Picking Cotton, Playing Professional Basketball, or Being the President of the United States of America. Hmmm.

picking cotton

This is personal

The Clippers beat the Golden State Warriors. I watched the beginning of the game along with most of the nation to see the aftermath of yet another racist tirade from a deranged and entitled white man. I am not a basketball fan despite having played guard in high school when girls could only play on one half of the court and had to pass the ball after dribbling three times. Yikes. I am proud to say that I sustained a sports-related foot injury and had to wear a cast to nurse a sprained ankle, but I digress.

This is personal.

As I watched the tall brothers accept the love from the LA fans, I felt directly connected to each of them as a Black person. I embrace the Rainbow Coalition vibe but this past week, I felt a kinship with Black folks around this country as we figuratively were spat upon by the twin knuckleheads, Don Sterling and Cliven Bundy. I was so proud that the brothers told the courageous Adam Silver that unless Sterling was suspended, they would not play. I felt a sense of pride in hearing Charles Barkley (who I often have issues with) stand up in solidarity as one of the aggrieved.

This is personal.

My heart broke as one of the announcers reported that his seven-year old had asked his mother if his Dad would be allowed in the Staples Center. I was appalled to learn that Sterling had begrudged buying socks for the Black men who helped his make so much money. I read that former coach and NBA great Elgin Baylor had sued Sterling alleging in part the plantation atmosphere of the Clippers. Sterling’s behavior is in the great American tradition of vicious white men making money from the labor of Black men. This is the same dynamic that propels the prison industrial complex.

This is personal.

I must say that when I read the racist comments from the crazed cowboy in Nevada, I laughed in delight. Sean Hannity and other right-wing pundits and politicians have hailed Bundy as a hero. I was not surprised to hear that he felt Black folks were better off as slaves. I also wanted to punch him out. Yes, yes. I know. We Black folks are to turn the other cheek which I ultimately did, but rage and anger are natural responses to such racist, hateful nonsense. Yes, I would much rather be a slave and not have to raise money to fund the anti racism work of the Equal Justice Society. Yes, I would rather be supported by a kind and benevolent massa such as Don Sterling or Cliven Bundy.

This is personal.

Although initially amused by Bundy’s revelation of himself as a racist MF, (yes, my well learned use of the Queen’s English flies out the window in the face of such an assault on my people, my parents, my brothers, my friends, my ancestors) my amusement turned to sadness and tears when I read reports of the exchange between Sterling and his Black/Latino “friend.” Sterling did not want her to be seen with Black folks. (My instincts tell me that Sterling was tripping because of jealousy and insecurity around younger and fitter men, but that’s another story.) The girlfriend was surprised that her Sugar Daddy had a problem with her being seen with Matt Kemp. “Kemp is mixed like me. He is lighter and whiter than me. I have met his mother.”

This is personal.

As a brown skinned Black woman, I was once again reminded that dark skin is often equated with undesirability. A brown woman was endorsing and internalizing this perverted view. At that point, my protective shell cracked and the pain and anger and frustration building since 1619 came pouring out.

This is personal.

There are times in my life when my natural optimism is tamped down by outrageous behavior by people of all hues. When Reagan was elected, I felt less safe. When the Bakke decision came down, I felt less safe. When the US Supreme Court handed down a series of reactionary cases in the 1980s, I was prepared to quit law and open a jazz club. When Katharine Harris, James Baker, and five justices of the United States Supreme Court effectuated a coup in December of 2000, I felt bereft. When allies of color and progressive whites did not stand up to support SCA 5, the California legislation that would have resulted in more Black and Latino kids getting admitted to institutions of higher learning, I felt betrayed and isolated. The racist twins Sterling and Bundy helped make me feel like a stranger in my own country.

This is NOT personal.

My friends who are not Black have been has outraged as I am over this episode and universally have saluted the quick and decisive action of Commissioner Silver. Despite the sadness and rage this episode has created, people of good will are saying ‘No. We do not condone this!” These episodes are depressing and disheartening but not unexpected. We will remember our ancestors who were kidnapped and brought to a hell on earth here in America. Our ancestors would be thrilled to know that Black, white, Latino, Native American, and Asian Americans decried the statements and views of Bundy and Sterling. They would be amazed that there were severe and swift repercussions at least to Sterling. They would expect us to “keep on” and not to be discouraged. They lived in times when the views of Bundy and Sterling were the norm and would have produced absolutely no reaction. Change has come but more needs to be done.

So what is to be done?

I shared a draft of this statement with friends and allies whom I trust. Predictably (because I am surrounded by amazing, thoughtful people and because many of them are lawyers) they had many comments. Some wanted me to remind people that the crude nature of Sterling and Bundy’s remarks were echoed in recent pronouncements from the conservative members of the United States Supreme Court. Others said that the recent “cruel and unusual” execution of yet another Black man in the South was a manifestation of the same racist views espoused by Don and Clivon. My friend Harry wanted me to note that the fact that Black and Latino folks are not fairly represented in the ranks of managers and do not own our fair share of thriving businesses, is yet another manifestation of how far we need to travel as a nation down the road to justice and true equality. Harry heard Harry Belafonte speak on Wednesday night. Mr. Belafonte’s message was “let’s talk about the criminal justice system, voting, employment, education, and other issues and not Sterling.” My friend Lyda who lives in Nashville told me that startling story that some folks in her neck of the woods were upset that “the NBA was picking on an old man.” Yikes. One friend wanted to me mention that these incidents remind us that we are far from being “post-racial.” These incidents remind us that white supremacy is alive and well in our nation.

My friends Rick and Susan correctly observed that I do not outline a course of action. I was feeling hurt and angry and wanted to express myself. I have a feeling that many of many of you feel that same way. At the Equal Justice Society, every day in every way, we are working to “transform the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts.” The Sterling/Bundy show is yet another chapter in the nation’s ongoing tragedy around race. Their comments are examples of deeper and more profound structural issues that many of us are working to change.





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