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I’m not mad at Donald Sterling. I’m mad at us.

I’m not mad at Donald Sterling. I’m mad at us.

THE RACIST REMARKS of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, allegedly caught on tape by girlfriend V. Stiviano, have stirred criticism both within and outside the basketball world. My response? So what.

No one should be surprised that the 81-year-old real estate mogul told his 38-year-old girlfriend, a woman of African American and Mexican heritage, that she should not be seen walking with black people. Nor should we be outraged that Sterling went further.

Nothing Sterling says or does as the owner of an NBA basketball team will directly affect the lives of me, or any other black person, including his players. They will still make millions to play basketball. He will still make billions for as long as he is allowed to own the team … But while we sit around bashing Donald Sterling, the real racism is setting up African Americans to become a permanent underclass.

“I’m just saying, in your lousy f—ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people,” Sterling allegedly told Stiviano, in reference to an Instagram photo she posted with NBA legend Magic Johnson. He later added, “… Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f–k him, I don’t care. You can do anything. But don’t put him on Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games. Ok?”

Shocking, right? Not really. Sterling was previously sued for race and age discrimination by former Los Angeles Clippers GM and NBA Hall of Fame inductee Elgin Baylor. Sterling also paid a $2.75 million settlement in a federal lawsuit for discriminating against blacks and Hispanics in his real estate business. And this is not the first time Sterling has been caught making racist statements. In court documents, federal prosecutors presented evidence that Sterling and his wife made statements “indicating that African Americans and Hispanics were not desirable tenants and that they preferred Korean tenants.”

Here is the unvarnished truth regarding Donald Sterling. Nothing he says or does as the owner of an NBA basketball team will directly affect the lives of me, or any other black person, including his players. They will still make millions to play basketball. He will still make billions for as long as he is allowed to own the team. The rest of us will still have to eek out a living in a world where racism is a reality. But while we sit around bashing Donald Sterling, the real racism is setting up African Americans to become a permanent underclass.

The Supreme Court last week made a decision that will allow states to ban Affirmative Action. That will systematically exclude black students from top colleges, and set up our children to lose out on higher education—the one sure path to prosperity.

I didn’t see anything about that on TMZ, where Sterling’s racist rant was originally reported. I didn’t hear commentators screaming about it on television. I didn’t see anyone calling for boycotts, or firings, or immediate civil disobedience, but I’ve seen all of that in reference to the meaningless comments of a single bigot.

While we rant about Donald Sterling, states across the country adopt Voter ID laws in an attempt to suppress black and Latino votes. While Sterling dominates the news cycle, the corporately funded Tea Party has made racial division a political goal. While Sterling remains at the center of our discussion, Fox News gives right wing extremists a national forum.

It’s time for African Americans to wake up.

It’s fine for us to be outraged by racist comments. But we should not allow ourselves to be whipped up into a frenzy by a media that is all too willing to point fingers in order to conceal its own lack of diversity. We should not take personally the ravings of a racist so hypocritical that he’s cheating on his wife with a black Latino woman. We should not be manipulated by what amounts to a distraction. We should not take our eye off the proverbial ball.

If the NBA wants to take care of Donald Sterling for his alleged racist remarks, it should follow the lead of Major League Baseball, which forced racist owner Marge Schott to sell the Cincinnati Reds.

As for black people, if we want to be angry about something, we should be angry with ourselves for ignoring the racism that truly matters. And after we’re through giving ourselves the tongue-lashing we deserve, we should get out of our seats, stop yelling about Sterling, and get to work to fight the bigotry the Supreme Court has just endorsed.

If we don’t, we’ll leave our children at the mercy of the Donald Sterlings of this world, and I’m quite sure none of us wants to do favicon 3

Click here for Solomon’s take on Donald Sterling’s NBA ban, $2.5 million fine and more.

Click here for a written transcript of the Sterling remarks allegedly taped by V. Stiviano.

Photo: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, center, and V. Stiviano, left, watch the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 19, 2010. The NBA is investigating a report of an audio recording in which a man purported to be Sterling makes racist remarks while speaking to Stiviano.  (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

solomon thumbnailSolomon Jones is an Essence bestselling author and award-winning columnist. He is the creator and editor of Click here to learn more about Solomon



Written by Solomon

  • Angela Larks

    I’m so not surprised, there are still many today that feel the same way as sterling. What can we do, how do we begin to bring to the fore-front the things that are crucial/detrimental to the African American community? Black on black crime, drugs, unemploment, and lack of adequate health care plague us at this time. Sub-par is whats expected from us. How do we bring about a positive change. This is all really scary!

  • Speaking truth to power!

  • Kevin Ghee

    You make a good point. Good piece here.

  • Evetta

    Lord have mercy….YOU said a MOUTHFUL……

  • Melantha Kamaria

    Your article is on point. We tend to fall asleep at the wheel when it comes to these types of issues. This man being a racist isn’t going to mean a damn thing in the major scheme of things as it relates to my day to day life or the lives of my family, friends and future children. If we paid half as much attention to the real issues we’d be much further as a race.

  • Well said, Solomon!

  • WD

    I agree…but cant we be angry about all of these? this stuff comes from all angles.. we can multi task, cant we? Do people say this when folks watch senseless reality shows?

  • annieem

    Well said! Yes, people need to focus on issues that matter and not get too caught up by fools like Sterling. However, his comments were disgraceful and his apology should be rejected and the LA NAACP award rescinded. As for his “girlfriend,” she’s also a fool.

  • Robin

    You make a good point…it’s all about the distractions…

  • david simms

    Im not really suprised, Why should we be? did someone really think that racism does not exist? I didnt!

  • Lynda

    It’s time for us white folk to wake up too. Racism is an affront to us as well, whether we realize it or not.

  • Solomon Jones

    True. Thanks for making that point.

  • Solomon Jones

    Good point. We absolutely have a responsibility to clean up our own issues and bring about positive change.

  • Lori Exum-Thompson

    I’ve been expressing this point since we allowed media hyperbole to distract our attention with the so-called “Paula Deen” scandal while the Supreme Court was deciding whether or not Affirmative Action even continued to be necessary. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but don’t you find it interesting that these ‘scandals’ tend to come to light when our collective attention should be focused on the issues and concerns that directly affect our very citizen-hood? You couldn’t be more correct — the real bigotry – that which endangers us, is not embodied by an 81-year old billionaire racist – he is not the problem, his opinion is inconsequential to our process and progress. A supreme court that does not see us — is the real ‘scandal’.

  • Amy Lewis

    Thank you! I posted that exact sentiment on my Facebook page, angry that my posts about the ABA Journal article (bias in law firms) and disparity in medical treatment barely got a “ho-hum” on my page but EVERYONE wants to comment on Sterling. Really????

  • Debra SB

    This article is so true! We (African-Americans) will complain until the next big social exploit!

  • glazecity

    Scolding folks because your more knowledgeable about important issues isn’t the answer either.

    What happened with Donald sterling is an event that should make everyone upset.

    But maybe you and the folks at the joke of the NAACP need to do a better job of organizing and creating awareness about the silent racism that still exists.

    What would Jesus have done? Thx

  • Ben Robinson III

    I know I should be upset, but I’m not. Because if 2013 taught us anything it’s that the media knows how fickle we are. We’ll be mad for a couple of minutes and then it all just goes away. Need proof? I’ve got two words for you; Paula Deen. Need more proof? Here are three words: Trayvon Martin Case. The media plays us like a fiddle and we continuously sing the same song.

  • Solomon Jones

    Thanks for your comment. “What would Jesus have done?” Jesus was a revolutionary. He stood up against a world system that picked out a minority–the Jewish people–to exploit for its own gain. As a member of that minority group, Jesus looked around and saw that others had tried to change things through failed strategies such as armed revolt (the Zealots) and complicit behavior (the Pharisees). Jesus employed a different strategy–one that was predicated on the belief that things, and indeed people, could change, if they believed in something bigger than themselves. He picked out a small group of followers, taught them that philosophy, and showed them how to effect change. He showed them, by the power of his example, how to rebuild themselves and one another through the power of love. As Jesus showed us, loving someone does not always mean coddling them. Love also involves correction. It involves teaching. It involves discipline. And sometimes, loving someone means telling them, in no uncertain terms, that they are on the wrong path. It involves helping people to refocus on what truly matters, and then equipping them to take action. I believe that’s what Jesus did, and I believe that’s what he would have done when faced with the specter of racism in today’s society. I know I haven’t scratched the surface of what he did, but with his help, I hope to do more. Again, thanks for writing. Very interesting and thought-provoking question.

  • Solomon Jones

    I think people tend to gravitate toward the splashy, and too often, we allow the media to tell us what’s important. Please keep sharing about the bias in law firms and the disparities in medical treatment. Those things definitely matter.

  • Amy Lewis

    I agree but its so easy for them to get us off track. When the Clippers are sold (and they will be soon), everyone will say, “See we threw the racist out on his ear. All is well.” I don’t want folks to remain unexamined because they compare their racism to his and declare themselves “not racist”….

  • Solomon Jones

    Thanks for making that point. I have been saying for a long time that the reason these kinds of stories get so much traction is that people like to point to folks like Sterling as the racist bogeyman in order to make themselves feel better. We all need to examine ourselves and our biases and figure out if those biases make us better as a society or worse. If 50 percent of Americans are spending 50 percent of their time trying to hold down the other 50 percent of Americans, does that weaken all of us? I think it does. And pointing at a guy like Sterling doesn’t make that reality go away.

  • Solomon Jones

    Great examples. The question now is what we do about it.

  • Michael Mogil

    Good take Mr. Jones. Realizing however that in media driven world, controversy and sex appeal will naturally dominate the headlines, for a few days, but the other issues you address need to be covered more, I agree. I heard Mike Wilbon on TV last night state that after church, the NBA is the most important institution to many black households. He said it. Im not black, and I do not necessarily buy it. I do see the need for the NBA to step in, not only to address the social outrage we are witnessing, but to protect its only business. But I see a danger here. The media, and now the NBA, is inciting and at the same time legislating private thought and private opinion (just as they did with the Chick Filet and Duck Dynasty guys)–but that is a slippery slope. Imagine if everybody’s dinner table or mobile phone was miked, people (you, me, Michael Jordan, Barak Obama, on up) would be afraid to say what we think, which is the antithesis of what we are supposed to be….if the NBA intends to legislate a scorned old man’s racist opinions, then it should also ban its players from affiliating with, posting social media with, or promoting (or even listening to, if they are intending to proscribe private activity and private thought) any entertainers whose media is pro violence, pro drugs, or anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-white, anti-asian, anti-jewish, etc. One cannot be pariah and the other acceptable, or that is a really bad message.

  • Jacqueline Garden-Marshall

    There are many who actually think that “we have overcome” for a myriad of reasons. Again, we allow and encourage mass media to play upon our worst fears and silent tears, when we actually have the ability to foment a change! Economic choices thoughtfully made will enable us to make a real change. Our children are learning lessons by watching what we do, not listening to what we say. My reaction to this is not outrage at the basketball owners attitude, but the fact that a private conversation was recorded and released to TMZ.

  • BT

    Many valid points made in this piece, but ultimately brought down by a tone of community self-loathing. There’s a better methodology for effectively getting your points across without indicting the community as a whole. Don’t be so arrogant as to assume you are the only one in the black community doing his own thinking.

  • Solomon Jones

    Hmmm … I think you should go back and re-read. At no point did I ever point a finger at the rest of the community without also pointing a finger at myself. This is an issue that is about “us,” not about “you.” Of course, if you want more of a camp fire song tone, I’m sure you can find that elsewhere. You can also feel free to submit me an article in which you share some solutions. I’d consider publishing it if it were coherent and contained real answers. We’re dying in the streets. This is no time to tiptoe around the truth.

  • Solomon Jones

    That’s an interesting take, but I don’t share your view that there’s something dangerous here. We should all be able to say whatever we want to say whenever we want to say it, and no one is stopping us from doing so. However, we should always be prepared to answer for what we say. Sterling acknowledged what he said and apologized for it, and now he is dealing with the consequences. I don’t see a problem with it. I also think it’s a stretch to compare what Sterling did, not only in this case, but throughout his history, with players taking pictures with people. The one issue I do think should be dealt with is Ms. Stiviano secretly recording the conversation and then releasing it to the media. I think that’s wrong, and I think she should be dealt with for doing that. I don’t believe for one minute that Sterling believed he was being recorded.

  • BT

    Don’t be so typical and make this personal. A reader’s feedback is exactly that. Good luck!

  • Michael Mogil

    What/where is the ABA Journal article?

  • Amy Lewis
  • DavidR

    Solomon, Mr. Sterling acknowledged it was his voice on the tape but did not apologize. Also, the Supreme Court did not allow Affirmative Action last week. Their decision was not uphold the right to vote on whether or not Affirmative Action could exist.

    The larger point of that there are issues that have a greater impact on t the African American community than Donald Sterling fiasco I agree with.

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  • Solomon Jones

    David I appreciate your comments. You’re right. Sterling did not apologize. However, I never said anything about the Supreme Court allowing Affirmative Action. What I wrote was that the Supreme Court decision will allow states to ban affirmative action. Rather than go into detail about the fact that states would have to do so through voter referendums, I left it at that. The Supreme Court decision was 6-2, I believe, and was based on a Michigan case. That Supreme Court decision will open the door for every state to follow Michigan’s example and put similar initiatives on the ballot. You can read my column on the Supreme Court case in the April 28th Philadelphia Daily News.

  • Solomon Jones

    I have been troubled by the fact that the woman was able to record a private conversation and release it to the media without any ramifications. I know it’s illegal to record someone without their permission in many states. I’m not sure if that’s the case in California.

  • RoxanneRoxanadana

    You hit the nail on the head with this one. Since Sterling has been banned, he’s been punished to the extent he will be punished. That SCOTUS decision, by contrast, may well be quite nasty. Not being a constitutional attorney, I can’t say whether or not it is just law or even what it’s implications will be. But it would be nice to hear a reasoned debate about the decision by attorneys who specialize in constitutional law.

    It should certainly be discussed far more than any discussion by the owner of a basketball team, a person who never before was known by me or by 99% of the American public for that matter.

  • RoxanneRoxanadana

    Turns out he had given her permission to be his “archivist”. Unless they had some sort of a confidentiality agreement, she did nothing illegal. By heavens, the ego of some overrules the simplest precautions one might take. Can you imagine how matters might appear if every single word you mentioned in private were recorded?

    Who knows? Perhaps she’ll release a tape of all his flatulence for the preceding month.

  • Solomon Jones

    Agreed. That’s a really good suggestion.

  • Solomon Jones

    I know that’s right.

  • Personally, I find it disturbing that someone who has demonstrated such disregard for women, people of color, and probably a whole host of other groups, has been able to reach such a high level of success. What kind of behavior are we rewarding?

  • BBWW

    I agree this Sterling guy is a sicko and I’m really glad he got caught being an a*hole. BUT… if racism is to be eliminated, and I hope it can in our lifetime, then you must stand against ALL racism. There is plenty of prejudice out there to go around: against whites from blacks and hispanics as well, and from very famous people. I don’t see these people being called out or boycotted, in fact they are hailed as heroes in their community, or it is laughed off. Why is that? Spike Lee, Samuel L., Jay Z, Oprah, they have all shot their mouths off- in public no less!- and it never gets any attention at all. The good news is, when you look in the crowd of sports events, and you see all races sitting side by side in peace and harmony, and your kids are friends with everyone and they don’t “see” color, when whites overwhelmingly elected a black American as President TWICE… you see things are moving in the right direction. And you have to give credit for that. Just because some 81 year old billionaire jerk- and by the way I never knew who he was but I always hated his huge self-aggrandizing ads in the LA Times- not every white person is a racist. Not even every OLD white person is a racist. Not all racists are WHITE. I really believe Most Americans alive today AREN’T racists. As a white person, I’m just getting tired of hearing how horrible we are. Also, I never understood why its racist to require ID to vote. Can someone please explain that?

  • Solomon Jones

    Thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment honestly. To answer your question, I don’t recall the people you list saying anything about hating white people. Actually, it would be counterproductive for them to do so since they all make the bulk of their money from whites. Spike Lee talked how blacks were made to feel unwelcome in their own community by richer, and yes, whiter, residents due to gentrification. I wrote about that Oprah Winfrey was the subject of discrimination twice–once when she was locked out of the Hermes store, and again when a sales clerk refused to show her a $25,000 bag in another store. Samuel L. Jackson chided a reporter for implying that all blacks look alike. Jay Z … He doesn’t speak for me. What I’m saying is that when blacks call out racism, some whites tend to respond by saying the black person who complained is a racist for complaining. From my point of view, that makes no sense. I think there are many great people who happen to be white, and several who I count as family. Still, racism does exist, and so does white privilege. As a white person, you won’t be followed in a department store with the assumption that you are there to steal. That’s white privilege. You won’t have a white woman clutch her pocketbook in an elevator assuming you are going to rob her. That’s white privilege. you are unlikely to have a store clerk refuse to show you an item assuming that you can’t afford it. That’s white privilege. You are unlikely to have a cab pass you by because they assume you are going to rob them. That’s white privilege. You are unlikely to go in for a job interview and know from the look on the interviewer’s face that you will not get the job. That’s white privilege. You are unlikely to be discriminated against when trying to get an apartment or home in a certain neighborhood. That’s white privilege. There are more examples, but you get the point. As far as the Voter ID issue, it’s a racial issue because blacks and Hispanics are statistically less likely to have the required ID–not because they are scofflaws, but because they are more likely to be impoverished. Voter ID puts an undue burden on the poor and on the young, and the numbers say it amounts to voter suppression. That’s why the courts keep striking it down.

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