Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling watches the team play New York Knicks in their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles in this February 11, 2009 file photograph. Sterling was banned for life and heavily fined by the National Basketball Association (NBA) on April 29, 2014 over racist comments he made. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told a news conference that Sterling was fined $2.5 million and suspended from the league for life in the wake of his rant that has triggered outrage in the United States. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Racist Donald Sterling of the LA Clippers takes us back to the time when blacks were sold as products, writes Pinky Khoabane.


Racist Donald Sterling of the LA Clippers reminds us of the long-standing and squalid history of how black bodies have been used as political and economic tools to preserve white privilege.

Sterling is the billionaire owner of a basketball team – a game which, even my 16-year-old daughter knows, is dominated by blacks.

The National Basketball Association found him guilty of racism this week following the release of a recording in which he instructs a woman, believed to be his girlfriend, not to post pictures of herself with blacks on social media Instagram and not to bring blacks to Clippers games.

The association fined him $2.5 million (R26.22m) and in an unprecedented move, slapped him with a lifetime ban from all NBA games in what is a punishment that can hardly hurt the 80-year-old billionaire.

Forbes estimates he’s worth $1.9 billion and his love for the game is questionable given his hatred for blacks.

The racial controversy is not the first for Sterling, having been embroiled in at least three others relating to racial discrimination including one in which he barred blacks from renting in his block of flats.

And yet, despite his hatred for blacks, he still bought the Clippers for $12.5m in 1981 and has made a handsome profit off their backs on the basketball court.

Forbes valued the Clippers at $575m with revenue of $128m and a profit of $15m.

Sterling takes us back to the time when black bodies were products to be sold on white men’s fields.

He reminds us of the time when black women were used as baby factories to sustain the production of slaves in order to sustain the white man’s business.

The woman in the recording pleads with the billionaire for some reprieve, explaining that she had removed some photos from the social media site and that the only ones remaining were those with former LA Lakers player, Magic Johnson, and another, whose skin, she says, is even lighter than hers.

We are immediately taken back to the history of colonisation and oppression around the world where the light skin is perceived to be better than the dark skin and how darker-skinned people around the world have had to use dangerous and even cancerous products on their skin and hair to look lighter and have straight hair.

This self-hatred persists today in the form of the weave and all other forms of body mutilations in an effort to have white features. We know the source of this self-hatred; it stems from the preferential treatment given to the light-skinned slaves and “girls”, as they were referred to in South Africa, because they were products of the master’s or baas’s infidelity, often involving rape.

The woman in the recording places Johnson, who is highly respected – not only in the game but in business circles worldwide – above other blacks. He’s not like the rest, she suggests to her racist boyfriend.

Johnson is seen as the good native; the one that doesn’t cause trouble; the one that could be allowed into the house and could be shown off to friends of the white people.

These are the natives which Eddy Maloka, in his book, Friends of the Natives – The Inconvenient Past of South African Liberalism, describes as the ones with whom liberals found comfort. They are “moderate or reasonable natives as opposed to the radical”.

It may sound like events of centuries ago but this happened last week in a nation that prides itself as free and whose president is black.

Sterling’s racist remarks and his accumulation of wealth from blacks while despising them is a stark reminder that we still live in a world where in the eyes of some whites, blacks can only be useful tools to attain power; economic and political.

There’s perhaps no better demonstration of this idea than the DA.

Despite the long history of liberalism from which it emanates, the DA remains white and finds itself in the desperate position of having to place blacks in positions that can portray it as different from the party described by former leader, Tony Leon, in an interview in October 2009.

Maloka argues that Leon’s October 2009 interview was an admission that after 1994, the Democratic Party (DP) “became a party of the ‘minorities’”.

That Leon included African people in his category of the “excluded” was just cosmetic and playing politics.

In reality the DP and its successor, the DA, positioned themselves as representatives of “minorities” who are defined as whites primarily, and then coloured and Indians.

In public today, the DA is black, although its parliamentary seats and the all powerful federal committee reflect the opposite. In Parliament 50 of the 71 members are white and Zille’s cabinet in the Western Cape is composed of an all-white male team.

But this is a leader who has mastered the art of perception or deceit, depending on which side of the fence you’re on. At its rallies, she cuts the lonely figure of the only white person among a sea of blacks; she’s often seen kissing her followers, hugging them, dancing with them and even sings struggle songs.

Zille will stop at nothing to change the perception that the DA is a white party, publicly that is.

In a recent campaign trail, she visited Bodibe in the North West, wearing a dashiki and a doek and took pictures stirring the traditional three-legged cast iron pots.

The party’s spin-doctor-turned columnist Gareth Van Onselen decried the violation of party rules to parachute in Mamphela Ramphele in the aborted AgangSA/DA merger, despite there being other blacks in the party.

Much like the contradiction, if not plain hypocrisy, that raises its head in the Sterling case, Maloka points to this in his book.

“There was, and continues to be, an opportunism and a contradiction in how ‘race’ features in the outlook and politics of the DP and the DA.

“On the one hand, the DP/DA defines itself in racial terms, as a party of the ‘minorities’, organised against the African ‘majority’; race is used in party building through membership recruitment drives and the determination of who must lead the party, as well as in voter mobilisation during elections.

“On the other hand ‘race’ is denied when it comes to the transformation of the country; affirmative action and other empowerment programmes are fought and opposed as ‘Verwoedian’”.

Sounds like Sterling?


* Khoabane in a columnist, writer and author.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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