Monday, April 28, 2014

Whose Plantation Is It, Anyways?

The recent contretemps over the racist remarks uttered by Donald Sterling, the owner of the professional basketball team The Clippers reminded me of a long-ago quote by Anatole France:
In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.
I don't know much about professional basketball and care even less. Oh, sure, I played basketball as a child and even tried out for the 6th-grade team. (My parents couldn't afford the regular commute to practices, the gear and what-not associated with the sport so, alas, my career in jockdom was rather short-lived.) So aside from catching a few moments of coverage on TV during the annual March Madness, the amount I know about basketball wouldn't fill the thimble of  a height-challenged person.

Here's what I do know. The owner Sterling is a billionaire real estate developer who happens to be white. Many of the athletes on his team are millionaires who happen to be black. And here's some of what Sterling allegedly told his mistress, one V. Stiviano:
It bother me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to? . . . . You can sleep with (black people). You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it … and not to bring them to my games.
And here's the thing: those of us who work for a living would be fired immediately were we to say 1/10 of what Sterling is alleged to have said. But when you're the plantation owner you can say anything you want and face only token consequences. At most, Sterling may be forced to sell his team? So what? He'll net several hundred million dollars from its sale. But he won't lose his livelihood. And, odds are, he'll continue on with his decadent, amoral lifestyle pretty much unscathed, unremorseful, unrepentant.

As for the Clippers team members, both minority and white? You'll forgive me if I don't give much of a shit how upset they are as they continue to rake in multi-million dollar salaries FOR PLAYING A FUCKING GAME! If they had any self respect, they would refuse to play at all. But too much money rides on keeping the plantation system up and running. Sure, the players will piss and moan about their evil plantation owner. But these players are the  'house slaves' on the plantation They've got a stake in seeing that that plantation system continues exactly as it has with, at most, a shuffling of personalities at the top.

Sterling may think he owns the plantation and, most of the time, his house slaves will do little to rock that comfortable world view. Lord knows, Sterling has his overseers, his Los Angeles Police Department, Sheriff's Department, FBI, NSA and so on, to preserve and safeguard his status as the plantation's owner. But every once in awhile, the veil slips and we see that the plantation owner and his house slaves only derive their unjust and obscene privileges from the value they extract from those doing the actual work to keep the plantation running.

Meanwhile, in the real world, those of us who must work for a living must try to be decent to one another, to look past non-essential characteristics such as the amount of melanin produced by our genetic makeup and manifested in our skin to more fundamental qualities like honor and integrity. to what we share that unites us. It's a constant struggle and, Lord knows, I've had more than my share of lapses over the years. But if we aren't struggling for this, then why struggle at all? When we are ready, we will come together to overthrow this plantation system once and for all. And then we will watch the Sterlings of the world tremble in fear..

Author's Note: In using the metaphor of plantation and slaves, I meant in no way to equate the situation today to the abomination in American history known as chattel slavery, intended never to diminish the suffering of its millions of victims, nor to demean in any way the heroic sacrifices made by actual slaves before 1865

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