Walking in Public with Black People
By the year 2014, you would think that racism is on its final legs. People have evolved enough to have realized by now that oppression is no longer socially acceptable. Nope. The only difference between then and now is that people have to be more discrete about it in order to protect their professional reputation. Well nobody’s reputation was irreparably damaged like the one of Donald Sterling. Sterling is the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball club. His reputation was ruined when his phone conversation was recorded and leaked by his girlfriend at the time, V. Stiviano (don’t ask what the “V.” stands for; I already checked). The contents of the recording revealed some disturbing facts about the owner of the Clippers. It turns out that Sterling doesn’t appreciate his girlfriend posting pictures on Instagram posing with black people. And it just so happens that this particular black person Stiviano was posing with was Magic Johnson. Magic is arguably the greatest Los Angeles Laker in the team’s history, but his career was cut short due to his infamous announcement of contracting HIV and his retirement from basketball. Since then, he has moved on to become a humanitarian donating and creating several charities as well as become an extremely successful entrepreneur. Disgraceful, right? How could she do such a thing?
According to the audio recording published by TMZ Sports, the tape, recorded in February of 2014, starts off with the couple apologizing to each other for fighting. Stiviano then is trying to figure out what the issue is between them. Sterling explains that the “…issue is that we don’t have to broadcast everything” Then he goes onto ask why “…[she is] taking pictures with minorities…” because he believes that associating with minorities is “… like talking to an enemy.” Since Stiviano is half-black and half-Mexican, by default, “… an enemy to [him]” as well. When Stiviano asks for clarification, Sterling explains that there is a culture that she does not understand. “People feel certain things. Hispanics feel certain things towards blacks. Blacks feel certain things towards other groups. It’s been that way historically, and it will always be that way” according to Sterling. In other words, Sterling is playing within the confines of “de facto segregation” referring to the patterns of human history of associating with others that look similar to you and putting others in a group where they are essentially rendered powerless according to the lecture slides on segregation (Professor L. Pittman, November 20, 2015). The couple continues to argue about how it was the way he was raised and attacks Stiviano for being disrespectful and not being flexible to the world’s “…culture of separation.” The arguing continues until they start getting black people involved with coming to his games. The exchange begins with Stiviano apologizing for him to be surrounded by racist people and that he is a racist. Sterling goes on to say “How about your whole life, everyday, you could do whatever you want. You can sleep with them, you can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on [Instagram]…and not to bring them to my games.” Boom. Reputation destroyed. Essentially, the feud goes on for about three more minutes about how neither of them wishes to continue arguing and apologizing to each other.
The backfire that came with this statement was incredible. Not only were so many problems what he said, but the situation that he was in to begin with. First off, he is Jewish. His people know what oppression is. The Holocaust was a going on and his parents moved to Los Angeles to avoid getting swept up. Second his girlfriend, and I cannot stress this enough, was half-black and half-Mexican. Both of which are minorities that he has issues with. Finally, the biggest issue is that he knowingly agreed to have their conversations recorded. The words said over the phone were going to be preserved. So why would someone say something so offensive when he is the employer with a team, at the time, only two guys that were not either African-American or of African descent with the rest of the National Basketball Association comprised of seventy percent black men. Once the tape reached the media, the entire country was outraged. All outlets of media saturated the story and Donald Sterling became Public Enemy #1.
Players from all over the league took in different ways to show unity and brotherhood regardless of the colors they wore. The Houston Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers both wore black socks for their first round matchup of the playoffs last year to show their support for the Los Angeles Clippers. The Miami Heat wore their shooting shirts inside out during warmups up their playoff matchup with the Charlotte Bobcats. The Clippers showed their solidarity by staging a silent protest by throwing their team shirts into a pile and refusing to wear anything with the Clippers logo during their game in San Francisco against the Golden State Warriors.
However, this is not a new form of protest. Martin Luther King led The Birmingham Campaign in 1963 which protesters would hold sit-ins in for businesses that refused to serve color or had segregated bathrooms. The idea was get arrested and overflow the city jails so that businesses would have no choice be to desegregate their businesses. With this commotion within the city it would, according to Dr. King, “‘…direct action … to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation’” (“The Christian Science Monitor”). This period was important to African Americans because it was the hope and the voice that was needed to combat the oppression in America at the time. During the Jim Crow era, as mentioned in the lecture slides, blacks in order to “achieve full citizen rights, equality, and integration into all aspects of American life, must create a social protest vehicle. In most cases, this vehicle was led by none other than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” (Professor L. Pittman, November 23, 2015).
On a deeper level, we can take this situation with Donald Sterling as a form of slavery. He technically did own these players, even though he did pay them. Essentially, Sterling’s views of black men come down to “hard manual labor objectified bodies as big, strong, and stupid” when we look at the political economy of chattel slavery (Professor Pittman, December 2, 2015). Similarly, we can also relate this to the film Ethnic Notions as far as saying that Sterling believes in the stereotype that blacks still “…revert to savagery, except that savagery was now redefined and turned into a somewhat positive light” (Litwack, 1982). Sterling does not publically demonstrate his hatred for people of color, but when it comes down to making money, he needs those savages to win some basketball games. When we refer to the lecture notes on slave resistance and slave codes, it states that “[slaves] are defined as property, no power to make contracts, and can’t hire self out or bring civil suits”(Professor Pittman, November 2, 2015). All of these apply to the contracts that these players agree to sign before they become part of the team. Any time that these players decide to break any of these laws will cost them large amounts of money. In essence, the players are powerless and if they become too big of a problem for the organization, they can easily be shipped off up the proverbial “NBA River” bouncing from team to team before nobody wants them and their career dies before the age of 30 in most cases.
As an athlete with dreams of becoming a professional, especially when you’re black, many people will think that being athletic is all that I’m good for. Being a large body with exceptional athletic ability and also the ability to bring in large amount of money every night I perform. Growing up, you think that you are seen as just an exceptional athlete. But with age and time you begin to realize that you are essentially working for somebody and they have preconceived views about you and I just happen to be black and assume the stereotypes that come with the property. I expect to cross the threshold from amateurism to professionalism within the next six to eight months and that is a reality of the situation moving from city to city dealing with people like Sterling. I will face situations like this myself but I just hope my boss doesn’t record himself getting mad at his girlfriend for walking with black people.
Listen to the clip: http://www.tmz.com/videos/0_wkuhmkt8/
“Clippers Owner Donald Sterling to GF – Don’t Bring Black People to My Games, Including Magic Johnson.” http://www.tmz.com. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
Johnson, Davi. “Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 Birmingham Campaign as Image Event.”Rhetoric & Public Affairs (2012): 1-25. Print.
Ethnic Notions. Dir. Leon F. Litwack. Artform Productions, 1982. Film.
Mandell, Nina. “V. Stiviano Says She Recorded Donald Sterling to Help Him Learn Things about Himself.” For The Win. 22 May 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
Moore, David. “Donald Sterling Racism Allegations Ignite NBA Outrage.” USA Today. 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
Wagner, Kyle. “Exclusive: The Extended Donald Sterling Tape.” Deadspin. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.