*Watching this Donald Sterling/V. Stiviano episode play out in public is as interesting a study in race politics as we’ve witnessed in sometime. While we try to act like things have returned to normal, normal when it comes to race is never normal.
As both sides have come out trying to put their spin on things, the racial elements of the encounter only become more complicated. Staviano has, indeed, presented herself in a most amorphous persona—living most of her early life as a Latina, then apparently passing for white (Italian) or Asian (Filipino) while stepping in and out of black culture, when it was convenient to do so. By the way, the name, Staviano, is of Italian ancestry.
Before becoming V. Stiviano, she had six different aliases—all Latin surnames (Perez, Gallegos, Valdez). She became Italian (changing her name to Staviano) in 2010.
Based on her taped conversation with Sterling, apparently they had some sort of informal agreement that Staviano would leave behind the black side of her culture, as Sterling seemed shocked that she was convorting with black men behind his back. She never identified as black—at least in name. Obviously she hadn’t left the black side behind—not that she could. She was simply engaging in the same thing that all of America is engaging in. “Acting black, socializing with blacks, or, engaging in some cultural practices of the African American community. There’s a name for it.
Playing up an “exotic” look that appeared anything but black, Staviano represented the classic case of “trying to be black while not trying to be black.” She’s not the only one doing that. She’s not the first—nor will she be the last, to try to shed the social stigma that America has put on blackness. Latent racism, as well as blatant racism, is not exclusive to Donald Sterling, okay? The question really is, “how black was she?”
Then her informal spokesperson steps out, to break the ice, and tell the world that “V” wants to tell her side of the story. It was “Superhead” (Karrine Seffans). Gotcha.
Things just got a whole LOT more interesting. Birds of a feather, flock together.
Of course, Seffans did her best to soft-soap the relationship, framing this as a victimless encounter—painting Sterling as a warm, beneficent old man that just “gifted” $1.8 million in luxury assets to a really good and loyal non-sexual employee.
Sterling’s wife didn’t think so and sued her to get the community property back. Mrs. Sterling, who has now waged her own fight to keep the Los Angeles Clippers and is not foreign to her own bouts with highly charged racist language, charged Staviano with extortion in the civil suit and has put the D.A. on her, for blackmail, on the criminal side.
Speaking of criminal side, Stiviano’s “rap sheet” was made public, and is long as the career criminal records as those bullhorns out on the streets of L.A. Again, every time she was arrested—it was under a Latino surname (except the last time), but in her mug shots, she always “looked” black. It appears to be the only forum in which her blackness actually came out. That’s forum spelled, F-O-R-U-M (for those who can’t spell it).
Anti-Intellectualism is a downside of “acting black.” Even when you are black.
Donald Sterling, in the meantime, has announced that he is sick. He’s not only suffering from prostate cancer, but he also claims that he has, “Negrophobia.”
For real…you can’t make this stuff up. Sterling says he’s not a racist and he doesn’t hate black people—he’s just afraid of them. That’s why he said what he said.
I’ll let that one marinate with you while we move on…
Popular Blackness is a social engagement that been around since the 1920s and the Harlem Renaissance. Those were whites (and others) that took a special interest in black culture. Renaissance write, Zora Neale Hurston named whites that followed black literary culture, “Negrotarians.” Those who followed the black jazz scene were called, “Wiggas.” What is really amounted to, was being engaged in what was perceived as “cool.” Sports, art and music always had a significant following of non-black connoisseurs with a great appreciation for black talent and black culture. Many have written about it, film has documented it—Spike Lee, in particular. One show, Soul Train, changed American culture forever. Culture critic and author, Nelson George, has written a new book about how Popular Blackness changed America. Popular Blackness is real.
Negrophobia is a term that came out of the 1870s, after the end of slavery and the passing of the 14th and 15th Amendments, when black equality was at its peak during Reconstruction. Whites developed a fear of blacks’ circulating in their social spaces, particularly newly freed enslaved persons that may have had some animosity (putting it kindly) toward their former slave owners. It created great social tension. So much so that “black equality” (as in, “Who’s gonna do something about this black equality stuff) became the national referendum in the 1876 Hayes-Tilden Presidential election.
Reconstruction ended the next year, in 1877, but Negrophobia persists.
The 21st Century has produced some interesting conflictions in American society.
The ultimate confliction with Popular Blackness and Negrophobia was the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Young people didn’t vote for him because he was black. They voted for him because he was cool. He was “pop culture” in politics. They did it again in 2012. Yet, the older generation has a fear of Obama that has fueled gun sales and distrust of the government (more than usual). Meanwhile, white groups are winning soul and rap awards, everybody’s dressing like urban youth and black culture is a dominant practice in American society. A great example of this was this past weekend during the Floyd Mayweather fight. Escorting Mayweather into the ring, was Lil Wayne and, now get this, Justin Beiber. Yeah…that Justin Beiber. [Blank Stare]
It was one of those, “What’s wrong with this picture?” or “Who doesn’t belong?” moments. Justin, in Pharrell gear, was just getting his “thug” on.
Popular Blackness style. For a new fan base, of course.
In my latest book, I dedicate a chapter to these racial phenomena. The chapter is entitled, “Popular Blackness and the Return of Negrophobia.” I’ve observed it for the past decade and it’s all around us now. Donald Sterling just verbalized it and V. Staviano is just acting it out, but both sides of this conflict have reflected a true race reality.
This represents a snapshot of the real continuing sagas in American culture today.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.