“And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these niggers.’”
-potential LA Clippers coaching candidate Rollie Massimino
“[…] Players Sam Cassell, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette complained to me that DONALD STERLING would bring women into the locker room after games, while the players were showering, and make comments such as, ‘Look at those beautiful black bodies.’ I brought this to Sterling’s attention, but he continued to bring women into the locker room.”
-former LA Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor
When news broke that a NBA team owner was recorded saying something racist, I turned to a friend and told him to take a picture of me. I wanted to see what I looked like when I’m shocked. No, wait. I didn’t do that … because I wasn’t shocked. Not in the least. The fact that a rich white man we all refer to as “an owner” said something racist is pretty much par for the course. Yet, thanks to an angry mistress, his ugly thoughts are now one of the best distillations of the effects of race and racism in America that a public figure has ever candidly uttered into a recording device.
We shouldn’t be so surprised, because this man’s well practiced at racism. He’s been saying crazy racist stuff for years. But this time we really ought to listen to him. Like, really listen to what he’s saying because there’s so much more there. It’s all there. In fact, this story isn’t about race at all.
Don’t worry. I’m an American black man. You can trust that I’ve thought about what it means when I say: Don’t waste your time getting offended at his racism.
Now is not the time for Black America to collectively clutch our pearls. Yes, of course, from a moral standpoint Sterling’s mean, offensive and wrong. But that’s the whole point. Donald Sterling has slipped the bonds of your morality. He does not care about right or wrong. He’s made a career out of taking advantage of how our world works and seizing on what we value.
Donald Tokowitz (later changed to Donald Sterling), the son of poor immigrants, was elected his high school class president, and went on to become a divorce and personal injury lawyer, then a self-made millionaire from real estate, and eventually, became the currently longest-tenured owner in the NBA. Let’s consider these exhibits A, B, C and D. Pulled from his life story and entered as evidence that the man knows how to benefit from his selfish savage insights into power and his lawyer’s understanding of the dynamics of our world. The power of appearances is particularly important to Sterling (remember that’s the name he picked. Silvery clean. British money).
Donald Sterling calls himself an owner. That’s who he is. It’s what he does. It’s how he thinks. To him, the world needs to be owned and operated. Like the fictional man, Daniel Plainview, he primarily deals with the world as he finds it. He doesn’t change the rules of the world. He applies them vigorously. He owns and operates it. He curries power.
The big trouble for Sterling is that even the most powerful creatures can be felled by the tiniest thing. The mouse to his elephant was his half-black, half-Mexican mistress. Ms. V. Stiviano. It’s odd that a divorce lawyer would overlook the probability that a mistress would feel threatened when a man’s wife sues her to get rid of the girlfriend and take back whatever things the philandering husband gave to his mistress. That sort of aggression tends to make a mistress nervous. Then they might often do something to protect themselves. Or get back at the husband, or wife, or both. You remember Lisa Nowak, right? The NASA astronaut who drove 900 miles, crossed five states, wearing diapers so she didn’t have to stop to got to the bathroom. Where she was headed to in such a hurry? To an airport parking lot in Florida to attack her romantic rival Air Force officer Colleen Shipman. When a human is frightened they will do mean and sometimes partially planned acts of revenge that are sometimes radically effective. Such as this recording of Donald Sterling. I’m neither a divorce lawyer nor am I married, but you’d think he’d smell a trap. It’s a basic soap opera plot. And that’s what this threatens to become: a racist soap opera plotline. All tears and noise and then a commercial.
Thus far a number of people have already responded to the controversy. Some people like President Obama were asked to respond. Others, like Snoop Lion offered their response just because they muthafuckin’ felt like it needed to be said. And of course, NBA stars like LeBron James had a professional response. Also, a man who was central to the fight between Sterling and his mistress, former NBA great, Magic Johnson, himself a part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, has responded. As well, Michael Jordan had a response as the only black majority owner of a NBA franchise. There were countless more.
I gotta say this isn’t just about black people. It’s not even about the racist former divorce lawyer turned NBA owner. This is a torn curtain look behind the institutional racism of America. Why can’t his mistress be seen on Instagram with a Hall-of-Fame basketball player and part-owner of a sports franchise in the same city as Sterling. Who is he trying to appeal to that is sooo against his side chick being seen with Matt Kemp? This man was afraid of what social messages her pictures on Instagram would send to his friends? What is he fifteen? He owns the LA Clippers. WTF? Meanwhile, no one says much of anything about this married man who is so declasse he brings his mistress to games to sit with him court-side.
This is a story of the amoral perceptions of white power. And I don’t mean KKK sort of white power. This is the white power that guides the hand that holds the pen that writes American history and draws road maps to the future. The white zeitgeist of real power.
Throughout the now-famously recorded conversation, Sterling relies on a crude form of “diversity awareness” that can best be described as: How can I be racist — my mistress is black? His lazy, pleading tone is difficult to hear. I don’t want to be in that room with them. At times he sounds like a boy refusing a nap, then at others he sounds like a boy who no longer wants to make a fort with you and he’s taking his toys and going home.
As you listen to, or read the highlights below from, their recorded conversation, the most crucial point is not to discern if the Clippers’ owner is a racist. (Spoiler alert: He is!) Pay attention to how well this son of Jewish immigrants, understands and can explain the nature of white power in America. He’s analyzed the signifying language and speaks it fluently, as both outsider and insider, this new money owner of a sports team knows what flies and what doesn’t fly with his “friends.” He knows how white power creates and sustains itself with American racism (which btw has now gone global). Enjoy your peer through the torn curtain.
This section of the recording is the second-half and it begins mid-conversation. Sterling opens the show already halfway done telling Stiviano what his problem is with black people showing up on her Instagram feed.
“I’m just telling you, you told me that you would remove it, so Dennis, the second Dennis looked at me and made that comment-“
We don’t know who Dennis is. He could be a friend, a business associate, an underling. Apparently, it was Dennis that made Sterling aware of all the black people on Stiviano’s Instagram.
My question: Why was Dennis checking out the Instagram pics of Sterling’s mistress? What’s up with that, Dennis?
After some back-and-forth with the house-help, Stiviano promises Sterling that she’ll take action and rid her IG feed of black people.
“Honey, if it makes you happy, I will remove all the black people from my Instagram.”
(Hey, SNL! You need to get on that parody commercial: Negro-B-Gone the new app for erasing blacks from all your social media feeds)
Stiviano makes an interesting rhetorical turn and tries to loosely define what a black person is by using Matt Kemp as the crossover point.
“I didn’t remove Matt Kemp and Magic Johnson but I thought – Matt Kemp is mixed and he was okay, just like me.”
That statement says so much in so few words. He was okay … because he’s mixed … “just like me.” Y’know, the half-black girl you share a bed with, you imitation Strom Thurmond? I guess, unlike John Mayer and his David Duke dick, our Mr. Sterling doesn’t have a racist penis, he wants to be with a brown/black woman, but he still cares a lot about what other people think. Why? Who are these people? All of his friends? One of his friends? Is it just Dennis? If so, fuck Dennis. All I get is that Donald likes to have a white lady in the streets (his wife) and a brown/black freak in the sheets. That’s like super old school, he’s getting Thomas Jefferson with it.
Meanwhile, V. Stiviano tries to define the virtue of mixed-blood by way of Matt Kemp’s mother.
“He’s lighter and whiter than me.”
“I met his mother.”
“You think I’m racist and I wouldn’t —“
“I don’t think you’re a racist…”
“Yes you do. Yes you do.”
“I think you, you –“
“I think you have an amazing heart, honey. I think the people around you have poison mind and have a way of thinking.”
I gotta say, I like how these two soul-less manipulators both toss around these tiny bits of empty poetry at each other in their pathetic lover’s tiff. Like, I did not expect phrases such as “evil heart” and “poison mind.”
Now, Sterling tries to school Stiviano on the ways of the world.
“It’s the world. You go to Israel the blacks are just treated like dogs –“
“So do you have to treat them like that, too?”
“The white Jews, — there’s white Jews and black Jews, do you understand?”
I can’t speak for Stiviano, but I understand what Sterling is saying. My mother is white. My father is black. That makes me the Israel of his analogy. And you know what? I’ll defend Sterling on this point. He’s right. For lots of people there exists a creature called a black Jew. Whereas, to me, there’s just Jews and non-Jews. But what Sterling reminds us, because he understands the nature of the world more effectively than most, he sees that there is an operational racism on Earth. And he’s pointing out that it has a more powerful influence than G-d does on his Chosen People. In Israel, race separates Jews faster than G-d brings them together. That’s some powerful racism. That shit sells itself.
“Are the black Jews less than the white Jews?”
“A hundred percent, fifty – a hundred fifty percent –“
“And is that right?”
“It isn’t a question of – We don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong. We live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.”
Elgin Baylor, the general manager for the LA Clippers said in a lawsuit that he filed against the franchise, that the team’s owner, Donald Sterling expressed to him a desire to create a “plantation culture.” Perhaps, it’s not the word slave, we should be focusing on, but instead we should focus on the effects of the one holding the whip.
The singed scars of slavery are worn by Black America and Black Africa alike. The legacy of slavery gave the world a diminished respect for black people all around the globe. Those who see the world through the lens of white power might see: black people like silly, monkey-men or like warring guerrillas living and dying in the corrupt, broken former colonies of Africa. And they might see the sexualized and violent, under-educated, and criminally-prone descendants of the diaspora, the sons and daughters of the Caribbean, South America and North America. This is of course not reality, but what someone might interpret as being a general condition. And a general assumption made of all black persons is they are the descendant of former slaves. This is true of someone like the President who has no bloodline that courses through his body that was ever in bondage. No slaves in his family tree. Yet still for lots of people around the world, they tend to think of slavery as part of the black character. In the simplest shorthand possible. Black = slave
At this point, like a warrior of social justice, Stiviano pushes Sterling to confront his racist views.
“But shouldn’t we take a stand for what’s wrong? And be the change and the difference?”
Aside from her small confusion about where to take a stand, Stiviano raises the question of a classic debate of social change. It’s the same fight that pitted Malcom X against Martin Luther King Jr. In sports, it’s the difference between former Dodger, Jackie Robinson’s approach to being a pioneer versus Muhammad Ali’s approach to making headlines.
Do you endure the way things are, hoping to make them better?
Or do you take up arms, speak out, and risk violence to gain what you lack?
The mistake is to assume that only one course of action gets you where you want to go. Rather than pick one, they are two ends of one spectrum of responses. Love and respect.
Love speaks to our higher calling, our loftier impulses and inspires us to be better.
Respect counters our lower urges, our jungle instincts and commands better behavior.
neither one will always work. Both are required.
“I don’t want to change the culture, because I can’t. It’s too big and –“
“But you can change yourself.”
Bumper-sticker Gandhi* would be so proud of her usage of that cliche. Okay! We’ve reached the warm gushy center of the beating heart of American racism. Before we push into this bloody mess, it’s important you understand why American blacks and Latinos are viewed the way they are through the lens of white supremacy.
I don’t know if anyone has ever put it to you this way before but blacks and Latinos are the two created peoples of the New World. Without Columbus there would be no Lebron James. Without Cortez, there would be no Salma Hayek. Trans-Atlantic migration, centuries of slavery, mixing of African, European and Indigenous bloodlines created these two new peoples. In a brutally simplified way of saying it, for generations they were made and born to work. And far too often life started with a rape. That’s a whole hell of a lot of trauma to bear. As products of the New World, they were, of course, primarily laborers: most often slaves or field workers, craftsmen or artisans. They were born to be less. They were to know their place. Slavery and the mission came first. Racism was invented to explain why things were the way they were and why they’d stay away for the foreseeable future. Often God was called in to say it was all his idea and he put it in book so they would know that was their lot in life, but when they died he’d let them come up and hang out with him in the big house in the sky. And they could eat pie and talk about God’s awesome collection of atheist jokes.
Because that was the story. Sorry, God wants you to be a slave, for now, but later it’ll be cool. This worked for centuries. One could argue that blacks, Latinos and poor whites all still use the church for that same purpose as times remained tough for all three groups over those multiple centuries in America. And yet, they’ve never gotten over their differences and remain at odds often at the bottom rungs of America’s pay-to-play society.
Racism is a story we tell ourselves to explain the cruelty of capitalism.
If you doubt this recorded exchange is really all about power, and not race, remember that economic colonial powers, businessmen, created “race.”
Just notice Sterling’s response when Stiviano reminds him that he can change himself and his way of thinking, thus changing the world.
“I don’t want to change. If my girl, can’t do what I want, I don’t want the girl. I’ll find a girl that will do what I want. Believe me. I thought you were that girl – because I tried to do what you want. But you’re not that girl.”
That’s a hell of a display of … racist, sexist, capitalistic, patriarchal power. He got ’em all. He just won the Whack-a-Mole of privilege.
Each one of those words is equally important. But notice that they are all adjectives for the last word power. All of them equally modify what the story is really about: power. (Or money, if you prefer it broken up into bloody little bits of disposable power).
Sterling makes it clear what he intends to do. There is only one way. His way.
“You didn’t start off by saying: ‘Honey, we’re living in a culture we can’t change-“
“Because I don’t see your views. I wasn’t raised the way you were raised.”
This thought scares white men. “I don’t see your views.” It’s like their world view is going blind. Fast. And it’s their own damn fault. They stopped teaching history. They left it to Hollywood as source material for movies. These days, as something like the Confederate flag loses more and more of its iconic value (plus, we have to wait for Kanye to give it back), as more and more young people have a hard time imagining or believing slavery could have ever happened to someone who looks like LeBron James, as fewer and fewer students understand the cruelty of the ranches and missions and presidios, the plantations and the slave ship, we will see the social stigma of slavery fade away like the losing the signal as you drive out of range of a radio station, or better yet you cross over and hear a better station. on that same channel. But the signal is surely fading. Old school racism has about a bright a future as AM radio.
The other great threat to white supremacy, other than the loss of history, is how much we all like to fuck each other. Every year there are fewer and fewer mono-racial people being born because every day there are more and more people like Stiviano brought into this world.
It is poetic in a way, I suppose, that the woman that brought the hellstorm down on Sterling is half-Mexican and half-black. In her, the two peoples of the New World united to bring a hurting on Sterling. And it looks like she hurt him real bad. But we shall see.
Stiviano finally asks him the one question we’ve all been wondering.
“Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black that plays for you?”
Like, seriously, if you don’t want to be around black people … why basketball, man? That makes about as much sense as a Hindu opening a hamburger stand.
Now, Sterling hems and haws for a moment. Then, he offers his view on his relationship with his black players.
“I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have — Who makes the game? Do I make the game? Is there thirty owners that created the league-“
Oh man! I didn’t know you could really think like that. He thinks like a master. Just like with the sloppy language of fantasy football, and how it often leads to a discussion of owning black men on your team, it seems like the word “owner” has really confused Donald Sterling. He thinks he owns his team. Like, owns them. But slaves never made million dollar contracts. That should be an obvious difference. The fact that he can consciously treat grown men who are millionaires like they are his slaves shows you how little money means to him and how much this guy likes to play power games. And he’s good at them.
In 2006, Sterling was ordered by the Dept of Justice to pay out the largest settlement in federal history for a housing discrimination case. And yet, somehow that same man who had to pay 2.73 million for discrimination against black and Latino renters was about to be given a lifetime achievement award from the LA chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Yes, the NAACP. Wait, what? How is that possible? What was he going to get the award for: hiring black basketball players?
Donald Sterling has been called a racist and a slumlord for years and years and years and yet somehow it never sticks to him. But I mean, come on, NAACP! Are we out of black people to give a lifetime achievement award? Seriously, someone from the NAACP could step outside the office and pick the first black person they saw and it would be a better choice than Donald Sterling. Maybe I’m cynical, but I’m guessing that Sterling must be a donor to the NAACP. Or perhaps, you get the award first and then you donate later. The point is, the man has been somewhat active philanthropist, at least he makes sure you see him doing it, he is after all a lazy master of manipulating impressions by turning on the money hose and washing away his criticism. And sometimes he finds willing allies like the NAACP. I bet they’re thanking their stars this all came out in the weeks just prior to his award instead of after. That would’ve been awkward.
It seems soon talk will shift to questions of the woman, the mistress, V. Stiviano. Did she trick him? Is it what she did felony wire-tapping? Is it admissible? Does she care since the damage is done? Maybe she just did it all to “get back” at him (as some from the Clippers organization have intimated).
What would be a shame is, we once again stopped talking about the power plays of a racist owner of an American sports franchise and instead focused on the twitterstorm of publicity surrounding Stephen Colbert and not focus on Dan Snyder… Oops! I mean the conniving traps and money-grubbing tricks of the owner’s gold-digging mistress. What was her name, again?
It would be a damn shame if we treated him like Dre … and we forget about Donald Sterling. Again.