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.