When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banished Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, from the NBA for his comments, he received accolades for his swift action. But in reality, he did what was good for business in a clash between millionaires and billionaires.
The billionaire owners will vote to force Sterling to sell his team but only because they cannot walk into their own heavily black locker rooms with any integrity and face their athletes, over whom they have property rights, if they fail to do that. More importantly, they will do it to protect the NBA brand, not for justice or love of black folk.
I believe God has purpose in everything that happens. By allowing this round of racism to impinge upon the charmed lives of NBA players, God has allowed them and this generation of black youth to be reminded that they are no different than the rest of us who face racism daily. Wealth does not make you exempt from racism.
Perhaps nothing chilled their spirits more than to hear their boss speak in the vernacular of the paternalistic slave master who said he “gave” them food, houses, clothes and cars – not that they earned it. Sterling told his mistress that he, not they, made the game.
But it was the force of federal law and the shedding of blood, not moral goodness, which changed our plight in America.
Racism is America’s DNA. It permeates our society and creates life-and-death scenarios for millions of people of color daily.
When racism lies at the core of political decisions and Republican governors refuse to extend healthcare benefits in their states because this is a part of the plan to undermine the black president, someone will suffer and die. When racism is behind the militaristic policing of black neighborhoods and 14 percent of the population accounts for nearly 50 percent of the more than two million people in prison, black folk suffer and die.
When, according to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, black children in elementary schools are exposed to a teaching force that is composed of 83 percent white, middle class females, black boys are three to four times more likely to end up in special education and children of color will graduate with the equivalent of an eighth-grade education. So, what does the banning of one man do for us?
Adam Silver is no hero for doing right. He knew that if the players revolted and refused to continue to play, the coffers of the NBA would diminish. I do believe he was genuinely outraged but his loyalty was to the NBA’s longevity. The real question is: What will each American do with this teachable moment among children, family and friends?
Will white folk really turn to their relatives and ask the question: Do we practice racism?
While overt racism is easy to spot and vilify, subtle racism remains a larger problem. For example, I have heard non-black educators speak of their “black students” as “those children” all the time and they do not seem to recognize that this might be offensive to their black colleagues.
White people have walked up to me and presented their keys, thinking I was the valet, even though I was wearing my best business suit. What frightened NBA players is the reality that privilege is no barrier to racism.
So, now that the millionaires have forced the billionaires to concede, we think more deeply about the ills of daily racism. This round was won but the fight is not over. The condemnation of Donald Sterling is but a modicum of the justice due to black folk who still demand reparations for 400 years of free labor.
Dr. Jeffrey Dean Swain is the director of the Centers for Academic Support Services at Florida Memorial University and teaches criminal, constitutional and public school law. He is also author of six books on race and culture, a minister and social commentator.