You know I couldn’t stay quiet long.
Unless you’ve been living under the biggest rock known to man, you’ve heard of the latest racial controversy. Donald Sterling, owner of The Clippers, candidly remarked that he didn’t want his sugar baby girlfriend bringing Black people to his games.
His words reveal the dark underbelly of the capitalist racist complex that’s extremely pungent in sports. The NBA and basketball are indelible fixtures in Black culture, with over 76% of NBA players being Black and millions of fans identifying as African American. Black dollars literally fuel the multibillion dollar industry. But never mind the fat paychecks … Sterling doesn’t want us there.
In the era of social media, the response has been swift. President Obama (y’know, the first African American POTUS) registered his opinions. So did Snoop Dogg. Endorsement deals are already falling through, and fans are calling for Sterling’s dismissal. This doesn’t seem like a controversy that’ll die down soon.
But the most anticipated response came from the Clippers themselves. The team protested their owner by warming up in shirts sans Clippers logos. During the game, they wore black arm bands and socks in a showing of solidarity.
Some feel this isn’t enough. Many ridiculed their form of social expression, saying that it wasn’t enough. As the criticisms grew in number, I felt the need to respond.
No one defines protest. Any and everyone is entitled to stage their form of political expression in the way they see fit. As a vocal cultural critic, I would’ve loved to see the Clippers boycott and refuse to play. But such actions aren’t feasible. NBA players are confined by strict rules. I won’t get into the politics of sports, but I imagine that boycott would’ve done nothing but choke them in hefty fines.
Money aside, athletes are pinnacles of the community; literally inspiring generations of people young and old, Black and white, male and female. Athletes are exceptional examples of physical exertion, mental strength, and relentless tenacity. And while the caricature of the athlete is one of the womanizing partier, the truth beneath the facade is one of extreme physical will, and constant strategizing. Athletes push their bodies to abnormal limits, both physically and mentally. Athletes are exceptions, not the norm. And that’s why they’re inspirational.
Add this to the fact that it’s not easy getting into any official sports league. Anyone can boycott a game, but not anyone can be a Clipper. The Clippers, and all athletes in official leagues, beat the odds. And the choice to disavow their accomplishments in the face of a fleeting conflict is a difficult one to make. Furthermore, given their social status and financial clout, they could potentially affect more change on the court than off of it.
This is context in which The Clippers, as a unit, removed their gear and singlehandedly sent a resounding message to millions.
The capitalist racist complex is fascinating in how it limits the extent to which a person can effectually protest. The CRC is so dynamic and entrenched in everything we do, touch, and see. Sure, you donate to the starving children of Africa, but you made your donation with your smart phone; a device enriched in coltan. The precious mineral fuels violent human rights conflicts, and the mining process is rife with environmental hazards. Coltan mining is particularly volatile in The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the same DRC where you’re sponsoring a child.
The capitalist racist complex makes us perpetrators of contradiction. I speak from personal experience; I despise the way MNCs ravage third world villages and instigate regional conflict, but I’m always strapped in Apple garb. And if you’re honest with yourself, I’m sure you’re faced with the same conflicts too.
Capitalism is ubiquitous. It’s not an option or a choice; we’re all kegs in the lucrative capitalist machine; a mechanism that’s been doused in racism.
So when The Clippers protest, despite their restraints, I don’t feel anger or frustration. I don’t feel the need to critique, mock, or undermine their actions. Instead, I feel compelled to respect their choices, even though it’s not a choice I would’ve made.
We’re in the midst of great socio-political change. Social media and the growing size of the capitalist racist complex has simultaneously narrowed our options while expanding them. Does wearing an empty shirt or black arm band change the racism embedded in the NBA? Of course not. But this gesture, almost brilliant in its simplicity, told us everything we need to know about The Clipper’s political leanings.
The Clippers affected change more than a tweet of disapproval ever could. And for that, I support them.