Sterling's refreshing transparency
Donald Sterling is an odious presence, but he serves a greater purpose
For those of us who prefer our billionaire bigots free of sheets and hoods and deceptive words, Donald Sterling's Anderson Cooper interview was a rare treat.
The disgraced NBA owner made no real attempt to conceal his feelings of superiority. In his trial by combat, Sterling eschewed the help of counsel, both legal and public relations, and entered the ring alone. He left on a stretcher, unaware of the fatal self-inflicted wounds.
There is no defending Donald Sterling today. It can't be done. Anderson Cooper and CNN did not trick a crazy old man. They did not bait him or secretly record him. According to Cooper, Sterling did not exhibit signs of dementia or lack of coherence. He was not an enraged, jealous lover.
He is a white supremacist making a final plea to a small council of men he believes sympathize with his plight.
"I wanted to apologize also to my partners," Sterling told Cooper. "I have 29 partners in a league that's a wonderful league. I respect them. And I love every owner. Every owner knows me. I love the commissioner.
"I'm sure that it's -- it's terribly difficult for him to impose severe punishment, because he knows me so well. But here he is trying his best."
And here Sterling was trying his best to let his partners know that he knows them best.
"Of course they support me," Sterling said. "They can't understand why I would say that. I can't understand why I would say that. ... I embarrassed the league. I humiliated them. I don't know how, why I did it. I mean, it's so terrible."
This is not terrible. It's enlightening and refreshing. In this age of political correctness, rarely do we see power expose itself this transparently. I began the day expecting Sterling to somewhat sincerely apologize and try to put an end to this controversy. He reignited it and built a bigger fire.
He apologized to his peers in ownership and the members of his own family hurt by his words, and he defended the young woman who betrayed him. There was no direct apology to black people or black Clippers fans or the black players in the NBA. When Cooper asked Sterling what exactly he was sorry about, the Clippers owner cleverly sidestepped.
"Well, I'm sorry that so many people are hurt," he responded, and then talked about his grandchild who was ridiculed at nursery school.
No. Sterling lashed out at black people, using Magic Johnson as our proxy, a symbol of the black American male in Sterling's mind.
"He acts so holy," Sterling said. "I mean, he made love to every girl in every city in America. And he had AIDS."
I felt foolish for expecting an apology. Sterling's decision to grant Cooper the interview exposed the billionaire's agenda and level of contrition. Had he wanted to make peace with black people, he would've chosen Oprah, Arsenio, Michael Wilbon, Stephen A. Smith or Roland Martin for his interrogation. Sterling opted to speak with the son of an heiress socialite. He appealed to the establishment, old money.
Spike Lee said Sterling reminded him of Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Sterling reminded me of J. Edgar Hoover attempting to discredit Martin Luther King Jr. In a white supremacist's mind, a black man must be perfect to be loved and revered, but a white man's great deeds overshadow his great sins.
"Well," Sterling continued, "what kind of a guy goes to every city, he has sex with every girl, then he catches HIV and -- is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself. I think he should go into the background."
What kind of a man owns slaves, implements Jim Crow laws, empowers a drug war against the poor, subjugates women, discriminates against gays or denies housing to blacks and Latinos -- is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? That man should go into the background.
Or maybe that man should be allowed to repent and redeem himself. And maybe he should be judged in context with empathy and a full understanding of his complicated journey.
Donald Sterling is ignorant of African-Americans' complex journey. He does not know what he does not know. He has no respect for us or our flawed culture. He has little or no sincere remorse for the discriminatory manner in which he ran his real estate empire, treated Elgin Baylor as general manager of the Clippers or behaved in his private interactions with his mistress.
He sees black people as inferior to white Jews.
"The Jewish people -- the Jewish people have a company, and it's for people who want to borrow money and no interest," Sterling told Cooper. "They want to give them a fish pole -- a fishing pole. We want to help people. If they don't have money, we will loan to it you. You don't have interest. One day, you will pay us back.
"... I spend millions on giving away and helping minorities. Does [Magic] do that? That's one problem I have. Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people. And some of the African-Americans -- maybe I will get in trouble again -- they don't want to help anybody."
There are kernels of truth in Sterling's rant. I've written about black people's indifference to supporting the black institutions, particularly historically black colleges and universities, that have supported us. The reason Sterling was twice selected to receive lifetime achievement awards from the NAACP is because white Jewish people are the longtime financial supporters of the organization.
What Sterling fails to comprehend -- and many people black and white fail to understand -- is the uniqueness of our struggle in America. We were systematically pitted against each other in slavery. Our individual survival was predicated on our willingness to betray each other. We are subliminally trained to see ourselves as inferior to white people. We are socialized to hate ourselves.
I transitioned from past tense to present tense because the training and socializing have never stopped. They've taken new forms -- mass incarceration through an immoral, pointless drug war and popular culture that profits from, celebrates and mainstreams the degradation and dehumanization of black people.
It's how we went from Dr. King's generation demanding to be treated as men to a generation demanding to call itself and be treated as n-----s. It's why Doc Rivers, David Stern and everyone else were quite comfortable ignoring Sterling's documented history of housing discrimination and reprehensible treatment of Elgin Baylor. We drink from the same polluted well of bigotry as Sterling.
I get why the NBA wants Donald Sterling to go away. His transparency is overshadowing the games. I hope he sticks around until we're forced to address the elephants he keeps putting center court.