With the on slot of criticism directed towards Donald Sterling, I figured someone must address the varying opinions and points of view regarding the conversation with his (ex) girlfriend. While no one can deny that what he said was at the very least despicable, I was astonished when my older sister presented a different approach than what has been dominating the mainstream.
“So, what do you think about the Donald Sterling conversation?” I asked my sister on the phone recently. Her reply, “Personally I don’t see what the big deal is. I mean, of course it’s wrong…but I don’t even think he’s a racist.” To my shock, “Why? How?” I asked. And this is where I had to open my mind and realize…she might have a point.
Back in the thirties and forties, being Jewish was almost (not quite, but almost) as restricted as being black. You weren’t admitted into many places; the good jobs went to white Anglo-Saxons Protestants or WASPs not Jews. Sterling belongs to a very specific type of hardened, Jewish men who built their fortune from scratch through struggle after struggle, beating down closed doors and if not, finding other ways to achieve their goal. Despite prejudice and constant setbacks because they were Jewish, they forged on. Of course you cannot draw a comparison to the African-American experience for obvious reasons, including skin color and slavery. The point is that men like Donald Sterling didn’t let anything stop them from moving forward. They failed and restarted over and over again and finally made it, however, in the process they became pitiless, unyielding, callous. It’s no wonder they’re critical of any type of lack of incentive or failure, both of which often define some black communities.
For any of you completely incensed at this point…hold your horses. I’m fully aware that African Americans (which I am) have far too often gotten a raw deal, and continuously run into a brick wall when it comes to moving up or forward. I also believe we have too many broken values in broken communities preventing many from imagining a better life than the one surrounding them. Their neighborhood becomes their prison. While Jewish families have always, for hundreds of years, advocated education, something that is even built into our religion (I’m also Jewish), black families have fought for survival. There are a lot of reasons why the African American experience has had and continues to have a much harder time than any other race, but this is a conversation for another day. For Sterling and company, all they see is a people that lack incentive and continuously fail, and therefore not worthy of equality.
Donald Sterling and friends, the ones who told him about the picture on Instagram in the first place, and indeed plenty of others like them, are a stagnant, rigid, stuck in the past group of wealthy old fogies unable to conceive of an African-American man being on their level. Of all people, Sterling directed his rant towards Magic Johnson, a man breathing the rare air of the multi-millionaires’ club, yes, that same air Sterling and his cronies breathe. A man that did what Sterling did: became insanely wealthy from nothing; a businessman just like Sterling. Despite Magic’s success, Sterling can’t get passed his preconceived notion of what black people are. He views Magic the same way he views the men he sees in the slums and projects when planning his low-income real estate developments, the men that in his eyes, lack incentive and represent failure. And yet…
He was dating a woman who is Latina and African-American. When it came to his pretty (ex) girlfriend, denial is a powerful tool. She’s black, but she’s beautiful. She’s Latina but she’s special. She’s not really either of those. She’s just a little tanned. Denial allows you to poke holes in your own dogged, staunch, rigid beliefs when it suits you. In fact this attitude ruled the conversation as he repeatedly denied being a racist while criticizing his girlfriend for posting a photograph with Magic. Basically…Sterling made no sense.
In my sister’s experience, a racist is someone like George Wallace. She was in her twenties in the sixties and seventies when racism was all too casually part of the norm. Sterling, according to her, is a product of his upbringing, his environment and his experience. A real racist won’t help a handicapped person of color cross the street, for instance; or even address them other than in a demeaning way. A racist certainly doesn’t date out of his race.
Do I agree with my sister? Let’s just say, I get her point. However, in my eyes, there’s no denying and no denial. Sterling is a racist and the worst kind. He’s a closet racist, the type that plays off being inclusive to the world, but behind closed doors, or among his cronies it’s a different story all together. It just goes to show you…nothing about us humans stays secret. Somehow, somewhere someone knows… and at some point in time, whether you like it or not, you get found out.