May 2

Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundymade it easy for inquiring minds.

“Mama. What’s a racist? ”

“Why here, honey: Read all about it.”

That’s all it takes. Sterling and Bundy, racism personified.

The reaction to both men’s comments also came with ease as well as in high dudgeon: emotional explosions of outrage and anger.

Words can do that. Offensive, hurtful words never fall out of use. Nor, too, the emotions they express.

A passionate dislike for black people is deeply ingrained in some white folks — it’s an integral part of their lives. To claim that Sterling, the 80-year-old Los Angeles Clippers owner, and Bundy, a 67-year-old federal-government-
hating rancher
, are part of a dying breed is absurd. They have peers and heirs who share their repugnant views.

Thus it has always been.

But that is not the issue. The issue is: How much damage can they cause?

Bundy is a mean man. But what difference does it make if he thinks blacks would be better off enslaved and picking cotton? Bundy can wish and hope all he wants; it won’t happen. Is he capable of spewing racist insults? Yes. But a threat to African Americans? C’mon.

Sterling doesn’t want his biracial girlfriend to be seen with black men, especially in his courtside seats; that’s his problem.

Besides, the problem may be taken care of. He may no longer have a pro basketball team to keep her and her black friends from seeing. However, even if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had not lifted a finger against Sterling, there was nothing Sterling could have done to keep African Americans out of the stands or off his team. Or away from his girlfriend, for that matter. Not that Sterling would have gone that far. He’s all about making money. He needed his black players to fill the seats and his pockets.

Bigots like Bundy and Sterling can deliver stings, if we let them. But our focus should be on those among us who can inflict real damage.

The FBI’s despotic director J. Edgar Hoover, who died 42 years ago yesterday, is a case in point.

In her book “The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI,” former Post writer Betty Medsger lays out in chilling detail how Hoover expressed his emotions about black people.

He did things that might have set Bundy and Sterling to salivating.

Hoover, Medsger noted, regarded black students in the 1970s as potentially violent and, therefore, as appropriate subjects to be watched by FBI agents, who recorded their actions in agency files. For example, an FBI document that Medsger obtained reported that every black student at Swarthmore College was under surveillance.

Hoover had informers everywhere. College switchboard operators, letter carriers, postmasters, campus security officers, local police and some college administrators.

He required his agents to recruit “ghetto informants” to monitor people living in black neighborhoods.

One document from FBI headquarters suggested the recruitment of ghetto informants from among employees and owners of “taverns, liquor stores, drug stores, pawn shops, gun shops, barber shops, janitors of apartment buildings, etc.”

Among the assignments for agents and informers in the Philadelphia area was: “Report on changes in the attitude of the Negro community toward the white community which may lead to racial violence.”

There was blanket coverage of black people, but Hoover didn’t stop there. Hatred drove him further.

For years he plotted to destroy black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Under his direction, the FBI resorted to breaking into offices; using informers; planting false rumors; opening mail; and wiretapping and bugging King’s office, home and hotel rooms, wrote Medsger.

Now that’s a taste of the harm that can be done by racists with unchecked power.

It’s the little Hoovers among us — the influential, under-the-radar haters — who can inflict the real damage.

Among them are:

●Smiling and personable human resources directors who, in their heart of hearts, share to some degree Bundy’s ideas about black people;

●Police officers who, like Sterling, believe black people are undesirable creatures, thus subject to arrest at the slightest excuse;

●White editors who believe black reporters do best when writing about other blacks, especially black social ills, thus reserving paths up the newsroom ladder for the white reporters;

●Insecure white managers in a position to bark out orders to black workers pursuing white-collar and professional careers, shooting down their ideas, making slights about their intelligence and throwing them under the bus when things go wrong.

Don’t waste time on Bundy and Sterling. There’s no short supply of ranters, always ready to spew racial venom. The antidote that counteracts the harmful effects of poisonous words is one’s own sense of self-worth.

It’s the little Hoovers, robbers of freedoms and livelihoods, who really count.

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.