Culture

How Donald Sterling Rendered Pharrell’s “New Black” Premise Useless

A couple of weeks ago, music superstar Pharrell offered a theory about the state of being Black in America. He basically said that any lack of advancement by Black people lies squarely on their shoulders, because they refuse to escape the psychological trauma decades, centuries even, of racism. He is apart of “The New Black”, a collective of people who have transcended the trappings of race to succeed in society.

Of course, Black Twitter responded in kind, lambasting him for trying to simplify the incredibly complicated relationship this nation has with race. As desperately as some people (like the Supreme Court, for instance) would like not to believe, race is still an issue that needs to be addressed.

This past week was the perfect representation of said reality.

The big news story of the week was Donald Sterling’s outrageous racist statements being made public. In a taped and leaked conversation with his girlfriend, the L.A. Clippers owner criticized her for taking photos with black men (specifically Magic Johnson) and posting them to Instagram. His reasoning was supremely racist, even as he made proclamations to the contrary. Even more disturbing was how he related to the team he owned, the majority of whom are black. He explained how he fed and clothed them, and how they wouldn’t be successful without him and the other NBA owners. It was a blatant, if not intentional, comparison to plantation-era slavery, made more shocking by how normal it sounded as he spoke of it. He spoke a “culture” that not only endorsed this warped way of thought, but seemed to dictate it. The truth of the matter is that over 70% of NBA players are black, while the majority of team owners are white (the obvious exception being Michael Jordan). If Sterling’s ramblings about this culture are true, then that means there are other owners who feel the same way about their black players. They also believe that their players are nothing more than expensive livestock, unworthy of being deemed equals among them. Now, imagine being an L.A. Clipper with this knowledge that the man signing their checks is no-so-secretly snickering which each pen stroke. The psychological trauma that accompanies such a realization is one of the reasons why I don’t fault the team for their tepid form of resistance at last Sunday’s game.

Pharrell’s “New Black” is a pretty explanation for everything ailing the Black community. It simultaneously lays the blame at our feet, while also offering us a solution that will finally make the race discussion moot. What it doesn’t do, however, is address the deeply embedded and pervasive structures of power imbalance that has made it difficult for black success, easy for the proliferation of racist thought and justification, and painful for us all to truly move past the evils of our not-so-distant past. Pharrell, the Supreme Court, right-wing conservatives and the like would love race to be simple and easy to explain, but it’s not. It’s not supposed to be. There won’t be a “new black” until we deal with the old and ugly vestiges of a deeply troubling and devastating part of our country.

Essentially, people who think like Donald Sterling.

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