Like every other adult with Internet access, I’ve been following the Donald Sterling saga since TMZ released the hidden recording of his racist rants on Friday night. Over the past many days, it’s all anyone seems to talk about. Surely, recently departed Scandal co-star Columbus Short is somewhere thanking the gods for taking the attention off him.
I’ve taken to calling this whole affair As the Plantation Turns (which I can’t take credit for). The unique cast of characters—the geriatric billionaire racist sugar daddy, his not-so-estranged wife and the biracial mastermind mistress; the guest appearance by basketball legend, businessman and HIV activist Magic Johnson (who was unfairly dragged into all this mess); and the setting of professional basketball during the high-stakes playoffs are better than anything a novelist could create. This all lends credence to the popular joke that sports are reality TV for men.
At the heart of this drama is V. Stiviano—a mysterious woman who apparently has gone by several different names—whose voice is heard on the TMZ tapes that started this whole debacle. So the story seems to go like this: Sterling’s billionaire wife was angry that her husband spent around $2 million on gifts for his lady “friend” of four years, a woman young enough to be his granddaughter. The Los Angeles Times reports that over four years, Sterling bought Stiviano four luxury cars and a $1.8 million duplex home in Stiviano’s name and gave her $240,000 in “living expenses.”
The wife wanted the gifts returned. Now, this amount is chump change to a billionaire family. This wasn’t about the money—it was about principle, maybe jealousy. Maybe both or even more. (To be clear: I find no fault with the wife about this.)
Stiviano refused to give back her goods. The wife sued. Suddenly, tapes of Sterling’s wildly racist beliefs went public. It’s a pretty perfect revenge, although Stiviano—through her lawyer—denies releasing the tape.
For all of this, Stiviano—who allegedly has more than 100 hours’ worth of tapes and, according to TMZ, would take a cushy settlement with Sterling to keep them from being heard—has been called a gold digger (and much, much worse). People talk of this particular arrangement between two consenting adults like it’s a bad thing.
The only bad parts here are Sterling’s marital status and Stiviano’s exceptionally high tolerance for enduring his racism. For clarity, she’s nobody’s hero here, and if it makes anyone feel better to call her morally corrupt, so be it. Just don’t say it’s because she went after the money.
So-called gold digging isn’t for me. It requires a unique disposition—a high tolerance for BS—that I don’t have. But that doesn’t make Stiviano, or any other woman who’s clearly in a relationship for the money, any worse than the man providing the “gold.”
Here’s the thing: Both parties know what’s going on in these situations. Men who flaunt their money like a peacock’s plumage do so to attract women who like said money. In exchange for “gifts” and an upgraded lifestyle, the woman offers her looks and companionship and alternately overlooks and strokes the man’s ego—the literal one and the Beyoncé version. It’s an exchange of services in which parties use and utilize each other and consider it a fair exchange, at least until things go south.
In this particular arrangement, Stiviano got access to cars, money and a pricey home that may have otherwise eluded her. And 80-year-old Sterling got a P.Y.T. who wouldn’t have looked in his direction, much less touch him, if he weren’t sitting on a billion. Both parties got what they wanted here.
I don’t knock the hustle. Not really.
My only real beef with “gold digging” isn't that women do it but that so many sell themselves short for a price far less than gold. Too many suffer through someone they’re not remotely interested in, as well as mediocre treatment for bags, shoes, maybe some rent money and vacations, all of which are depreciating items. When a guy gets bored with the arrangement, way too many paper-chasing women pack up their designer goods that are worth pennies on the dollar at resale and go back to where they came from to look for the next trick.
This is not the way it’s supposed to be done. If you’re going to chase paper, you’re supposed to catch it and keep it. In the end, you’re supposed to be set and secure, with enough money to make more money (the real purpose of money, which everyone forgets or wasn’t taught) so that tricking is your one-time come-up, not your way of getting by for the foreseeable future. It’s supposed to be a strategy, not a lifestyle.
If your come-up plan is to chase men with cash and offer a fair exchange, so be it. But take lessons from Stiviano, who is playing chess, not checkers. She will wrap up this messy situation with a $1.8 million appreciating asset (the duplex) and at least a few million dollars in her account—in addition to the nearly quarter-million already sitting there—to buy her continued silence. She and Sterling both played. She’s about to get paid. Call her a gold digger all you want. But don’t say it like it’s a bad thing.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. Follow her on Twitter.