Donald Sterling and Using the Black Body


Mar 13, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling attends the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Staples Center. The Grizzlies defeated the Clippers 96-85. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If allegations from TMZ are true, we’ve received yet another genuine look into the magical racist world of Donald Sterling. TMZ reports that Sterling, a man who’s derived plenty of fame and notoriety thanks to the efforts of black folks, demanded that his girlfriend not publicly associate with black people. Private, undisclosed interaction was fine but promoting that association on Instagram, even in the form of a photo with famous and well-liked black folk like Magic Johnson, was inappropriate.

If accurate, TMZ’s report paints a seemingly odd picture for a man who, again, has derived plenty of fame from the efforts of blacks to say such things about blacks. But it truly does make sense. Sterling operates from a position of power and control over “his” players on “his” team. For Sterling, this isn’t public friendship, camaraderie, or brotherhood, it’s the relationship of boss over chattel. When black people are in obeisance to him, their presence is fine.

What Sterling desires is the comfortable wealth derived from the black body without any public intimacy with that body.

That’s how he can logically pay those bodies millions of dollars, creepily call them “beautiful,” and demand his girlfriend not associate publicly with them. The black body, if seen publicly, is a tool toward his own ambitions, not the domain of another individual that’s to be respected.

In 2012, Demarcus Robinson went over Sterling’s litany of racist (and other bigoted) actions. But don’t be fooled into thinking Sterling is a lone racist wolf. He’s the product of a powerful ideology in America that views the black body, in particular, as a tool to be wielded for the benefits of whites.

“My creed on [the slavery] question is: That slave-holding is no sin… That the slaves of the Southern States are happier and better off than the niggers of the North,” confessed New Yorker George Templeton Strong on September 9, 1850. Strong continued that abolitionists’ schemes to liberate the black body from slavery were “very particularly false, foolish, wicked and unchristian.” The black body was better off and happier in bondage than in freedom.

Flash-forward to this past week when Cliven Bundy “wondered” if blacks were “better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.” Having corporal punishment for not picking enough cotton, having family members sold off to pay a master’s debt, and having no legal rights… that’s the cornerstone for wondering if slavery provided more freedom for the black body than emancipation.

(It should be noted that Bundy has yet to wonder if he’d be better off without the ranch the government subsidized to his family via the Homestead Act.)

The key to this remarkable argument, though, is Bundy’s insistence on “doing things.” Supposedly, the black body today just ain’t doin’ enough. Under slavery and Jim Crow, that black body was magnificently doing work for white America: constructing a White House they were forbidden to reside in; ironically casting the iron for the Statue of Freedom that still sits atop a capitol they couldn’t cast votes in; and maintaining the homes of whites in neighborhoods they weren’t allowed to live in.

Respecting, let alone embracing, the individual inhabiting that black body is anathema to simply using that body. As far as Sterling, and his succoring ideology, is concerned, if the black body is exposed out in the open, it needs to be furthering his comfort.  It’s a filthy tradition that won’t fade away soon from American society thanks to the wonderings of folks like Cliven Bundy. It’s a dirty heritage that won’t vanish soon from the NBA thanks to Donald Sterling’s continued and unfortunate presence.

Curtis Harris

Curtis Harris is a historian and subscribes to the following ethos espoused by Abraham Lincoln in 1858: "I have always wanted to deal with everyone I meet candidly and honestly. If I have made any assertion not warranted by facts, and it is pointed out to me, I will withdraw it cheerfully."

  • Hugo Menendez

    It seems weird write about Sterling refusing to have intimacy with or non-economic respect for the black body without pointing out that he is in an intimate, and sort of close and loving (based on the amount of time he spends on the tape trying to convince the girl to think his way, rather than just dumping her for some other young model) relationship with a black girl and has no problem being seen with her in public.

    • DoinMe

      He doesn’t see her as black. He said in the audio she’s supposed to carry herself like a delicate Latino or white woman.

      • Hugo Menendez

        Do we let the racist define a person’s racial identity or do we let the individual decide it for herself? She calls herself black (and therefore is black) and he chooses to be with her and I think that’s pretty relevant and should be mentioned in an article about the issue, especially one so strongly attacking how he treats/regards black people.

    • Ian Osmond

      It’s not a problem for a white man to date a black woman: only for a black man to date a white woman. Even Strom Thurmond had at least one black mistress. Falls right into the title of the piece.

  • Baakus

    Let’s not also forget the fact that his girlfriend is Black, or at least part Black.

    So Blacks are good to make money off of and fuck (and probably discard afterwards), but not good enough to be treated as equals (even when they become Magic Johnson).

    This is why the “B-b-b-but my girlfriend is Black/Asian/Latina!” argument is so stupid and self-serving.

  • Ryan P.

    It’s all about the control, Hugo. She’s obviously with him for his money and likely has little self respect..otherwise why would she be with a known racist such as Sterling. She allowed him to control her…

    • Hugo Menendez

      I wouldn’t say ‘obviously’ about the motivations of a person I only know from a 15-second audio clip. If she was all about his money I would think she wouldn’t keep arguing with him and calling him a racist; instead, she would simply stop posting pictures of herself with black people so as to stay in his good graces. And being in a relationship with a racist person doesn’t mean you don’t have self respect. That’s like saying that someone doesn’t have self respect because he is a fan of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington because they were slave owners. Things usually aren’t simple enough to say that one bad (even very bad) feature makes a person essentially an untouchable. This guy grew up in the thirties; that doesn’t make his racism alright, but it contextualizes things and is worth thinking about. And I would say the fact that she is very open about her displeasure with his racism and confronts him fearlessly and repeatedly about it shows that she has a great deal of self respect. How many hundreds of actual bimbos has he gone through that haven’t said a word about it in order to keep getting invited to parties and games and to keep receiving presents and whatnot?

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