For many of us watching the Donald Sterling saga unfold -- the rants, the Anderson Cooper interviews -- it all made little sense and just seemed to get weirder and weirder. His wife Shelley explained the lack of logic as dementia. But, that didn't seem right either. It finally hit me, two weeks in, as I pondered the question, "why does he keep dragging Magic Johnson into this?" That the elephant in the room where LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling sits is a classic example of the fear White men have of Black men's sexuality!
I don't know why it took me so long to realize this as this has been a constant issue since the beginning of time.
From 'chattel' slavery in the South to the spate of exonerations of Black men who are factually innocent -- but having spent on average 15 years in prison -- primarily for being falsely accused of the rape of a White woman, powerful White men have been obsessed with controlling Black men's sexuality.
I could fill an entire book with examples of the ways in which we know about the policing of Black bodies, especially Black men's sexuality. But, with attention to the brevity a blog requires, I provide just a few examples that illustrate the longstanding fear that White America has of the untamed nature of Black men's sexuality, and especially the fear that left unsupervised Black men would ravage White women.
• Jack Johnson, the pugilist, whose major offense was having relationships with White women (not the trumped up MANN ACT charges)
• TV ads with footballer Terrell Owens and actress Nicollette Sheridan -- ABC reportedly had to disconnect their switchboard because of the barrage of negative phone calls complaining about the ad.
• Sidney Poiter's role in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
• Jim Brown in 100 Rifles in what has been called one of the first torrid love scene in a Hollywood movie -- between a Black man and a White woman -- when Brown kissed, on screen, Raquel Welsh.
• And, we cannot forget the fallout from the Vanity Fair cover with Lebron James and Gisele.
This is really "dirty laundry," and by calling it what it really is you open up some serious cans of worms that is at the heart of continuing racism in American society. Why? Because it is about more than interracial relationships. Lurking underneath is White men's fear that Black men's sexuality is superior and that at the end of the day if White women figured this out it would be like the curtain being pulled back in the Wizard of Oz.
In many ways it's not surprising that so much of the controversy and concern has focused on Black male athletes because SportsWorld is the epitome of hypermasculinity. And, when fusing hypermasculinity and Black male bodies, well, the combination is extremely threatening to White men. Just a few of the Black men caught in this net -- and granted some of them contributed to this perception -- include OJ (who married a White woman) to Wilt Chamberlain (who claimed to have slept with over 20,000 women) to Magic Johnson (who claimed he had a woman in every city the Lakers played in).
So, using this lens, when we analyzed Donald Sterling's "crazy" rant to his mistress V. Stiviano, it makes more sense than just being mad about what Sterling said. It is not surprising, for example, that the rant was triggered by V. taking pictures with Magic Johnson. Sterling's missive to V. Stiviano to not bring Black people to "his" games can be reinterpreted as meaning don't throw your relationships with Black men in my face.
That this Black man was Magic Johnson is all the more troubling for Sterling. Why? Because Magic Johnson's sexual prowess has been a matter of public discourse and conversation for over 20 years. Sterling is terrified that Magic is going to make the moves on his White woman, a move that have cost upwards of 4,000 Blacks to have been lynched in the 19th and 20th century.
To be sure, these rants have pushed race relations in sports to another all-time low.
And, Sterling's attempts to save face, which are themselves an all-time low (I can't be a racist because I hired a Black coach, I give jobs to Black people -- Clippers players), could be turned into fruitful conversations if we, as Americans, had the courage to confront our painful relationship with race.
But nothing that has been said or done -- even the NBA's lifetime ban on Sterling addresses the systemic racism inside of the NBA. Getting rid of Donald Sterling will NOT remove or even reduce racism in the NBA or anywhere else.
All of this also links to Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas (60th anniversary in 2014) where the biggest concern blocking school integration is that little Black kids and little White kids might have meaningful friendships that could then bloom into adolescent relations wherein intimacies across racial lines might develop.
The analogy to Brown is that White owners have erected an exclusive club -- White Old Boys Network -- wherein they control membership. Hence, of the 30 teams in the NBA only one is owed by a non-white, and of course it would be Michael Jordan, an a-political acceptable Black man who happens to have been a basketball player.
We remember what starts the whole Sterling rant is his furiousness of seeing his White woman (Sterling later admits that V. Stiviano is half Black) with a Black man.
Finally, by making this about Donald Sterling's racism -- and ignoring the elephant in the room, Black men's sexuality allows America to avoid having a conversation about one of the hardest conversation not addressed: interracial sex between Black men and White women.