Racism in Sports


The hypocrisy of race discourse in the U.S. is breathtaking. A week after Cliven Bundy, the white supremacist rancher in Nevada, voiced his views on slavery and the current plight of urban-based black communities that many white Americans either believe or have considered, the public is now collectively outraged by the silly, racist comments of NBA massa Donald Sterling. We are all supposed to pretend that his views on the social undesirability of associating with black people were something that just emerged from his sick imagination and not a sentiment shared (though not openly spoken) in polite white society.

But what really reveals the superficiality and dishonesty of the supposed outrage about racism in U.S. society and in sports is the complete cognitive dissociation between this outrage against black people and the ongoing degrading assault in the world of sport on the Indigenous people of this land.

Indigenous people of this territory called the United States have for years, as a simple matter of dignity, been involved in efforts to remove the racist names, mascots and other practices in major league and college sports that have perpetuated their de-humanization, with only mixed success. In the last few years, a major focus of these efforts was to change the name of the D.C.-based football team, the Washington Redskins – something one might think would be completely obvious in 2014. But the campaign has met with fierce resistance. Why?

How is it that people can pretend to be outraged by Sterling’s comments, while the owners of the Redskins and the Atlanta “Braves” are not questioned as to why they insist on defending brands that Native peoples and others have condemned as racially offensive? Not only do the names remain in place, but they are defended by large cross-sections of society, including by many African Americans.

Not seeing or making the link between these two issues illustrates for me that the discourse on anti-racism in the U.S. is not to be taken seriously. These “conversations,” whether it is Obama’s pathetic appeal to white vanity and defense of integrationism in his “race speech” or the current discussion around the meaning of the movie Twelve Years a Slave, reveal themselves as phony, diversionary and racist exercises. Rather than advancing change, they provide cover for the real element that must be identified, deconstructed and abolished – the ideology of white supremacy and the material privileges that come along with it.

When the ideology of white supremacy that permeates all aspects of culture, politics and social being in the U.S. is reduced to a focus on the more crude expressions of anti-black racism, it is easy to jump on a Sterling, Cliven Bundy, or Ted Nugent and completely miss the more pervasive, and thus insidious, structural and ideological expressions of white supremacy. I couldn’t care less about the racist rants of  Donald Sterling when the more devastating expressions of white supremacy are reflected in national and global institutions dedicated to upholding the power of a racialized, white male, capitalist/colonialist elite.

Those expressions are reflected in the racist NATO assault on Libya; IMF-imposed structural adjustment to force the “profligate natives” in the global South to stop wasting state resources on such trivialities as education, the arts, sports and health; the rationalizations for the West’s “responsibility to protect;” the accepted racist musings of Charles Murray on black culture and educational ability; and the racist obscenity of attempting to wipe out a whole people and then subjecting their survivors to ridicule and disrespect with sports team names. Is there really a big leap between being unconcerned about the continued dehumanization of Native peoples in the U.S. and being similarly unconcerned about U.S. drone state terrorism that has killed thousands?

The new slogan for the LA Clippers is “we are one.”  It is a slogan that captures the hypocrisy, dishonesty and denial that characterizes the non-confrontation with the reality of white supremacy and white power in the U.S.  Something that I am sure the originators of the slogan did not see or intend – but that is precisely the point.

Ajamu Baraka is a long-time human rights activist, writer and veteran of the Black Liberation, anti-war, anti-apartheid and Central American solidarity Movements in the United States.  He is currently an Associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C.



Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist, organizer and geo-political analyst. Baraka is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. He is a contributor to “Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence” (CounterPunch Books, 2014). He can be reached at www.AjamuBaraka.com

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