Last Friday TMZ Sports released an excerpt of an audio recording between LA Cippers owner Donald Sterling and his girlfriend V. Stiviano. In the recording he derided her for posting pictures of herself with black people such as Magic Johnson and Matt Kemp on Instagram and issued the quote heard around the world, “Don’t bring black people to my games.” Since then the excerpt has turned into full audio and many deep-pocketed former-NBA players have set their sights on taking the Clippers out of Sterling’s hands. But as the days go by, we are still talking about this as if putting livelihood in danger is more important than lives in danger.
On the other side of the world 234 Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing and their lives are in actual, immediate danger. Terrorist group Boko Haram is holding them and no one knows when or if they might be returned–although there is some speculation that the girls release is within reach. But that’s not our concern, we’ve been trying to figure out what Sterling said and how to punish him. Nevermind Sterling’s history of practices that have directly impacted the lives of minorities just getting by, we are concerned about how one man worth billions of dollars is affecting other men worth millions of dollars. If this is not a first world problem, I don’t know what is. Bomani Jones hit the nail on the head during his recent talk on the Dan LeBatard show. He spoke about his close friend Leonore Draper, an anti-violence activist in Chicago who was killed in a driveby shooting on Friday, April 25. Draper was doing her part to make Chicago’s inner city streets safe, streets wounded by housing discrimination not unlike the cases of housing discrimination filed against Draper back in 2003 and 2006. A city whose streets cry out with the blood of black people because they are being disenfranchised by the more powerful and wealthy. Of this Jones said,
“You’re going to talk to me about what’s going on with Donald Sterling and his mistress? Are you kidding me? That stuff [Sterling's previous housing discrimination lawsuits] was real, that stuff matters, that stuff literally kills people. Everybody and their mom is so charged up about Donald Sterling…so I’m going to go to a funeral next week for somebody who took somebody else’s bullet because that city’s become a war zone and the people that have money and the people who could possibly do something to fix it ignore it and go to their homes in the South suburbs that for the last 70 years people tried their damndest to get black people out of but I’m supposed to get charged up because Donald Sterling said his rich friends don’t want his black mistress to be around black people. People need to get their heads out their clavens and realize that this here is fun to talk about but this is nothing, the real stuff that happened was that.”
His last sentence describes perfectly what we need to do. We need to get our heads out of our clavens–whatever clavens are–and re-prioritize and recognize what is important. We let a weekend go by more revved up to talk about Sterling and his antics than we were to talk about Draper and the 234 missing schoolgirls. If I wasn’t sure about the importance of sports to American culture I am sure about it now–despite people saying, “This is bigger than basketball.” We have just about turned ourselves blue with discussion about what we can’t change–one old white man’s racist proclivities and money hungriness–but we haven’t turned ourselves blue worried about lives lost and the lost from Chicago to Nigeria. Take the Clippers away from Donald Sterling and sell it to Magic Johnson and while it will be a victory it will only put a small dent in the end to systemic and institutionalized racism in sports and beyond. Up to now Sterling hasn’t as much as tried to defend himself or apologize to those who were hurt by his words but here we are giving him all the free press while there are other significant issues at hand.
Leonore Draper is our issue. 234 Nigerian schoolgirls are our issue. Chicago’s Endia Martin, a 14-year-old shot last night by another 14-year-old girl over an argument about a boy is our issue. This is obviously not a comprehensive list of issues and young black men are our issue alongside these black women, but truth be told we sometimes err in our judgment of paying attention to black female bodies. We know how to pay attention when we are talking about them in regards to sexual exploitation and objectification but take that out of the equation and sometimes we are met by radio silence. At a time like this we must remember our responsibility toward not only the young black men who voluntarily pick up a ball to play sports, but also the responsibility we have toward young black girls and women who are involuntarily abused, exploited, abducted and murdered. Ours must be a culture of balance that privileges no one thing over the other.
Yes, Sterling’s most recent comments have an implication on how he views the humanity of black people and it is important to discuss the implications of his “plantation mentality” because he really did have the livelihood of dozens of black men in his hands. But we must also balance our concern. We ought not appear to be more concerned about a man and a basketball team than we are about when and how 234 schoolgirls will be rescued. Or appear to be more concerned about that then about the lives daily in danger in Chicago. There is something called “Entertaining ourselves to death” and this weekend’s debacle exposes the inherent danger in doing so. We–I include myself–gravitate toward this story because we are a society that loves our leisure activities and we also have grown to love celebrity and public figure gossip. We’ve become a community of quidnuncs ready to be in everyone’s business. We have also built up voracious appetites for the sensational. A story such as Sterling’s, threatens our entertainment and the livelihood of some–something my UrbanFaith colleague John Richards mentioned. It fulfills our desire for gossip and it satiates our appetite for sensationalism. It’s driving traffic to websites, boosting ratings on cable news channels–not to mention taking over the news cycle, and giving people something to talk about at the water cooler and on their blogs. But we can’t ever let these stories become our focus in the midst of danger to another marginalized group.
It’s hard not to make it seem like I am dismissing the importance of the Sterling debacle, but what I am trying to express is how we must not become inordinately obsessed with it to the compromise of other issues. So now that Sterling is permanently banned, fined, and will be forced to sell the Clippers let’s put this behind us and focus on something else. Let’s focus on #bringbackourgirls, Chicago, Florida, Georgia’s new gun law and how it might affect black people, and the list goes on. Let’s not be distracted in the midst of danger again.