Donald Sterling, Racism, the Social Construction of REALITY, and the Power of WORDS by Paula L. McGee

My dissertation: The Wal-Martization of African American Religion and much of my work talks about the social construction of identity, racism, sexism and the power of brand®ed identities and celebrity.  I keep seeing images and hearing those WORDS or sound bites of Donald Sterling—owner of the Los Angeles  Clippers. His “racist” WORDS kept playing over and over in my head. Donald Sterling, the owner—or maybe the former owner—now banned for life—fined 2.5 million dollars—alleged adulterer—and an alleged racist.

Paula, you have to write about this and add to your literary and scholarly canon.  Then suddenly, like the burning bush in the Exodus narrative and the call of Moses, I started asking questions of myself and whether I am worthy to write these words. Dr. McGee, “What WORDS are academic, yet popular enough? “ More importantly, “How does this fit into your research?”  You want your blog to be on the top of a Google search tomorrow, when the thirty-something and under crowd find the right combination of WORDS to pull you into the browser of their lives.  Your last blog was about Preachers of LA.  How perfect. Your second blog, Reverend McGee will be about billionaire racist WORDS, alleged mistresses, rich ex-wives, and black basketball players. WORDS, WORDS, WORDS, WORDS! 

The canvas is set. This is better than any episode of Basketball Wives and Basketball Wives LA. How do I organize the blog? What is the lead paragraph?  Reverend Dr. McGee, former athlete, retired jersey at USC, feminist/womanist, preacher and public theologian, you have to say something.  As the scribe, prophet, and commentator what do you have to say?

The problem with writing about this drama is that there are just too many colorful characters and players for such a short blog. I consider myself to be a pretty good writer, but even Shonda Rhimes and the writers of Scandal aren’t talented or creative enough to write and structure this narrative.

Oh yeah, that’s right. Let us not forget that this is not a reality show, nor is it a scripted weekly drama. Your WORDS, Ms. McGee, will frame YOU as much as they frame or “socially construct” the REALITY and IDENTITY of all of the characters—all of the REAL people in a concrete REAL world. You actually know Magic and Doc Rivers. You can leave out Doc, but you have to mention Magic, who was included in the racist rants. However, my feminist and womanist lens, is warning me not to only talk about the men.  The politics of respectabilityasserts thatas a black woman, I have to make sure that the black men are also presented as strong and powerful, and not just as another updated version of Skip Gates’ New Negro or as 40 Million Dollar Slaves.

I want to talk about the women:  complex subjectivity, intersectionality, androcentrism, and the silencing or invisibility of women. I want to move away from the focus on the CEO/owner(s) and the millionaire athletes.  I want to talk about the women.  But, how do I tell the story without making the women into more of the same sensationalized REALITY TV versions that reward them with fifteen minutes of infamy or fame? Then, out of nowhere more of the epiphany. The Red Sea parted.  I remembered that I have the power of the pen.  I get to tell the story.  Because of the work that I have done and will continue to do in the world—I have a space to speak—to decide the protagonists and the villains, the oppressed and the oppressors.  Again—more revelations!

There it is—that false, old structuralism and modernism—that problematic objectivity and assumption that I, as a scholar and thinker, can construct the cyberspace characters or persons that can stop or be stopped in the middle of their concrete lives, in order for me to capture the truth. I am supposedly equipped with the right academic jargon and popular rhetoric to decide who deserves to be labeled as the good and the evil, the right and the wrong.  Amen and Ashe’.

The epiphany for all those who dared to keep reading after the first 200 WORDS:

REAL LIFE that is LIVED with REAL PEOPLE does not fit into a media sound bit nor a blog.  Life is rarely only in the black and white of dualistic categories.  Life has a host of categories, concepts, characters, myths, and colors.  We, for just a moment, are able to see the complexity of institutional and personal identity (vocation, gender, race, class, and wealth).  Life continues.  We, who have this great opportunity to speak truth to power—and to write—we are perhaps called to be vigilantly aware of the POWER OF OUR WORDS. We must remember that we too, are socially constructing the myths and wordview(s) of tomorrow—the stories that will be worth telling and remembering. So as any good scholar and preacher—I say:

Speak, speak, speak, and write, write, write, but do not forget the POWER of the WORDS.

Paula McGee is scholar, preacher, writer, and inspirational speaker. She has a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies in Religion from Claremont Graduate Universityand is an ordained Baptist preacher. Her dissertation, The Wal-Martization of African American Religion: T.D. Jakes and Woman Thou Art Loosed (download the PDF), explores the relationship between African American churchwomen and their pastors in post-civil rights America. She is a role model and an advocate for women. Her personal mission is “to inspire others to recognize, accept, and fulfill their call to greatness.”


Categories: Community, Media, Race and Ethnicity, Racism, Social Justice, Sports, Women's Agency

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15 replies

  1. Great methodological preamble, nothing is free, or free of institutionalized racism and sexism and our own biases, is it? Now… I still want to know what you saw and felt. Part 2?


  2. As regards liberation, the WORD is two-fold: first, “this is FREEDOM.” We must first undetstand what we seek, and then we can say, I AM FREE, manifesting that liberty uniquely in each of our lives.


  3. I too really want to know your thoughts on the subject.


  4. Now we know what your thoughts are before you begin to write the Real Blog. You’re working up to it. But what’s your point? I’m sure everyone who has read your words so far is interested in learning what comes next. What the Real Blog will be………


  5. I felt the “real” blog here. I felt real anger and and an overwhelming sense of “STOP!!” And that is what we all must scream, at the top of our lungs: STOP. Stop the inexcusable discrimination. Stop supporting people like Sterling. Stop giving excuses. Damn it — just STOP.


  6. I am deeply troubled by this entire conversation around the Clippers. Donald Sterling has been a racist for a LONG time prior to this incident. He owns apartment complexes all over and has quite the history of not renting to African Americans or Latinos. He and his wife hold the record for the biggest payouts to federal branches of the government after all these discrimination lawsuits were said and done.

    However, the thing I am MORE troubled by is that even though he is being banned from the NBA and fined 2 million dollars, do people really think this will hurt his financial portfolio? The Clippers turned everything around and moved onto the next round of the NBA Playoffs and guess what, Sterling is still the owner, no matter what stunt the players pull to bring in attention. Heck, the more views of said stunts the more money advertisers are willing to pay.

    One thing a lot of people are not talking about are the legal battles that are likely to occur. It is ILLEGAL to make someone sell a commodity under duress (forced to sell) and I’m sure his lawyers are already crafting a long and expensive legal battle, all the while he rakes in the $$$ from advertisers, endorsements, etc. that are not going to leave the Clippers in a time when they are likely to advance to potentially the NBA Finals. Do you know HOW much money he’ll make as a result of that or just by even SELLING the team if he has to?

    Racism is a traded commodity in this case and if anyone for a second thinks that this is a single incident, well, they have another thing coming. More importantly, how many owners of NBA teams are white vs. black? Man vs. woman? The stats will not likely shock you but I’m sure you can tell that racism, in sports, specifically where individual players (regardless of color) are sold and bought for their value and worth, is problematic enough to give one a migraine that will last a lifetime.

    However, my question is where is the non-politically correct Paula in this article? I get what you’re saying here but I want the Paula that stands from mountaintops shouting her opinions…


    • Thanks for your comments. I was not seeking to be politically correct. I was trying to not be pulled into the three ring circus. If you followed the links, you can pretty much figure out my position. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!” A very rich older man is upset that his friend/confidant/significant other, who is not sexually involved with him, but has accepted some very expensive gifts. The older rich man is upset because she is taking pictures with another younger rich man of a different ethnicity. I didn’t want to be pulled into a media dance that brands women as in conflict–usually over a man–in this case–a man’s assets. The life-time band over conversations made privately and leaked by a woman who has now managed to position herself to tell her story on Barbara Walters. Does that ban apply to everyone in the NBA and their private conversations? I was trying to not to be a major contributor to this story. I was problematizing the quick answers and depictions of real people–even those of us who write blogs.


  7. Paula, I have to join the chorus here: “Please tell us what you think about this particular intersection of racism, sexism, big money, popular culture, sports, etc.?” Your article reminds me of a deconstructionist anthropology lecture I heard a few years ago that left me quite frustrated. It danced all around the topic, but never said anything about the customs of the people it was supposedly about.


  8. Powerful words have been expressed here. Yet I kept waiting to read where anyone evaluated how WOMEN are treated by the NBA patriarchy. This includes players, management personnel and franchise owners. In 1998, Sports Illustrated ran this article on out-of-wedlock paternity by NBA players:

    Don’t think much, if anything, has changed since then.


  9. What I am sensing here is your overwhelming frustration with the word count (approx 800?) for a blog. What you have to say you need to say in say, 6000 words? Or maybe a book?
    Maybe a poem is in order…..


  10. Hello Doctor Paula. I love giving you your props knowing where we come from (Flint) and dealing with those struggles. ‘So proud of you! Ok ok ok! Why I’m posting….

    I, like you, know or knew people in the Clipper’s organization. Actually, none of my friends who played for him, liked him. I never met him and therefore do not have bad or goods words about him from personal experience.

    As much as I would like him out of the league, I feel his rights were violated in this case. Please, my African American brothers and sisters hear me out. I’m the first to admit I believe myself to be a decent God fearing Christian man. People admire and respect me. However, I do not live in a glass house.

    This man made comments in private to a woman with unknown motives. If God revealed my private comments or dirty laundry and they were allowed to be exploited, my credibility would be ruined. Why? Because humans are hypocrites when someone else is under the heat lamp.

    I am not racist, but I have made racist comments in my life. I’m not a liar, but I have lied in my life… The list goes on because I am human and must therefore stay in a state of repentance. Okay, he is “allegedly” a racist. I really could care less about what comments he made to his mistress in a private phone call. Now, everyone wants to be the stone thrower as John 8:7. Why? Because, we’re not under the heat lamp.

    If he called a team meeting or press conference and said, I hate black people, I would agree more with the ruling. But, he made private comments to who he believed to be a friend. Well, people you cannot have it both ways.

    Suppose the government privately tapes your phone calls and bugs your vehicles, just because they can. Then while riding with a friend you make a comment like, “I hate republicans because they are always attacking the president. If I could, I’d get them all in a room and kill them!”

    Well, in light of the suicide bombings, recent school shootings, and everyday police standoffs, let’s say the feds raid your home and arrest you! They accuse you of plots against the government (or whatever they want to call it). The community as well as those who know you are outraged and demand your immediate release. Then the bombshell is dropped! Your comments are made public and they continue to replay them to the public while building credibility to there case. Is it fair? No! Did you make the comments? Yes! Now, those who don’t know you say, well if you made those comments it’s better to have you locked to make sure than to take a chance. Why? Because they want their children safe at school. They want their neighborhoods safe. ‘Because now they are throwing stones at you while living in a glass house, sort-of-speak.

    However this plays out, remember the big picture is violation of privacy, not racism as the media wants you to focus on. Last I checked, it was not a crime to be a racist. It is illegal to discriminate, which he did not do. He has a black coach. He employs black people and pays them very well. So the argument can be made several ways, not just the way the media wants you to look at it.

    Lastly, he is a smart billionaire. He is an attorney. This case is not open and shut. Remember if this ruling stands, it may open the door for being able to secretly spy on all of us and only bring it out if we say something out of order that can be deemed threatening. Would I like to see him out of the league? Yes. Do I agree with how they are doing it? No.

    God bless Paula. Let’s catch up soon. God Bless readers. Your thoughts….


    • One of the benefits of free speech is that folks who hold views opposed to those expressed know so; there is no need to guess.

      If I am disliked by someone, my preference is to know rather than be kept in the dark.

      Those of us who oppose racism, sexism, ageism or any other “isms” should be very careful when calling for the silencing of someone whose views are opposed to our own.

      We could be silenced ourselves one day.


      • Hello John. I respectfully agree with you to a degree. Free speech means free speech. Deception in itself is not a crime. We ALL have said or done things we have either lied about or would not want public. Now, if deception leads to breaking the law, that’s another issue and illegal (obviously).

        I personally do not care if I know who every racist, gay person, or atheist is. If they do not break the law, they are entitled to think and act like they want, just as I am. I don’t care. If this is their bases of the banning ruling, it will only be a matter of time before we start spying on people until we catch them doing something we deem inappropriate.

        Let me tell you, everyone who smiles in your face does not like you. So if you find out, should you be able to get them fired or banned from their industry? Well, if they don’t like you and hinder you from getting a job or promoted, I get it.

        I don’t even want people to start lying and say they’ve never made a racist remark or inappropriate remark in private. I’m not even a Sterling fan. I just want them to base their ban on legal, not questionable, circumstances. Regardless of what we heard on the 15 minute tape, he still managed to surround himself with people of color, unlike Boston (Celtics) did in the 80’s.

        I just believe this man has probably done enough to be ousted without a trumped up case. But John, either way, watch how difficult this turns out to be legally. I hope the league is ready for a serious legal battle. Sterling is not leaving quietly, as much as his absence will be better for the NBA – in my opinion.


  11. His wife apparently wants to keep her half of the team:–abc-news-topstories.html?vp=1

    Should she be forced to sell because of her husband’s remarks?


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