The Opportunity America Lost in the Sterling Hoopla
In the recent controversy surrounding Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, there have been some missing pieces that have not been discussed much in the media coverage which we were bombarded with. Sterling getting a lifetime ban from attending NBA events, his being fined $2.5 million and some corporate sponsors cancelling and suspending support for the team are nice steps. The lack of discussion regarding the incessant nature of misogyny and structural racism in our society relating to this incident is what disturbs me.
In all of the hoopla regarding Sterling’s racist statements, his sexist statements received little to no attention. In the leaked audio, Sterling stated to his girlfriend, “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.” He also said, ““I’m not you, and you’re not me. You’re supposed to be a delicate white or a delicate Latina girl.” By these statements and those in which he dictated to her that she couldn’t be seen or photographed with black people shows that Sterling viewed her as a piece of property.
Those who dismiss this by saying that she asked for this treatment because she’s an adulteress are also part of the problem. One reflection of misogyny in our society is that the standard of morality is squarely the burden of women. Thus, his misogyny and infidelity have gotten an overall pass on tv talk shows.
The other issue that has been by-passed is the lack of discussion about the deeply saturated and structural nature of white supremacy and racism in America. To depict Sterling’s comments as those of an old school bigot is an elementary analysis at best. His justification of how he sees his black players by invoking how black jews are treated like dogs in Israel reflects a greater dehumanization of blacks that is beyond individual bias. It involves power.
It’s easier for many Americans to get upset about Sterling’s comments than the grosser expressions of it that negatively impact millions of people of color on a daily basis. Where’s the outrage over Native Americans continuing to be the poorest of this land and suffering the highest numbers of unprosecuted sexual assault (not to even mention the racism they face in our sports culture)? Where’s the outrage over selective enforcement and prosecution of drug laws, which has our country having the largest prison population in the world with a disproportion percentage of black and Latino inmates?
Unfortunately, no such outrage exists en masse because white privilege allows for non-effective people to not see these expressions of racism that have far greater social costs than boorish comments from a multi-millionaire white racist thug.
When such situations arise again, we should center our conversations on these being symptoms of greater social diseases, not remnants of our so-called sexist and racist past. We had an opportunity to create a dialogue about deep societal issues and we failed. The only way we have a chance of defeating misogyny and racism in America is to focus on dismantling and dis-investing from male chauvinist and white supremacist structures instead of primarily focusing on individual bigots like Sterling.