Everybody’s talking about the Donald Sterling tapes. And no wonder. As Jay Smooth explains in this must-watch response, there’s just so much to study about the psychology of racism and sexism in the recording of the LA Clippers’ racist-as-fuck owner berating his girlfriend for associating with Black people. ”Being in denial about racism and being a horrible, manipulative boyfriend turn out to go really well with each other,” Jay says. “They go together like ‘man’ and ‘splaining.’” Zing!
But though these tapes are getting probably getting all the attention they deserve, Jay raises the most important question: “Why do racist words bring more accountability than racist practices?”
So the Donald Sterling tapes. Yeah… The first thing I want to say about these tapes is these tapes should be the last nail in the coffin of the idea that there is any meritocracy in American capitalism. Any misconception that anyone ever had about rich people getting where they are because they’re smarter than us had to die with this tape. Because wow. There are so many levels of terribleness to these tapes, it’s just like breathtaking. There’s so much to study about the psychology of racism and sexism and just relationships. The very notion that what we hear on those tapes could be what some people think of as a relationship is horrifying to me. And then when I hear him laying into her with all this stuff like: Why are you trying to hurt me? Don’t you think I’m a good person? Why can’t you be flexible about my racism? How do you know that you don’t like racism if you haven’t even tried it? When I hear Donald Sterling running all that low-level game, it dawns on me how being in denial about racism and being a horrible, manipulative boyfriend turn out to go really well with each other. They both basically work the same way. They’re based on the same kind of mind games and evasive tactics and emotional abuse. They’re a perfect match for each other. They go together like ‘man’ and ‘splaining.’ And there are so many other elements of this tape that I could go on about. The way that he’s so invested in this inexplicable belief that she could be white or pass for white. The way he goes on about her being delicate, both as if being delicate is the measure of a woman’s value and being delicate is the antithesis of being Black. But the one part that stands out the most for me, that I want to be sure to acknowledge, is that this whole situation once again raises the question of why do racist words bring more accountability than racist practices? Because the thing about Donald Sterling is he’s been known for years for being racist behind the scenes with his business practices. He already got taken to court years ago by the Department of Justice for trying to keep Blacks and Latinos from living on his properties. So the question for me is why did those decades of racist practices not bring the same kind of heat as these racist words. And I’m not saying Donald Sterling got too much attention for these words. He deserves all the heat he’s getting right now. I’m glad those tapes came out. I hope more tapes come out. I hope he’s like the Tupac of unreleased racism tapes and we can put them all together in a box set named ‘Here’s What They Think About You.’ But I just wish, when I watch a story like this, that we could figure out how to take that same energy and fury we bring to racist words and bring it just as hard to all the racist practices that generate injustice without generating TMZ clips. And that’s not the snappiest ending but I haven’t made a video in a long time so I’m just gonna stop here.
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.