I recently visited one of my favorite eateries on my side of town, Mr. Charles Chicken and Fish off Statesville Avenue, and walked into a very spirited discussion about the Donald Sterling controversy. For as long as I can remember, wherever older black men have gathered, there have been deep conversations on almost any topic.
In case you need to be caught up, the grits hit the fan when TMZ shared excerpts of a conversation Sterling, billionaire owner of the L.A. Clippers, had with his side piece about his feelings toward black people. "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?" he asked her. "You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games."
As I waited in Mr. Charles' small ordering area, one patron was receiving quite a lashing because he believed that Sterling had the right to his own opinions. Yes, Sterling has the right to his own opinions, but because he is a public figure and owner of a sports franchise that benefits from the general public's support, he has to be held to a different standard. Athletes are contractually required to uphold their franchise's code of conduct and ethics, so shouldn't the owners be held to similar, if not higher, standards?
Another patron thought it was interesting Sterling had issues with black people but his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, is part black (the other half is Latina). I might have been a fledgling in this discussion, but what I lacked in age I more than made up for in years of classroom debate. I entered the conversation like a young pit bull.
I shared that Sterling exhibited a classic 12 Years a Slave mentality when it came to people of color. They can be owned, exploited and even sexually objectified, but they are not in his eyes his equal.
Our debate went against an article that had, since the Sterling debacle, spread across social media like wildfire: Gawker's "Black People Are Cowards." The author was being provocatively facetious and was really asking for a call to action. As a community, he argued, we needed to step up our game.
But judging from the increasingly animated discussion at Mr. Charles and so many similar conversations I've participated in about Sterling, most of us are not cowards. We are very conscious of racial attitudes — we just suffer under some of our less-informed so-called leaders.
Case in point: the now-former head of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP.
The chapter was set to give Sterling a lifetime achievement award, which it has since rescinded. But Sterling's racism wasn't just recently discovered. The Associated Press reported that Sterling was sued for housing discrimination in 2003 for allegedly attempting to drive blacks and Latinos out of buildings he owned.
How can a man with questionable attitudes toward minorities even be considered for an NAACP award? Very simple: money. The L.A. NAACP announced that it would consider forgiving Sterling, for, what else, a donation.
Leon Jenkins, who only days ago stepped down as the chapter's president, shared this with the Los Angeles Times: "God teaches us to forgive, and the way I look at it, after a sustained period of proof to the African American community that those words don't reflect his heart, I think there's room for forgiveness." I just love when folks bring God along to co-sign their poor decisions.
Considering that this is the same chapter that boycotted The Color Purple back in the day, I am beginning to think that its regional acronym stands for the "National Association for the Advancement of Clueless People." If the L.A. chapter was in charge of the NAACP Image awards, we could witness the next recipient of the Strom Thurmond Commitment to Diversity come on stage to a musical tribute by Justin Bieber in blackface.
Most folks at Mr. Charles were not surprised by Sterling's statements. Many agreed that as much as athletes earned, it was nothing compared to what the franchise owners and networks made from their talents. Many hoped that, following this debacle, athletes would warm to the idea of autonomous ownership.
Though it was harsh, Sterling's punishment should still encourage some sort of action among players. The NBA fined Sterling $2.5 million, banned him from the league for life and is trying to force him out as owner of the Clippers, which probably won't hurt an 81-year-old billionaire too badly.