Donald Sterling and How to Properly Market Bigotry

By Lee Williams (@Lee_Wms)

The scandal featuring Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling has it all–racial controversy, gold diggers, illegal wiretapping, a scorned wife, and hundreds of millions of dollars on the line. This story features classic American themes of greed, lust, and racism, which are all the major ingredients of a media explosion. 

Currently, Sterling is being hurt where it counts, and that is in money. The Los Angeles Clippers have already lost sponsors CarMax, State Farm Insurance, Kia Motors America, airline Virgin America, Red Bull, Yokohama tires, Mercedes-Benz. Now, as he faces a lifetime ban from the NBA, potential revoked ownership of the Clippers, a 2.5 million dollar fine and public embarrassment for his unsavory language about African-Americans, it is starting to appear that America is winning the war against racism, starting with the morally depraved Donald Sterling… right?


In fact, this view couldn’t be any further from the truth.

I would argue that this scandal and the response that it has gathered from the general public only further prevent the progress of discussing racial matters. By diverting from economics and focusing solely on racial trauma/political correctness of a crass public figure, this story is following the same formula of properly marketing bigotry and minimizing true discussions of race.


The formula has several steps:

  • Public figure uses bad language
  • Bad language creates media controversy
  • Media controversy reframed to social discussion
  • Social discussion viewed as contribution to racial progress

Let’s get real here. Why is Sterling, a wealthy, morally depraved adulterer in Los Angeles, who expressed some distasteful views about African-Americans—in privacy—to his manipulative, also morally depraved, fame-hungry girlfriend, being framed as the 2014 poster-child discussion on racism in America?

Simple. Donald Sterling is this year’s Paula Deen, and he joins a long list of people who have been used by the media and business organizations to further a false, surface discussion of racial matters in America, while avoiding the root causes (see Kellen Abrams of Soundwave Politics swift takedown of the victim-blaming Gawker piece “Black People Are Cowards” for an example).

These issues are told in the form of digestible bread-crumb stories, such as slurs and vile thoughts, enough to get us riled up but not substantial enough to truly change our culture. Then, when we have other public figures weighing in on the story, like Magic Johnson or President Obama, we consider this a true moment for racial progress.

Are we, the public, so caught up in the myth of being “post-racial” that we miss the insults to our intelligence from our own media, businesses and organizations?

Donald Sterling, V. Stiviano

Sterling [wasn’t] quoted as saying, “Pimpin’ ain’t easy.”

The TRUE story behind all of this is that during Sterling’s tenure as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, he’s had a rocky history that is loaded with allegations of racism and generally shameful behavior, and the NBA has tolerated it for years. Some of his notable exploits include:

  • Racial discrimination lawsuits and a wrongful firing claim by former Clippers general manager and NBA Legend Elgin Baylor.
  • A 2006 Department of Justice lawsuit that charged Sterling with housing discriminatory practices against potential tenants at his Los Angeles residential complexes.
  • Past eye-witness accounts of former players, managers, and coaches referencing Sterling’s racial and misogynistic comments and business practices.

Yet, it took an audio recording for the world to finally notice how bizarre Sterling’s views really are. 

In many ways, Sterlings former legal battles are an example of the institutionalized racism that is so subtle in our society, so quietly handled with payouts and handshakes done in private, while a masquerade takes place in public. These are the stories that should have been investigated and put up for the public to debate. Instead, we get a horrible version of Cheaters set in L.A.

This ALMOST happened. #IronyofTheYearAward

This ALMOST happened. #IronyofTheYearAward

The Donald Sterlings of the world are apathetic to those they see as beneath them, just as the real villains who practice Institutionalized racism and discrimination are apathetic to surface discussions, like who said what out of turn, or who call who the “N-word”. The NBA failed us when Sterling was given a slap on the wrist for his prior issues. They could have used these issues as cornerstone discussions involving race, prestige, power, and money in America.

Many times, we are convinced by the talking heads and armchair activists within the media that we are progressing the racial discussion by attacking the surface issues, when we are missing the deeper, rooted factors of racism and discrimination that cripple this country to this day.

Let’s talk about housing discrimination. The prison-industrial complex. Youth incarceration. Complexities within the immigration debate. Political manipulation. Redistricting of county lines to curb votes, or cutting voting periods in minority neighborhoods. These are the many issues that currently fuel institutionalized racism and discrimination, and yet we are only fed breadcrumb issues like Donald Sterling, or Paula Deen, by the media as an appeasement that we are considering racial stories in America, but inevitably we are avoiding them.

Now, until Sterling fades away as a trending topic, he has become the perfect media pawn for marketing bigotry and creating a deceptive conversation that says, “America, where we righteously crusade against surface issues rather than going after the root of the problem.” 

Perhaps we, the public, should treat these issues for what they are—as ridiculousness—and seek the solutions to our social ills where they start: our conditioned culture and history.



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