I had never heard of Donald Sterling before yesterday. I don’t keep up with sports. I asked my friend who he was after I saw his name over and over on my Facebook feed. Her response was, “He is the racist pig owner of the Clippers who is screwing a Black/Mexican chick, but doesn’t want her to bring Blacks to his games. “
My interest was sparked! She also sent me a link to the conversation Sterling had with the girlfriend. As an African-American woman, the most upsetting thing about the discussion is that I wasted nine minutes of my life that I will never get back. I refuse to re-listen to the conversation, even for the sake of this article, but I recall Sterling saying vehemently that he “loved black people”, he “admired Magic Johnson”, and that he was hurt by the implication that his lady friend thought he had a problem with her skin.
On a modern day Racist-O-Meter, if Jessie Helms is a 10 and people who think racism ended when President Obama was elected are 1, Donald Sterling is a 5. He’s right there with Bill O’Reilly and Paul Ryan.
You cannot listen to this dialogue in the context of race and completely delete the fact that this man is talking to his young girlfriend. Lots of men would be upset about their girlfriends posting pictures on Instagram with strapping black men. There is a very popular perception about how black men are endowed, you know, in the genital region. Yes, that is a tad racist, but it’s only about a 2 on the Racist-O-Meter.
As a teenager in Texas, I remember being grounded because I rode home with a white guy from school. My uncle, who raised me, was livid. He yelled that he “better never see me riding in a car with another white boy”. Initially, I was baffled. I could not understand why my aunt and uncle would bus me across town to a school where there were almost no other black people if they didn’t want me to socialize with white people. I thought my uncle was the most ignorant, racist man in the universe until my aunt shared a piece of his childhood with me. When my uncle was 14 years old, he watched helplessly as his uncle was lynched on a tree right outside of his house. It’s the same house where we still have family reunions. My uncle helped his brothers cut his dead uncle down from that tree the next day. I still don’t agree with my uncle’s attitudes about race, but knowing the root of his perspectives helps me be less judgmental about his views.
I don’t know Sterling’s background, but I know the general history of the time frame when he grew up. In 1954, integration was a HUGE deal. It was a struggle. People didn’t want it. Job listings in the 1960s were separated by race and gender. This was less than 60 years ago! Donald Sterling lived half of his life in a generation where segregation was normal and minorities were second class citizens. It’s only logical that he would think that blacks and whites should keep their interactions private. Yes, it’s a little racist, but it’s not that racist. He didn’t even use the “n” word. Every old person is not a 5 or greater on the Racist-O-Meter, but the conversation that I heard reflected an older man arguing with his younger lover and explaining his cultural perception. All this chat proved is that Donald Sterling is a victim of his age and upbringing.
People on the upper echelons of the Racist-O-Meter don’t date mixed chicks. Donald Sterling didn’t just become a racist; he’s been this way for a while, so an offensive discussion shouldn’t give people license to make him a singular demon deserving harsh punishment all of a sudden. The reality is that A LOT of people think like him. They are just afraid to say it out loud. Sterling wouldn’t have said it if he knew he was being recorded. Instead of criticizing and name-calling, I hope that someone is able to help Mr. Sterling understand why his thoughts might be hurtful to some. Wait! Who am I kidding? He’s 81 years old! He’s not changing. Ya’ll need to leave that old man alone.
This controversy could be a positive starting point for a much needed national conversation on racism, but no one (especially the racists) will feel comfortable speaking honestly about their true viewpoints if Sterling is tormented after being trapped into sharing his authentic world view.