USA TODAY, April 29, 2014
By Yamiche Alcindor
Donald Sterling’s words on race created a new chapter in a very worn-out, yet precious, book.
The debacle created by the now banned-for-life Los Angeles Clippers owner offers yet another glimpse of how racial differences continue to create complicated and often painful realities. But we have been here before.
And, as a Haitian-American black woman, I venture to say that we will be here again.
“Here” being a place where the whole country is focused on one individual caught saying discriminatory and inflammatory things. “Here” being where everyone points to one person as the bogeyman racist. “Here” being a place where everyone is focused on one man’s comments but saying little about the everyday realities people of color face.
Sterling places himself within a culture that rewards a man who publicly owns a team made up of mostly black men but privately wants blacks to stay away from his team’s games.
I feel for the Clippers players, coach Doc Rivers and anyone working under Sterling. I do so for many reasons, including that in colleges across the country, faculty and school officials treated me and some fellow students of color differently.
In 2009, I wrote this as a senior of my own experiences: “I struggled with professors who assumed I played a sport because of the color of my skin. No, I do not need to work around my sports schedule.”
Since then, people in my workplace have called my thick brown afro “wacky” and have asked me to take my “dark” skin into account when shooting video. Never mind that my curls come naturally and I am more ‘beige’ than ‘black.’
Meanwhile, I have covered countless stories in the last decade where race has been made an issue, both rightly and wrongly. The more I cover such stories, the more I realize how challenging it is to define “racism” and the “bad guys.”
Alas, it is Sterling whom we are focused on today. He has apologized “to anyone who might have been hurt” by his comments. His family has apologized as well.
Still, I turn to the words that struck me most when listening to the recording.
The Clippers owner said this when asked how he can hold such beliefs but still have black players: “I support them and give them food, and clothes and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them?”
My answer is simple: The players fulfill their basic needs themselves.
Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and others feed themselves.
And many other people of color — working hard perhaps for bosses who think less of them because of their race — do the same.
As a college student, I understood this too well.
“I had to accept the social constructs of race while still understanding the concreteness of walking outside my door and simply being black to all who look at me,” I wrote in 2009 of my university education.
Five years later, I understand even more that Sterling is just one of a number of people who will be called out for racially insensitive comments.
Many, however, will sit in the shadows until the next controversy drags them into the light.