“Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? They say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.“ – W.E.B. DuBois in Souls of Black Folk.
With these opening lines from his classic book, Souls of Black Folk, Dr. W.E. B. DuBois illustrates the plight of Africans descended into and throughout the American democratic experiment. Why are black Americans such a nuisance to white Americans? Why such a problem? Has there ever been an enduring black American terrorists group like the Klu Klux Klan in America? Have black Americans ever tried to round-up other groups into concentration or refugee camps? Did black Americans force their more nature-inclined brethren into a “Trail of Tears” and actually carry-out genocide? We’ve been almost exclusively violent only toward ourselves. So why are black Americans so hated by so many white Americans?
These questions can be understood through the events that unfolded with L.A. Clippers owner, Donald Tokowitz, oh excuse me, Donald Sterling. As his self-directed surname change suggests, Mr. Sterling, (who is the son of Jewish immigrants with surname Tokowitz) has long sought to distance himself from ‘the lower classes’. In many ways he represents the ‘Old-guard’ of white supremacists who believe that America, and the world at large I’m sure, should be stratified into classes where whites are all right and blacks are out of sight and generally relegated to a labor class. This caste orientation is, of course, how America was founded in the first place. So much so that the original constitution didn’t even mention the institution of slavery. And there-in lies the first explanations of why black Americans are such a ‘problem’.
“I was suppose to have nothing, but I made something out of that!” – Black Thought of The Roots
Black Americans are a problem because we’ve upset the original white supremacist paradigm where society was organized into very neat social orders placing all non-whites in a conscious state of ‘knowing your place’ while white Americans were free to grab everything this ‘land of opportunity’ yielded. Freedom, civil rights, and employment rights all represent ascensions by non-white Americans into the higher orders of society….. exactly opposite of what the original American plan was.
What Donald Sterling attempted to do was to school his ‘side’ (Miss V. Stiviano) to the fact that ‘there’s levels to this’. In his world, those social order ‘levels’ stipulated that his class status required him to have distinct distances from ‘black people’. As grotesque as his opinion is, he decided to ‘put her onto game’. I don’t take issue with Sterling’s private conversation; at least he articulated it. My issue is with his actions!
Like the black American sports journalist at ESPN, Bomani Jones, articulated the other day, Mr. Sterling’s real transgressions reside in his actions that inflicted his white supremacist and separatist views. Those actions can be seen in his racist decisions to manipulate and deny access to housing for black and latino residents of Los Angeles for real estate he controlled. Purposely keeping black and latino residents out of safer neighborhoods, or the reverse, keeping black and latino residents trapped in barrios and ghettos is racism in action. This form of intentional separation, this class warfare, is the real transgression we should focus on.