The latest media furor is that over Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, who had been recorded scolding his girlfriend for consorting publicly with black people and bringing them to the games. Today the NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned him for life from basketball and fined him $2.5 million.
To be quite honest, I had never heard of Sterling before this erupted but sports writer Dave Zirin says that Sterling’s racism was an open secret for a long time and that it is hypocritical for people in the basketball world to act like they were shocked by this revelation.
It turns out that Sterling is not only a racist but a discriminatory slumlord and an exploitative owner. What Sterling did was, like some rich people, buy himself immunity for his views. Kevin Drum says he regularly purchased newspaper ads that praised his generosity. This seemed to be enough to silence those who knew the truth and even for the NAACP, which not only give him an lifetime achievement award five tears ago but planned to give him another one in May. That has been canceled.
Much attention has been focused on Sterling’s comments on race but what I found interesting was his view of himself . Here he is talking about his team’s 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, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?”
It is clear that Sterling is like the other one-percenters in that he thinks that he is the one who is doing all the heavy lifting in society and that others live off his largesse. Rather than the players earning their money because of their athletic abilities, it is he, out of the generosity of his heart, who provides with employment those who might otherwise be bums on the street.
On NPR this morning an analyst said that what was more interesting to explore than the racist comments was the contradiction between Sterling’s disdain for black people and the fact that his girlfriend is half black and half Mexican and that his players are majority black.
There is no contradiction. The idea that there is one stems from the misperception that racists avoid being near the people they dislike. To say that Sterling is a contradiction is say that the ante-bellum plantation owners who had racist views yet had black servants and slept with some of them were contradictions. In reality, it is perfectly consistent and all about demonstrating one’s power over people. What could be more satisfying to a racist than ‘owning’ someone, literally in the past and quasi-metaphorically now in the relationship between athletes and team owners in professional sports.
Racists have no problem with being in close proximity to those whom they think are inferior, as long as the latter know their proper place. In fact, you need them around in order to demonstrate your superiority. Sterling is in fact remarkably ordinary in this regard.