What a difference a weekend makes. Before the Don Sterling tape scandal, I had not heard of the Clippers basketball team or of their multi-billionaire owner. The back-story behind this scandal is the stuff that soap operas are made of. From what I have gleaned online it appears that an 80 year old rich White man who happens to own a basketball team takes a young biracial mistress. His wife of 50 (something) years instead of divorcing her husband sues mistress for $1.8 million citing that she is a gold digger using her feminine wiles to extort money from silly old men. Mistress goes to her boyfriend to complain; apparently he shrugs and refuses to offer help. Mistress then makes the recording, probably selling it to the highest bidder. Old man is then banned from owning a basketball team for life by the NBA.
This story is very interesting on many levels. I found it ridiculous that a man would date a biracial woman and then complain when she associates with other Black people. Is she only Black when she is in the company of other Black people? Is he able to overlook her blackness when they are alone or associating with other White people? He objected to her being photographed with Magic Johnson, a respected sports legend and entrepreneur. Mr Johnson is not exactly someone dodgy from the wrong part of town. It does beg the question as to whether Black people can be truly accepted by white patriarchy, even if they are respected members of society. If a former athlete who has been openly praised by former US presidents is not enough for a Black man to be deemed reputable company it would suggest that the answer to the question is a resounding no.
I was prompted to write this piece after reading an article by rapper Homeboy Sandboy titled ‘Black People Are Cowards’. His premise is that African – Americans do not stand up for themselves in the way that the Civil Rights generation did. As a consequence White people are now free to disrespect us. His secondary gripe is that hip hop artists and TV reality stars perpetuate negative stereotypes about Black people which fuels the racism African-Americans face.
It is ridiculous to blame the oppressed for their oppression. The way in which Black people behave or are perceived to behave has nothing to do with racism. Racism is a social construct which exists to determine who controls and has access to the world’s resources. Slurs such as Black people are lazy, violent, feckless, crazy etc are hollow excuses to justify the barbarism of slavery, apartheid and colonialism. A Black person’s behaviour will not protect them from prejudice. Sterling was not impressed by Magic Johnson’s reputation. Respectability politics is a dangerous concept because it offers a false sense of security at the expense of our self respect. I abhor the behaviour of certain Black entertainers or members of the community. I am no fan of misogyny or Black on Black violence. However, I will always champion the idea that we are not a monolith group. When Black people play into the ‘respectability’ game you are ignoring the pervasive power of institutionalised racism and denying our humanity by lumping us as a group rather than a collective of unique individuals with a shared hue. Most importantly this argument lets the perpetrators and beneficiaries of racism off the hook. ‘It’s not our fault that we are racist; after all look at how these people behave.’
Mr Sandboy goes on in his piece to label the NBA players cowards for not refusing to play after the tape had been leaked. These men may very well be multi millionaires but who are we behind the safety of our keyboards to expect them to put their livelihoods on the line. He goes on to label every one of us cowards for not being prepared to do the same should a relevant situation arise. I have no idea how many bosses worldwide hold absolutely abhorrent beliefs. There are very few people who can abruptly leave their jobs without facing dire financial consequences. Is Mr Sandboy prepared to pay the rent/mortgage of the people who do not want to work for a jerk? Racism is a societal problem it is too big to expect an individual(s) to rectify. In some cases the biggest sign of defiance is survival. My own parents suffered a lot of indignities throughout their working life and did this (without complaint) to put food on the table and to provide opportunities for my sister and I. To continue and thrive in a hostile environment is the greatest act of bravery. It takes all of your physical and emotional strength to carry on day after day. The promise of the post Civil Rights era has not been fully realised. Gains have been made in the last 50 years but we have not reached the Promised Land. Black people are still several more times likely to be stopped by police, unemployed and imprisoned compared to their White counterparts on both sides of the Atlantic. If you doubt that we live in a post racial society, this tape is proof enough to remove those rose coloured glasses.
I believe in the power of protest but we must put things into context. We live in a different time from the 50s and 60s. The Civil Rights just like the Arab Spring were not random. They were orchestrated acts of civil disobedience which took years to build its momentum. In order to have a far reaching movement, it requires strategy, patience and planning. If you want to hurt the likes of Sterling, stop watching/attending matches, stop purchasing their sponsors products, then sit back and watch Rome burn. In order to have purchasing power you need to be in employment. Once you have lost your purchasing power you have no voice. I would advise Mr Sandboy to take a class in 101 Economics.
Fast forward a few days, Mr Sterling has been fined $2.8 million dollars and received a lifetime ban from the NBA. (And to think that no Black athletes had to lose their jobs in order to achieve this) I am not naive, once the sponsors feared a serious backlash due to the tape the NBA had to take action. I am glad that such action was taken but I am far from dancing in the streets. Personally, I couldn’t care less who Donald Sterling wishes to associate with and the reasons behind that choice. What I do care about is when someone is able to use their racist beliefs as a platform to diminish the quality of life for others. When he is not busy chasing a woman four times his junior, Sterling is a housing magnate owning vast amount of property in Los Angeles. He has been accused of systematically refusing to rent apartments to Black and Latino tenants. Various court case of discrimination has been brought against him, the most recent being in 2006. In the US and most places at that, where you live greatly determines your safety, the ability to receive a decent education or healthcare. Consigning Black people to ghetto environments significantly reduces their quality of life, potential for social advancement and perpetuates the disparity between rich White and poor Blacks. That is the power of institutionalised racism, when somebody has the authority to put their beliefs into action at the detriment of others.
I am all for all of us doing our part to make the world a fairer place but I am a believer in picking battles. I think it is right that Sterling be taken to task for his abhorrent views but the real fight is how do we tackle the system which allows men like Sterling to live in their ivory towers while they enforce housing segregation in the 21st century. Mr Sandboy would be better served taking his ire out on the powers that be instead of expecting miracles from the have nots.
Please let me know your thoughts