Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

The Donald Sterling Supremacism No One’s Talking About

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Guest post by Jesse Myerson

Amid the great trove of unattractive qualities revealed to be possessed by L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling in a recently-released tape of a conversation between him and his then-girlfriend V. Stiviano, it is understandable that one should have gone underappreciated. But without taking into account his grotesque economic ideology, Sterling’s segregationist Instagram doctrine and less-than-enchanting romantic life lack crucial context.

When Stiviano asks, sensibly, whether he is aware that the athletes to whom people refer when they speak of “the Clippers” are black, Sterling goes full capitalist:

I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?.. Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?

What he has articulated is capital supremacy, the position that capital is prior to and independent of labor. In a for-profit operation like the L.A. Clippers, the guy who owns the capital and extracts the surplus is the one really pulling the heavy weight, and it’s the athletes he employs who are living high off the league that he and his buddies created. Capitalists, far from being parasitic, are “job creators.”

Of course, Sterling’s contempt for employees is inseparable from his racism. The origin of white supremacy was, after all, the need to justify the economic system of enslaving black people in the land where “all men are created equal,” as Barbara and Karen Fields document in their book “Racecraft.” In his “Notes on the state of Virginia,” they point out, Thomas Jefferson “tries to resolve the contradiction between enslavement and the national right to freedom by interpreting slavery as a fact of the slaves’ inferior nature.”

The economic exploitation continued through the social practice and legal regime of Jim Crow, and it continues today in what Michelle Alexander has called “The New Jim Crow” of mass incarceration, by the same means – the insistence that black people are inferior, immoral, lazy, criminal, and other hallmarks of “inner city culture.”

The logic of capitalism and racism are the same in this regard – those in power develop attitudes of supremacy to justify reaping the spoils of mass social repression. Sterling, the owner, regards the players as inferior to him and people like him, since they don’t “make the game.” Sterling, the racist, regards black people as inferior to him and people like him, unfit to live, say, in Sterling’s real estate holdings. There is only one Sterling, the players are black, and the supremacist ideologies are effectively indistinct.

In fact, in the way Sterling browbeats Stiviano, we see a third, also effectively indistinct, supremacism: that of a man over “his” woman. The way he threatens to dump her, imputes character flaws to her, demands she accommodate his racist strictures in her social media life, and so forth, constitutes a social practice very reminiscent of his white and capital supremacism.

The economic arrangement euphemistically (and incorrectly) called “traditional marriage” mirrors capitalism and Jim Crow precisely — the man exploits the work of the woman, and holds her contribution to the relationship to be worthless, independent of the capital provided by the man. To sustain this repression, not only is the constant threat of violence necessary, but so is a supremacism that continually blames women for idiocy, caprice, and so forth. And, as bosses are understood to “create” jobs, and Sterling insists that owners “created” a league full of black people, the socio-economic subordination of women resonates with a mythology wherein the first woman was created out of a dude-rib (by a dude-God).

Ownership puts ugly pressures on a person; the ideologies of those whose line of business is exploiting others become easily susceptible to supremacist doctrines. At least we have the solace of knowing that this particular sexist, racist, capital-supremacist will no longer own the Clippers (though there is yet no word on whether a lifetime ban from real estate ownership is similarly forthcoming). Still, it wouldn’t hurt to consider the alternative to ownership and exploitation: sharing. As a team shares a victory, as a healthy romance shares the responsibilities, so can an economy share its wealth with the people who have been violently separated from it for centuries.

Written by David Kaib

April 30, 2014 at 7:30 am

4 Responses

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  1. […] In fact, Sterling’s own contradictory and illogical mixture of racism and sexism exposed in his taped conversation with his girlfriend is a perverse manifesto that reflects Barkley’s garbled argument, a recognition of two Americas, I think, well articulated by Jesse Myerson: […]

  2. hearhear. the problem with this Sterling issue is that we have not gone deep enough. his views are extreme, but there are vestiges of all manner of bigotries and hates in all of our heads. the issue is not purging our collective minds of unclean thoughts, or our collective society of unclean people. The real issue is purging our economic and social structure of unclean power dynamics, which not only help foster denigrations of fellow human beings through their inherent power relations, but actually make these prejudices ‘real’ – by giving a small set power over a great many, we give vehicle to enact these views upon the social space. it is in his position as an owner – of a team, of a housing development – where the pernicious nature of his thoughts meets real-world harm and abuse. surely, we are right to want to work against those pernicious thoughts. but we are fooling ourselves if we think we can make progress on this front while remaining ambivalent about the structure of ownership itself.

    That structure of ownership is part of the, and especially this particular problem. and it always has been. the longer you look back into American history, the more clear that becomes.


    April 30, 2014 at 2:40 pm

  3. […] atavistic views on race expressed in the now-famous recording of Clippers owner Donald Sterling, Sterling said something else that suggests that he actually understands American capitalism better t…: he called the Clippers games “My Games.” For millions of die-hard American (and foreign) […]

  4. […] 2. The Donald Sterling Supremacism No One’s Talking About […]

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