What the Clippers’ Racist Owner Has in Common with Most Americans

South Park viewers laughed when the show ripped into the NCAA by likening collegiate athletic departments to slave plantations. In the episode titled “Crack Baby Athletic Association,” the ever-diabolical Eric Cartman sits with an athletic director at the University of Colorado to learn how he gets away with not paying his “slaves.”

There’s a big difference between the NCAA and the NBA, of course. Professional players sign multi-million dollar contracts and, if they’re good enough, have multi-million dollar endorsement deals.

But apparently there’s little difference between NCAA athletic directors and NBA team owners.

On listening to an alleged recorded conversation between LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling and girlfriend V. Stiviano, in which Sterling asks Stiviano to stop publicly associating with black people by posting pictures with them (in this case, the legendary Magic Johnson) to Instagram, ESPN analyst took to Twitter on Friday to compare Sterling to an “antebellum slave master:”

Normally I wave off much of what Broussard says as over the top, but the man’s dead on this time.

Sterling owns an NBA team, a popular and successful one at that, and he’s asking his girlfriend to not publicly associate with black people or “bring them to my games,” where black people play for him. And no matter how much he pays his players for their services, it’s still a pittance to how much he makes off the them.

Plus the fact that players are regularly traded and new players are auctioned off —I mean drafted— every year does little to dissolve the slave master image.

Yet learning that an NBA owner is racist isn’t that shocking. Anyone who understands the persistence of racism in present-day America should expect as much.

What hits close to home for me, as an Afro-Latino, is that Sterling asked his half-Mexican, half-black girlfriend not to associate with black people and even referred to black people as “them.”

Most non-Latinos, and many Latinos too, seem to believe that the boundary between Latino and black is bold and wide, but it’s not. In fact, there is no boundary, and there are plenty of people like myself who identify as both black and Latino.

Because Latino is an ethnic group and not a race, because more Africans were dragged to the Spanish and Portuguese colonies than to the British colonies, and because the slave trade lasted longer in the Spanish Empire, there are Latinos from Veracruz to San Juan, from Havana to São Paulo, who have African blood coursing through their arteries and mixing with European blood, indigenous blood, and frequently both.

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But Afro-Latinos are commonly treated as if we were only Latino or mostly Latino. And as in the case of Stiviano and her politely racist boyfriend, people often share their anti-black feelings with us as though we won’t be offended by them, since we’re only Latino, or mostly so.

I’ve even had seemly enlightened, pro-diversity individuals protest my claim to both Latino and black ancestry, as if I were only doing so to ride two waves of minority sympathy, as if being more than one minority were a hipster form of self-identity.

When Stiviano asks Sterling if he’s aware that she’s mixed, he says, “I don’t know that.” Not “I didn’t know that,” but “I don’t know that.” This kind of doubt and dismissal happens all of time to Afro-Latinos.

Stiviano and I don’t want to be black and Latino; we are black and Latino. And as Afro-Latinos, we understand how arbitrary race and ethnic groups are to begin with. No one chooses their ancestors. So we do our best to understand and appreciate our own roots while understanding and appreciating the heritages of others.

As to Sterling’s comments on race culture in America —on how non-blacks can admire black people and associate with them, but only in private— all I can say is there you have it: racism is alive and well in America, only it’s not living out in the open anymore. The Civil Rights Movement as driven it beneath the surface, where it festers and waits.

By telling his girlfriend she can admire black people and associate with them privately but not publicly, what Sterling is really saying is that he’s privately a racist, and that private racism is now part of the culture. Yet that isn’t shocking either.

I assume Sterling would advise one half of his star player Blake Griffin not to publicly associate with the other half, too.

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Hector Luis Alamo, Jr. is a Chicago-based writer. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.

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