The brouhaha that Donald T. Sterling has caused reminded me of my life as a youngster growing up in New York City. My mother and her four children, with the financial assistance of her younger sister, had moved there to live. Looking back, it was a very unsettling time for me, although I was not aware of all of the implications.
There were many pleasant aspects of living in New York, and I enjoyed being there. I lived in a neighborhood that was mainly populated by African-Americans, Italians, Irish, Polish and Jewish people. We got along well most of the time, and we played a lot of pickup basketball in the city parks.
However, from time to time, there were racial and other tensions. I was always determined to stand my ground. If anyone called me a racial name, I would immediately punch them in the face. This resulted in some painful battles, since some of them punched back harder and more often than I had expected. Even though some of those fights left me badly bruised and in pain, I would not give up. My rule was that if you called me a name; I was going to punch you, even if it meant I was going to get beaten to a pulp.
My aunt was a brilliant and successful lady, and she loved her family very much. She was an early Civil Rights warrior; a pleasant, but incredibly effective one. She explained to me that although I did not like to be called names that it was not necessary for me to punch people, or to get angry. I told her that she did not understand the situation. She said that she did and that as I grew older, I would not punch people, but that I would not even allow that kind of behavior to upset me. I told her, "Not in a million years!"
As the years passed, I found out that she had given me good advice. I would get angry, when someone was trying to insult me, but I would not punch them. Then, as time went on, I would not even bother to get angry. I was not happy that someone would go out of their way in an attempt to insult me, but I no longer felt that I needed to get angry, or to let that kind of behavior ruin my day. Anyone could say anything, but as long as they did not actually put their hands on me, I would usually just ignore them. That has been my approach to living for many years.
Donald T. Sterling is a billionaire real estate mogul, and he also owns an NBA basketball team, the Los Angeles Clippers. He pays a salary of $8 million a year to an African-American to be Head Coach and Vice President of Basketball Operations. He also pays the African American athletes on his team, more than $1 million per year. They happily cash these checks, when they arrive, per the agreed to schedule. His employees were apparently shocked when they heard what he had thought was a private conversation. Unbeknownst to him, it was taped and later released to the media.
I think that his message to his lady friend was, "I do not like African-Americans, and I do not want you to associate with them in public." The entire world seems to have been shocked to learn that Donald T. Sterling is an active racist. His activities over the past several years have proven that he is. There are 32 owners of NBA franchises. Only one of them, Michael Jordan, is an African-American.
The NBA has created rules, which allow the present owners to decide who may have the privilege of joining this select group. This procedure is supposed to allow them to select highly qualified citizens, who are respected by the community. If the other owners chose to do so, they can probably force him to sell the team. Although, that is not likely to happen, because some of them also have warehouses full of their own skeletons. Even if they chose that course of action, the lawsuits in this matter, would probably last for several years.
If the citizens are really as angry with Mr. Sterling as they pretend to be, then there are several possible courses of action that they may wish to consider:
1) Boycott all of the games played by the Clippers.
2) Refuse to purchase any Clippers paraphernalia.
3) Coaches and players continue to perform for their previously agreed to contracts.
These approaches would not release Mr. Sterling from his contract for the financial obligations to his coaches and players. He would be legally required to continue to pay them, even if the boycott caused the team to lose money.
The real solution to dealing with the Sterling's of the world is for the African American athletes and community at large is to found a New Basketball Association, where the percentage of ownership reflects the percentage of the ethnicity of the athletes. The players need to understand that the owners need them, more than they need the owners. If I had my way, I would request that Ms. Oprah Winfrey invite movers and shakers from all over the world to a conference in Santa Barbara, to begin the plans for a new International Professional Basketball League.
There are more than enough players, more than enough facilities, and more than enough television channels. Like Rosa Parks did when she refused to give up her seat on the bus, Mr. Sterling has given the signal to African-Americans that the time is past due, when they should work to fulfill their own destinies.
Most of us have our roots in the southern part of this country. Any African-American, who became successful, did so at the risk of losing his life. He, and his family could be killed, and all their property could be taken from them. There were no laws to protect them, since the murderers who wore the Hoods by night, also wore police uniforms by day. The results of living this way were that our ancestors were generally unable to build any equities, which they could pass on to their offspring. So, we do not have a history of seeking ownership. Historically, it was nearly impossible for most of our ancestors to own anything. Without our realizing it, History becomes culture, and we continue to do what we did before, even though we intellectually realize that we can do more for ourselves.
There are penniless immigrants, who come to the United States. Several of them may live in a single residence, while they pool their resources, in order to be able to invest in real estate, or their own businesses. They are not carrying the psychological baggage that resulted from slavery, segregation, and discrimination. They can work together harmoniously, in order to achieve their goals. They do not understand why many African-Americans have not already done, what they are doing. We should be angry with Donald T Sterling, because of what he has said and done. However, we will be better served if we use his remarks as motivation for us to work harder to improve the quality of our own lives.