Donald Sterling Reminds Us That We Still Have Work To Do

All it takes is one tweet (I’m talking to you Justine Sacco), one recorded conversation, one moment of indiscretion to change everything. What’s done in the dark often comes to light.

In the wake of the Donald Sterling fiasco, it’s apparent that racism continues to rear its ugly head. Our country still has work to do.

This isn’t the 1950s and ‘60s – racism doesn’t quite display itself in the form of the KKK terrorizing southern towns or Jim Crow laws and “separate but equal” displays of racial segregation with ‘white only’ bathrooms and restaurants.

But even in 2014, racism is still very much present in ways that we can’t see on the surface. Today, racism is subtle and covert. Donald Sterling’s words remind us of this fact.

Sure, it can be hard to change the thoughts and opinions of one man, but what does that mean for you, me, the NBA, our country for that matter?

Pointing the finger solves nothing.

I don’t think we can say that the Clippers as a team made the wrong decision by playing in Sunday’s game at Oracle Arena. To boycott game 4 of the first round of the playoffs would have signified defeat; however, playing in a game that directly supports a man with a slave owner mentality during one of the most racially charged moments in NBA history, seemed equally defeating.

It appears to be a lose-lose situation for the Doc Rivers and the Clippers, but who are we to say they are right or wrong for their stance?

This battle isn’t going to be won by simply missing a game or even by wearing black socks and headbands and inside-out warm-up sweats to hide the team logo in protest.

No, it’s much deeper than not playing some NBA playoff game. It goes beyond the team, but to an entire city rallying –a nation for that matter. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

3 things to help us in conversations to come.

Come Tuesday, it’s likely that empty seats and crowd silence will open up the conversation even more about race in this country. My hope is that people look at this situation as a gentle reminder that our words matter, racism cannot be tolerated, and ignorance isn’t really bliss.

After all, the majority of the NBA is made up of people of color. According to the 2013 TIDES report, African-Americans comprised 76.3 percent of all NBA players and 43.3 percent of all NBA head coaches.

The NBA continues to be a league that opens up opportunities for people of color. And it is going to take action from the highest levels to resolve this sort of issue.

As we continue to watch this play out over the next few weeks and months, this issue highlights 3 things that can help up us in our broader conversations about race:

  1. Acknowledge that racism isn’t a figure of the imagination. People are not always going to be tolerant in the most obvious ways, but pretending like racism is the elephant in the room or some issue of the distant past has to stop.
  2. Refraining from using statements like, “I don’t see color.” To say that means that you don’t see me. I am black – it’s not my only description, but it is one of them and one that I am proud of.
  3. Familiarize yourself with black history beyond the month of February. Ida B. Wells, Dr. King, Rosa Parks and many others fought hard so that you and I could have healthy interactions with one another. We can’t do better, unless we know better.
  • Dan Duncan

    Tenika so thankful for this! Totally agree with each and every thought. I would like to add John Lewis to your list of people you should know about outside of Feb. His memoir Walking with the Wind def changed my life.

    Also a few questions
    1. How crazy is it that he has an estranged wife who is white yet he has been with a mixed latino/black female for four years?Does this show an end to his racial feelings or do they go even deeper to making this young women a “house slave?”

    Forgive my analogy but I think it might be an accurate description of his heart towards her.

    2. As a young women of minority what is she doing dating an elderly racist man? Is she in the wrong at all here?

    3. Im still not sure I know how the tape of this conversation got made….does that matter?

    • Tenika Small

      Appreciate it, Dan! John Lewis’ memoir is next on my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

      To answer your questions:
      1. I COMPLETELY agree. It is so strange, but I also thought about the “house slave” sort of mentality considering she is of mixed heritage. It really doesn’t make sense.
      2. I don’t know V, but my guess is that the reason she was with him was for his money. As Kanye said so eloquently, “I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger….” I don’t really understand why she would entertain this type of behavior unless there was some sort of financial benefit.
      3. I think we’re all curious about how this was made. Apparently hundreds of hours of their conversations were recorded. It seems like there was some malicious intent behind this to begin with, but recorded conversations is nothing new.

  • Jonathan Watson

    What did you all think of the decision made today?

    • Tenika Small

      I wasn’t expecting the decision, but I think it was a very wise move. I was blown away (in a good way) by commissioner adam silver’s passion about the whole situation. We’re definitely moving in the right direction!

      • Jonathan Watson

        Agree. Right choice.

        At first I thought “lifetime ban? That’s a lot.” But that dude isn’t not going to sit out a few years and come back with a new attitude.

        All around good by the NBA.

  • epadilla12

    I appreciate this post, but as it pertains to your last point about familiarization I think it should be expanded to include other minority groups. I have noticed that often the discussion about minority issues, micro aggression, and racism typically happens in black-white categories.

    • Tenika Small

      Completely agree. Since Donald Sterling’s comments were directed towards black people, I chose to focus it there. However, I completely agree that it expands to people of color in general.