nba commissioner adam silver came down hard on clippers owner donald sterling for his racist comments about not wanting black people at his games. on the audio recording of sterling speaking to his girlfriend v. stiviano, sterling admonishes her for posting a picture with magic johnson on instagram and embracing her blackness when the world sees her as “a latina or a white girl.” as the owner of an almost all black team in a sport played overwhelmingly by people of color, it was necessary for sterling to get more than a slap on the wrist and the nba acted accordingly by fining him $2.5 million and banning him for life. whether or not he will be forced to sell the clippers is yet to be determined.
i wish i could say that the story ended here; however, patriarchy and misogyny don’t take a day off, even when faced with rank white supremacy. i’ve been inundated by tweets and jokes from both news pundits and sports commentators about how donald sterling’s life has been ruined by a conniving sidechick. in fact, in a time article condemning donald sterling’s actions, basketball legend kareem abdul jabbar had this to say:
and now the poor guy’s girlfriend (undoubtedly ex-girlfriend now) is on tape cajoling him into revealing his racism. man, what a winding road she led him down to get all of that out. she was like a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the sambo.” she blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee.
this analysis is not only a red herring because the issue at hand should be donald sterling’s racism NOT v. stivano’s actions, but elucidates a larger point about the harmful tropes women of color face. unfortunately, jabbar is not the first man to blame a woman for a man’s actions; black women have faced this narrative for centuries. words like “cajole” (to persuade someone with flattery) and “sexy nanny” evoke the stereotype of black women as licentious beings who use their uncontrollable sexual prowess to bait and hook their lovers. for v. stiviano, a black and mexican woman who is decades younger than donald sterling, this narrative makes her the assailant and him a “poor guy” victimized by her intoxicating ways. i’m not buying it. in fact, a man with as much privilege and power as donald sterling should not be seen as the victim in any situation, absent torture, where he reveals his personal beliefs.
kareem abdul jabbar isn’t the only person who has described v. stiviano as a shady temptress; sterling’s wife filed a lawsuit against her claiming stiviano “engages in conduct designed to target, befriend, seduce, and then entice, cajole, borrow from, cheat, and/or receive as gifts transfers of wealth from wealthy older men whom she targets for such purpose.” (here goes that word cajole again.) the lawsuit further states stiviano’s “feminine wiles … overpowered the iron will of [sterling] who is well known as one of the most shrewd businessmen in the world.” the fact that a black man and white woman in her lawsuit are depending on the same stereotype of a woman of color to deflect a white man’s responsibility for his actions is powerful and proves the impact of patriarchy, misogyny and white supremacy on women of color. stuck at these intersections, v. stiviano, a woman who arguably helped to protect an entire sports franchise from a bigoted owner, is not applauded, but mocked and blamed.
donald sterling’s racist beliefs have nothing to do with v. stiviano, and while mainstream society may have taken a bold step against tolerating individual racism, gender-based discrimination against women of color is still business as usual.