By George E. Curry
Why would a white racist have sex with a person of color?
That’s the question that few people in the media want to raise, let alone address. But it is an age-old contradiction not limited to Donald Sterling, the hate spewing soon-to-be former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Beginning with slavery in the original colonies—even earlier in Africa with the arrival of European colonizers—white men have forced themselves on black women. Caucasian men from Thomas Jefferson on the left to South Carolina senator and longtime arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond on the right have projected one image in public while having sex—even children—with black women under the cover of darkness. They were talking white (superiority ) while sleeping black.
I don’t for a moment pretend to know how to explain this obvious contraction. But in the case of Thomas Jefferson, the chief author of the Declaration of Independence, contradictions became a way of life long before he bedded and had children with Sally Hemings, a black woman.
Jefferson will forever be inextricably linked to these words in the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
At the time our Founding Fathers were proclaiming unalienable rights from God, most of them were enslaving God’s dark-skin creations. Jefferson enslaved nearly 200 African Americans.
As Columbia University history professor Eric Foner wrote, “Slaves, of course, experienced the institution of politics and law quite differently from white Americans. Before the law, slaves were property who had virtually no legal rights. They could be bought, sold, leased and seized to satisfy an owner’s debt, their family ties had no legal standing, and they could not leave the plantation or hold meetings without permission from their owner.”
And white owners did not need anyone’s permission to violate black women.
Jefferson began having sex with Sally Hemings, one of his domestic servants, when she was a teenager. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation acknowledges that it “and most historians believe that, years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson was the father of the six children of Sally Hemings mentioned in Jefferson’s records, including Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston Hemings.”
South Carolina, like Virginia, had laws prohibiting both interracial marriage and intercourse between blacks and whites. If a free black man had sex with a white woman in South Carolina during the Colonial period, he would automatically lose his freedom, according to Judge A. Leon Higginbothan, Jr.’s book, In the Matter of Color.
Years later, Strom Thurmond’s interracial dalliances would represent the height of hypocrisy.
Running for president in 1948 on the Dixiecrat ticket he said: “I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and accept the Negro into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches.”
Fifty years ago, Thurmond led the filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, still the longest debate in Senate history.
Thurmond referred to Negroes as “nigras.” But while publically despising blacks, he had a different attitude in the bedroom, impregnating his parents’ 16-year-old maid. The daughter of that encounter, Essie Washington-Williams, wrote in her autobiography, “As much as I wanted to belong to him, I never felt like a daughter, only an accident.”
Armstrong Williams, a black conservative who began working Thurmond in 1978, recalled the senator confirming he was Washington-Williams’ biological father.
“The subject came up again while the senator and I were attending a South Carolina State football game in Orangeburg. He mentioned how he had arranged for Mrs. Williams to attend the college while he was governor…,” Williams wrote. “‘When a man brings a child in the world, he should take care of that child,’ he told me, and added, “‘She’ll never say anything and neither will you. Not while I’m alive.’”
And neither did—until after Thurmond’s death.
Considering the history of Thomas Jefferson and Strom Thurmond, no one should have been surprised when Donald Sterling told his mistress, who described herself as part Mexican and part black:
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?…You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games…
“I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people…Don’t put him (Magic Johnson) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”
Donald Sterling, far from being a rarity, simply added another link to the long, scandalous U.S. history of hypocrisy.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.