Susan Slotnick: Mixed messages about race and a love of justice

Susan Slotnick

Susan Slotnick

My father had only one employee for 40 years. His name was Sam. We never heard his last name spoken. Father sold rare records and Sam delivered them. Once when I heard my parents screeching at each other, my mother asked, “You don’t seem to love anybody or like anyone?”

My father said, “The only person I like is Sam.”

Sam lived in Harlem, we lived in Scarsdale; our family often had to drive through Harlem to get to my father’s store at West 46th Street.

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“Lock the car! Roll up the windows! Harlem is dangerous!”

During the 1980 transit strike, my father, then 78 years old, walked alone at night from West 46th Street to 137th Street to attend the funeral of Sam’s daughter.

When I was 16, he barged into my room when I was on the phone with Leroy Johnson, a friend from high school. “Hang up the phone and never speak to Leroy outside of school again!” Crazy mixed messages about race! Mother hired Leroy Johnson to teach my brother, who turned out to be homosexual, how to throw a ball and act like a “little man.”

Pat, another person with no last name, was our “sleep in” cleaning “girl.” Mother was lonely. At night she and Pat would often share a bottle of wine, laugh and tell stories. I overheard mother say to my father, “Growing up so poor, greenhorn parents (first generation emigrants ) without any education, I don’t know how to distance myself from the ‘help’.” I have to be more dignified. Tomorrow I will tell Pat no more friendship and she needs to wear a white uniform like the other ‘cleaning girls’.”

My mother wanted to go to the March on Washington. She watched it on television the whole day, mesmerized and crying.

Old, confused and terrified of anti-Semitism, some Jews of that generation, filled with self-doubt and ambivalence changed their names.

“Donald Sterling,” a name synonymous now in the public’s mind with bigotry, is not the name he was born with. Donald Tokowitz was born to Jewish immigrants in Chicago who had fled Eastern Europe to get away from the kind of behavior their son is accused of. I am ashamed of him.

According to testimony in a lawsuit filed by his ex-general manager, he brought guests into the locker room to check out his players’ “beautiful black bodies.” Sterling, 80 years old, ugly inside and out, with a protruding belly the size of ten basketballs could have been motivated, in addition to racism, by sexual jealousy towards his players. Maybe he was threatened when his 31-year-old bi-racial “girlfriend” was seen in public with good-looking black men.

His detractors say the racially incendiary remarks attributed to him last weekend show a side of the 80-year-old billionaire that has been known for years.

Sterling has faced federal charges of civil rights violations, racial discrimination in housing, sued for sexual harassment and accused of alleged race and age discrimination. It’s too little too late. He should have been sanctioned years ago. So why am I so queasy about how it all came down?

After the Six Day War in Israel, my father expressed this unpopular opinion among his contemporaries: “Give back all the territories! They don’t belong to you!” he said. When I questioned him about his statement, he went on to say, “Justice is justice! It cannot discriminate! You have to love it! It’s for everyone whether you agree with their point or not! Taking other people’s land is wrong no matter who does it!”

Entrapment is also wrong no matter who does it. The nine-minute recording of Don Sterling and V. Stiviano, his 31-year-old girlfriend, is full of confused mixed messages. The out-of-context clips do not portray just how pathetic Don Sterling comes off; a man obviously entrapped by whom and for what reasons, it is still not publicly known.

Soft-sounding pillow talk, both tenderly apologizing to each other, begins the YouTube nine-minute unedited recording. She clarifies her apology, “I’m so sorry for the color of my skin.” He responds, “That’s not the issue.” It seems some of his contemporaries from his “culture” called him and objected to her Instagram postings with “minorities.” It’s the picture, he insists that he objects too, not the contact, the Instagram “broadcasting” of her associations with black people. She is relentless, insisting over and over he is a racist. “You’re my enemy!” he tells her sounding like an old wounded man up against someone with way more energy for the fight than he. “I don’t want to argue, I have to live with the culture the way it is.” Then he says something about Hispanics not liking Blacks and visa versa. It’s “historical, always been like that. “ He accuses her of disrespecting him. She goes on, bringing up that she is “mixed race.”

“You change from day to day. It’s so painful.” He tries to change the subject.

“People call you and tell you I associate with black people?”

“You can love them, be with them, sleep with them, just don’t broadcast it.”

The circular repetition keeps going. He accuses her of turning his words around. He says he loves black people and minorities (once he sounds sincere, another time, maybe sarcastic).

He pleads with her, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

She keeps calling him a racist. “Why are you saying these things, it’s so painful.”

She keeps accusing him.

“We got a big problem here’” he says weakly. “Maybe we are breaking up.”

They apologize softly to each other again.

“I can’t change the color of my skin,” she says out of left field. Again she accuses him of racism.

“Why do you keep bringing this up? I have no hate. Why are you saying these things? They can be with me all day and night (loudly). Stop talking about this! I love minorities!

She delivers a speech about Magic Johnson and his contribution to the welfare of his race.

He replies, “Why are you forcing this down my throat? I know Magic Johnson well and he should be admired, just privately. Please leave me alone,” he pleads sounding defeated. He seems to believe this woman who he bought a million-and-a-half dollar condo, four Bentley automobiles and a yearly expense budget of $250,000 should love him and obey him; sad. Yesterday it was reported in the tabloid “news” that she recorded the conversation with his permission and gave it to a girlfriend for safekeeping in case “something happened.” A cock-n-bull story for sure, no doubt a preemptive strike before the inevitable lawsuit.

If I knew nothing about Don Sterling’s authenticated racist record, just heard the nine-minute conversation without that knowledge, he comes off like an old man with conflicting ideas about race, reminiscent of many people of my parent’s generation.

Someone, with the “girlfriend” in on it, arranged for this recording. It is doubtful any man would agree to a recording where he comes off so weak, pathetic and confused. Someone who wanted him ousted, discredited and punished for his behavior, which he should be — but not this way.

Donald Sterling’s racism didn’t just come out this weekend with that recorded conversation.

Sterling said eleven years ago, “I prefer not to rent to Hispanics because they smoke, drink and just hang around the building or to African-Americans because they smell and attract vermin.” Sterling eventually settled that and other lawsuits for more than $7 million in damages and legal fees, but the NBA allowed Sterling to continue owning the Clippers anyway.

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In the end, isn’t this always the bottom line? People were making money, lots of it. The NAACP, which he donated large amounts of money to, planned to honor him. He gave players a chance to play. The powers-that-be looked the other way.

Secretly recording an old pathetic-sounding man, in love with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, and publicizing it for the purpose of ruining him, is simply an unjust method. In spite of myself, after listening, I felt sorry for him.