Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe

In Donald Sterling Drama, It’s All About Power

Getty Images // Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano

It reads better than a soap opera, the interpersonal and romantic drama that led to the exposure and punishment (a lifetime ban!) for racist soon-to-be-former NBA franchise owner Donald Sterling. All the juicy pieces were in place: an estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, who resented V. Stiviano, the younger woman hanging out with her husband. Such was her animus that she was suing Stiviano or being a “gold-digger” and seducing her way to the Sterling’s property. That lawsuit, presumably, prompted epic revenge: Stiviano’s secret tape recording of Donald Sterling’s appalling racist remarks.

Predictably, while the world has come together in outrage against such heinous comments, the reactions to Stiviano’s surreptitious recording that revealed those remarks has included lots of sexism and even some feminist analysis. At, there’s a text and image slideshow which analyzes the “transactional” relationship in question, “about rich old men and beautiful young women and what they give, get and expect from each other.” Or as vlogger Jay Smooth put it in his must-watch segment on Sterling: “it dawns on me how being in denial about racism and being a horrible, manipulative [partner] turn out to go really well with each other.”

Sterling’s obsession with his nonwhite girlfriend’s “delicacy” and her potential appearance of whiteness certainly indicates the way those various painful ideas — whiteness and daintiness — are wrongly entwined in the racist imagination. In a blog post the writer Jesse Myerson takes all the power dynamics at play here, race, class, gender, ownership and shows how Sterling embodied them all “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,” he writes. “In fact, in the way Sterling browbeats Stiviano, we see a third, also effectively indistinct, supremacism: that of a man over ‘his’ woman.”

As we now know, abusing power was Sterling’s his m.o. (and apparently, Shelly’s too): his real evils were hardly contained in his offensive words, but can be found his years upon years of documented discrimination, overlooked by most of us until this week, as Kevin Blackstone at the Guardian observes.

While a handful of us in the media excoriated Sterling and the NBA in 2009 when Sterling settled the lawsuit by agreeing to pay $2.73m following allegations he refused to rent apartments to Hispanics, blacks and families with children, the story didn’t resonate — despite it being the largest housing discrimination settlement in Justice Department history. There was no investigation from the NBA…

Why shouldn’t someone like this expect to exercise his racial and gender power, even over a girlfriend, with blunt, crude force? Ironically another showing of power — a threatened walkout — by NBA players helped ensure that Sterling’s punishment was just and damning. But wouldn’t it be better if we lived in world where power was more evenly distributed to begin with?

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.