Grown Zone

V. Stiviano & The Myth of the “Gangsta” Gold-digger

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In the week since Donald Sterling, the 81-year-old billionaire Los Angeles Clippers owner, was hit with a $2.5 million fine and lifetime ban from the NBA due to the leaking of tapes containing his racists rants, the media and others have been intent on learning about the 31-year-old woman at the center of the scandal, V. Stiviano (born Maria Vanessa Perez).

The daughter of a Mexican mother and African-American father, Stiviano was raised in Section 8 housing in San Antonio. By the time she’d finished high school, she’d moved from Texas to Los Angeles, had plastic surgery to fix skin problems and changed her name. After graduating from high school, she began modeling, following a path of countless young women pursuing ambitions of Hollywood fame and fortune.

In 2010, she was introduced to Sterling during the Super Bowl. Four years later, she lives in a $1.8 million condo and owns two Bentleys, a Ferrari and a Range Rover, all gifts either directly purchased by or paid for with money she received from Sterling. While Stiviano has been widely referred to as Sterling’s girlfriend or mistress, the nature of their relationship is under dispute.

Sterling’s wife, Shelly, has filed a suit seeking the return of the condo and cars, claiming Stiviano used sex to manipulate her husband into purchasing the items. However, Stiviano denies a sexual or romantic relationship, most notably in an interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20 this past Friday, saying that she was Sterling’s personal assistant and describing their relationship as like that of a father and daughter, not a rich man and his young plaything.

No matter who you choose to believe, one of the narratives that has emerged from the conversations around the news reports, stories and rumors is the one that paints Stiviano as the exception to the rule of the exploited, disgraced and discarded mistress—a successful gold-digger and “gangsta” side chick who came out on top. In fact, at least one popular blogger and author, Demetria Lucas, compares Stiviano with Frank Underwood, the ruthless, calculating, Machiavallian character played by Kevin Spacey in the hit Netflix original series House of Cards.

While many, if not most, would reject playing the role of willing side chick at any price, there are too many others who will point to Stiviano as inspiration for adult-and-messy choices that may—may—lead to short-term material gain, but is all but guaranteed to result in long-term injury and pain, proving unhealthy, and therefore not self-loving and far from Grown. For those tempted to believe that Grown, healthy love is possible via the willing side chick route—or that the rewards of skilled gold-digging outweigh the value of relationships of honor, esteem and respect—we have this piece of advice: Don’t believe the hype. Tales of successful gold-digging nearly always exaggerates the rewards, while dismissing the risks—the greatest of which is diminishing your capacity for self-love, the foundation of all healthy relationships.

First, let’s deal with the exaggerated rewards. Going from Section 8 housing to a $1.8 million luxury condo is a significant upgrade, but nowhere near “gangsta” territory, even if you throw in another couple of million dollars for good measure. For Stiviano to be the Frank Underwood of gold diggers, she would have to end up owning and running her own NBA franchise, requiring a net worth of a least a few hundred million dollars.

Even if you assume that Stiviano keeps everything she gained via her relationship with Donald Sterling either by settling or successfully defending herself against the civil suit filed by Shelly Sterling, the cars represent depreciating assets of diminishing value and increasing maintenance costs, and the condo comes with hefty mortgage bills and other expenses.

Throw in income taxes and her lawyer’s fees, and Stiviano is no better off than your average NBA player after four years in the league—far from set for life and as likely to end up bankrupt as she is to gain financial security. Wealth is not what you get, but what you can keep and afford to maintain. A love of designer shoes and clothes and an appetite for a luxurious lifestyle of conspicuous consumption—especially without fiscal discipline and a commitment to financial education—is not a recipe for lasting financial security, as has been proven by countless pro athletes, entertainers and others once thought to be set for life. So if we are using V. Stiviano as the standard, with the understanding that she is currently denying having traded sexual favors for financial gain, the rewards of gold-digging are comparatively modest.

But more to the point of our Grown Zone mission is the issue of healthy, self-loving choices, and the price one pays when trading self-worth for material gain. In the Grown Zone, you either treasure (protect the value of) access to your sexuality or you trade it (treat it as currency). The latter rarely, if ever, leads to healthy relationships of honor, esteem and respect—which in the Grown Zone are beyond material or financial value. Any price set for access to your body is less than priceless, which means trading your self-worth, including your sexuality (which we believe is inextricably connected to who you are) immediately diminishes the perception of your value—specifically in your own eyes. Once relationships become transactional they become unhealthy, regardless of the value of the material goods being traded. Ultimately, no one can love or value you more highly than you do yourself. So anything you do to reduce your love of self reduces your capacity to receive healthy love from others.

Does this mean that a gold digger can never find Grown, healthy love? Of course not. But the lifestyle of the gold-digging side chick comes with a price, a diminution of self-love and perception of self-worth that must be restored in order to be healthy enough to attract and sustain relationships of honor, esteem and respect.

Live in the Grown Zone.

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About GrownZone


Zara Green and Alfred Edmond Jr., named to Black Love Forum’s “14 Most Inspiring Black Couples” list for 2014, are co-principals of A2Z Personal Growth Enterprises, producer of The Grown Zone. Zara is a speaker/trainer & author. Alfred is an award-winning journalist and expert on business and personal finance. The couple, both “Do-Better Fanatics”, lead sessions on personal growth, self-love and resiliency, healthy relationships and “grown” decision-making at live events across the country.

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