A secretly taped telephone conversation, posted last week on the Web site TMZ, has caused a furor because a man purported to be billionaire Donald Sterling was heard telling his now ex-girlfriend, who has identified herself as black and Mexican, to curb her public appearances with black men.
“I’m just saying, in your lousy f---ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself . . . walking with black people,” says Sterling, the 80-year-old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, to V. Stiviano, 31, a bikini model. “Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f--- him, I don’t care. You can do anything. But don’t put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me.”
I can understand why basketball great Magic Johnson would be upset with the disclosure, he being the “him” Sterling was referring to.
I can understand why the Miami Heat’s LeBron James wanted all NBA players to boycott the game until Sterling’s fellow owners forced him to apologize and then sell the team.
And I can understand why NBA Commissioner Adam Silver got the message and banned Sterling for life Tuesday.
But to overlook the context of the conversation is to miss the point of what has been disclosed.
The United Negro College Fund has taken Sterling’s money; so has the Black Business Association of Los Angeles, among many other black groups.
The Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP counted on Sterling’s support and was about to present him with another award before the telephone conversation was made public. Suddenly, its members are critical of the benefactor and have pledged to give back $5,000 he gave them in 2010.
Before the ban was announced, the players had been calling on African Americans and Latinos to boycott the Clippers games. But will they step up and do more to support black organizations? Maybe groups such as the NAACP wouldn’t have to depend so much on the Donald Sterlings of the world if they did.
The relationship that Stiviano had with Sterling was bad; the one that the NAACP had with him was worse. Even as the billionaire was being exposed in 2009 as one of the largest slumlords in the country, he was being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the glitziest branch of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.
It happened to be the 100th anniversary of a group that W.E.B Du Bois, author of “The Souls of Black Folk,” had helped found.
Who would have known that, a century later, the souls of so many black folks would be up for sale?
Sterling is a slumlord real estate magnate with a foul tongue and a slave owner’s mentality. But that’s been public knowledge for years — and ignored.
What we have in his relationship with Stiviano is a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse of life on the Sterling plantation, where black people live of their own volition, knowing that he is a bigot.
Stiviano was his reputed mistress, according to a lawsuit filed by Sterling’s wife. In Sterling’s world, a $1.8 million duplex in Los Angeles, as he reportedly gave Stiviano, along with the use of a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover — plus a quarter of a million dollars in spending change — buys control and a look the other way.
No Instagrams with Magic Johnson wouldn’t be asking a lot.
Despite the outrage, this episode does not have the makings of a great civil rights crusade. It’s just a sick game. Call it “Everybody’s Got a Price.”
If anything, it’s time for black people to reflect on how willing they are to play along.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.