The LA Clippers and the Ring Shout

In response to LA Clipper's owner Donald Sterling white supremacist plantation world view, the Clipper players performed a silent protest by walking on to the court, taking off their warm-up jackets, tossing them on the center court circle with the team logo, and went through their pregame rituals wearing their team t-shirts inside out so the Clipper logo couldn't be seen. Check it out:

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Many things to love about this:

  • The collective action of the team coming up and performing the protest ritual.
  • It was a heavy, directed, and focused intent without words.
  • The players used their bodies to express their dissent and their prophetic power as a team. Black bodies are seen and treated, as Sterling articulated, as menacing. In this act of protest, the players  used their bodies to express solidarity and their world view.
  • The Clippers used the public space of a basketball court to protest. Granted, you had to have a ticket (or a video stream) to see it live.  The protest wasn't isolated to their locker room or Clipper office building.  They used their court---the space where their blood, sweat, hopes, dreams, and tears are shed and played out.
  • Those in attendance became part of the protest in their witnessing.
  • The Clippers used the center of the court  where the team logo is painted to place their jerseys. The deconstructed themselves by taking off the jersey and constructed themselves as a new team, disconnected from their white supremacist owner, with their t-shirts inside out.
  • On center court is a circle, a sacred symbol with many layers of meaning.

The circle took me back to a paper I wrote my first year at Union Seminary in NYC on the Ring Shout.

The Ring Shout is one of the oldest African-American performance rituals in North America. Originating in West and Central Africa, the Ring Shout was brought to the coastal communities of South Carolina and Georgia, called Gullah communities, as Africans were enslaved on these barrier islands.

Creating a ring, or a circle, the Ring Shout is a counterclockwise dance-like movement performed with shuffling, shifting, call and response singing, hand clapping, and a stick creating a drum-like experience. The Ring Shout was performed at woods in the night, around church buildings, and it was performed for themselves.

In the Ring Shout, the participants move their bodies in a circle, creating a embodied symbol that represents the connection between past, present, and future. The past--life and cosmology in West/Central Africa. The present--enslaved on the barrier islands of SC and GA. The future---liberation and emancipation.

As white supremacist/plantation owners treated enslaved Africans as less than human, the Ring Circle affirmed African bodies as fully human, creating a sacred visibility and community in the face of an imperial reality.

The circle and the circular movement was a visual expression of life before the Middle Passage and considered necessary to access the Divine, all necessary and embodied connections for survival and liberation.

The LA Clippers didn't perform a Ring Shout. Yet I'm still taken by the players use of the circle in center court, how they gathered themselves loosely in a circle in center court,  and how a circle was created in the Ring Shout. For me, the symbols are connected in the direct, embodied action to claim humanity, to claim black bodies as sacred/human/fully divine as white supremacist owners tried, in past and present, to dehumanize and make a profit off black bodies.

The Miami Heat acted out a "call and response" by doing the same protest a day or two later.

The circle on center court and the Ring Shout symbolizes an unbroken thread of agency in the face of white supremacy, and not just Sterling's supremacy, but in social structures and society at-large. These circles build a connection for me in public, protest ritual of past and present, cutting into white privilege that the actions of Donald Sterling are an isolated, one-time-only, outrageous event.

The Ring Shout put the Clippers protest into a historical  and cultural context.