I don’t know how meaningfully we might actually separate political theater from true intention, or whether we can ever determine how much Martinez truly means what she writes. But her fall also illustrates a fundamental part of human nature: it’s easier to point out the racism in others than to recognize it in ourselves. Like Martinez, we can call out the point-blank rants and slurs but subconsciously continue subscribing to the kinds of beliefs that might continue them. NIMBYism, gerrymandering and meritocracy abound. We might call for resignations, protest, and issue statements condemning their “conduct”, but we won’t ever overcome these forces until we take the time to seriously examine ourselves.

I was in fifth grade when Donald Sterling sold the Clippers, banned from the NBA for life. Following in his footsteps, Sarver will let the Suns fall into a new pair of hands. Martinez, Cedillo, Leon and Herrera will have likely all stepped down, their political reputations tarnished for good. We will move on from one fresh outrage to another — the next slur or sentence, waiting to be discovered perhaps a month from now or even sooner. But nothing will have changed; it’s the same story, only played out among a different cast of characters.

“To all the little Latina girls across the city — I hope I’ve inspired you to dream beyond that which you can see,” Martinez writes at the end of her letter.

Really though, she couldn’t have chosen a worse word than “inspire” to describe anything we should take from her actions.


HANWEN ZHANG is a junior in Benjamin Franklin College. His column, “Thoughtful Spot,” runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at