Get a Grip, America. Don Sterling’s Racist Rant Isn’t Anything New


The uproar over the racist comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling continues, with folks launching petitions and calling for his head with as much venom as Cersei Lannister from an episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones.


For some strange reason, people act surprised by the comments made by Sterling, who has a well-documented history of racist incidents and has been called out on it previously by Clippers point guard Baron Davis, among others. Davis told the world who and what Sterling was a long time ago, but I guess folks didn’t want to hear it. I suspect Davis’ telling words about Sterling’s racism toward blacks were drowned out by all of the attention to the piles of money floating around the Clippers franchise and the National Basketball Association.

Not only did the NBA fail to do anything about the claims, but fans, players, staff, fellow coaches, advertisers and the like continued on as if nothing had happened.

Now, though, Sterling’s mistress apparently releases a tape of him attaching famous names to his disdain for black folks and people want to be in a frenzy? I find it perplexing that so many people are upset by Sterling’s words, as if they haven’t heard such venom spewed in life before. Have they not been paying attention to the rampant racism against blacks on full display by members of Congress? Did they not pay attention to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis murder trials?

Have they already forgotten the circumstances surrounding the killings of Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell? Did they miss the abhorrent treatment of Marissa Alexander and Kelley Williams Bolar by the justice system? Have they bumped their heads and omitted the Marcus Smart debacle and racist taunts lobbed at AC Milan soccer player Mario Ballotelli from memory?

I find America’s selective historical memory mind-boggling. Sterling’s comments matter now, I guess, because the L.A. Clippers are in the playoffs? Or because he maligned Magic Johnson? Or is it because it’s just time for folks to get bent out of shape over the latest scandal involving racism, just before once again going radio silent? It’s what we do in America—feign outrage over racism, then go on as usual.

No, the revolution hasn’t been televised—or digitized—as evidenced by the limp “protest” by the Clippers players. Sorry, but wearing your warm-up suits inside-out as protest? In the words of Ed Lover, “C’mon, son!” If that’s the best you can do as a form of protest, then don’t do anything, except show up to work and be ready to play hard like the rest of us working-class and middle-class black folks do every day while we face the same overt and covert racism at work. People of color deal with bosses like Sterling every single day, and folks aren’t necessarily starting online petitions to address it. So, what’s up with that?


Forgive me for not giving a hoot about Don Sterling, his racially ambiguous mistress, the L.A. Clippers or the NBA. I don’t take my cues on addressing racism and inequality from an organization like the NBA, whose very foundation was built upon inequality and an ownership model that perpetuates it. I’ll just continue to exist in the real world, where racism rears its ugly head in macro and micro expressions every day. I’d rather lionize the Freedom Riders of yesteryear—who made sure they had a last will and testament in place before going into battle in the segregated South against de facto racists—as opposed to worshipping millionaire athletes who wouldn’t know a protest if it jumped up, bit them and called them the “n-word.”

Feel free to stay harried over Sterling’s words and the action or inaction of these black athletes while not addressing the systemic problem of racism in the workplace. I, for one, am not going for it, because I actually live in the real world, and in my world, racism is real and must be eliminated.


Editor’s note: A version of this article previously appeared at the Burton Wire.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Goucher College and the founder and editor-in-chief of the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter.


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Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.