The residents of Post-Racial America are really having a rough week, eh? Cliven Bundy’s lack of clarity on whether or not slavery would be “better” for the Negro than the alternative, followed by Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s upset at seeing said Negroes at his game watching his Negroes play ball and pose with his Negro girlfriend–I’d imagine it’s even harder than ever for “New Blacks” to act like we’ve overcome, and for not-so-new Whites to act like we never had anything to overcome in the first place. But those folks who are particularly adept at calling out Black people for having the wrong reaction in the face of racism? Best week ever.
Finding out that a White octogenarian multimillionaire is a despicable racist is about as shocking as finding out that someone who eats burgers and fries for lunch each day has high blood pressure. This latest incident and the more tragic ones we’ve come to know of (the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, the over-prosecution of Marissa Alexander, for example) are, for me, sadly unsurprising. And as the internet and 24-hour cable news cycle has given us the opportunity to air out behaviors that may have once been kept secret, I’ve also become astoundingly good at predicting at how the public will react in these situations.
For example, I’m certain that we’re less than 24-hours away from the moment where V. Stiviano, the curious young woman who outed her now ex-boyfriend and likely benefactor, becomes the real enemy. Who is she and why was she sleeping with him in the first place and she set him up and these ____ ain’t loyal and these gold digging Black women can’t be trusted.
Don’t believe me, just watch.
I’m also unsurprised at how quickly the narrative shifted from what’s wrong with Sterling to what’s wrong with Black people, namely those who play for the Los Angeles Clippers. Decades since we’ve had anything resembling a serious race man or woman in professional sports, the expectation that the mostly-millennial Clippers were going recreate the 1968 Olympics overnight is just unrealistic and shortsighted. And while it’s terribly sad that a group of millionaires can’t quickly mobilize to find a way to boycott a racist boss without destroying their own careers (and, perhaps more importantly, ensuring that the people who earn $8.50 an hour selling hot dogs at the game don’t go without a check due to righteous indignation they can’t afford), I also am bothered by one young writer’s attempt at calling them out.
“I want to reach Black people. I must go to Gawker,” said no one ever.
Alas, rapper Homeboy Sandman chose the site as the home for his ‘you-got-me-all-the-way-messed-up-with-this-title’ essay “Black People Are Cowards,” in which he blasts the perceived apathy of the Clippers and Black people at large for failing to address racism in a meaningful way. For the record, I often enjoy Gawker—but I recognize it as a traditionally White male dominated space and would never expect for anyone who seriously thought they were going to touch the hearts and minds of Black people to go there looking for us. (Perhaps that speaks to what may be one of my own career limitations—a refusal to talk about Black people’s problems to White people unless I’m holding up a mirror to them.) (Perhaps Mr. Sandman wasn’t looking for us in the first place.) (Is there anything more cowardly than attempting to hold up a mirror to Black people about their flaws and using White hands to prop your arm up? Asking for the many young Black writers who do this often.)
There is so often an immediate need to reframe any incident of racism BY POINTING fingers at the people of color who may have been affected by it for, either, provoking the abuse or failing to respond properly—we are wrong when we riot, wrong when we forgive, we are almost always wrong. For me, this essay was just one of many examples of how difficult it is for even the most Black-loving us to truly point a finger at White supremacy as an institution, ever. We can call out individual racists, we can call Black people “cowards,” but we can rarely engage the totality of racism—the structures that empower and embolden a Sterling (and make him compelling to a young, beautiful woman of color who shouldn’t want to be within ten feet of him) and that prevent the Clippers, hell, the whole NBA, from knowing both the significance of a well-organized boycott and that they are powerful enough to enact one.
Black folks are always low-hanging fruit. It’s much easier for us to attack Chris Paul and V. Stiviano for not being principled enough than it is for us to challenge the relative silence from NBA front offices, or for those of us who only found out who Donald Sterling is because of this incident to ask why he wasn’t run out the NBA after his gross housing discrimination practices were brought to light. It’s always easier for everyone, from Donald Trump (not linking—he said something awful, as he as apt to do), to Kareem Abdul Jabar (who seems to pity Sterling even while taking him to task), to Homeboy Sandman to see the shortcomings of us—real or imagined. And that, friends, is how White supremacy soldiers on. Not because we are “cowards,” but because it is widely believed in and outside our ranks that we are always wrong.
I hope that this incident gives us yet another opportunity to reexamine our responses to racism and learn to leverage the economic and social capital that we have in addressing it. And we should be mindful not to address those our own people/allies with the vitriol that should be reserved for enemies, even when they don’t act in the community’s best interest. We have a long way to go in terms of understanding White supremacy and the impact it has on our lives, but we won’t get there by being just as convinced of the inherent deficiency of Black people as those who work diligently to keep us oppressed.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com's Senior Editor.