'Black and Bluestein'

Posted: May 15, 2008 12:01 AM
'Black and Bluestein'

I recently traveled to New York. On the plane, I met an actress named Lenora. During the long flight, I learned that a) she's Jewish, b) she works as an actress, and c) was doing a play in the hyper-liberal city of Santa Monica, Calif. Not exactly, I thought, a Reagan Republican.

She asked about my business in New York, and I told her I intended to do a series of TV shows to promote my new book.

"What is the title?" she asked.

Because so many recoil at the title -- finding it offensive -- I decided to talk about the book first. It argues that the civil rights war is over, and the good guys won; that white racism no longer remains a serious problem in America; and that so-called civil rights leaders and their sympathizers -- the media and the Democratic Party -- either believe or want Americans (especially blacks) to believe that race and racism remain a major problem.

"Why," Lenora asked, "if it is no longer a big issue, does the Democratic Party say or believe otherwise?"

"In the case of the Democratic Party," I said, "they cannot win at the presidential level without the 90 to 95 percent monolithic black vote. That is why someone like Democratic Congressman Barney Frank referred to Hurricane Katrina as 'ethnic cleansing by inaction.' He argued -- I kid you not -- that Bush intentionally responded slowly to Katrina so that it would displace blacks from the state, turning Louisiana into more of a red, or pro-Republican, state. This is why," I continued, "Al Gore's former campaign manager, Donna Brazile, referred to the Republican Party as possessing a 'white-boy attitude.'"

When I finished the summary of the book, I said, now here's its title: "Stupid Black Men: How to Play the Race Card -- and Lose."

She paused, and said, "Fantastic title."

Lenora then told me about her play, "Black and Bluestein." It, too, concerns race relations. It's the playwright's (Jerry Mayer, "Bluestein" in the play) autobiographical account of what happened in St. Louis in 1963. Mayer and his father built a housing development. Mayer intended to sell his own house, and move into a new development that he and his father were building only a couple of blocks away. But uh-oh, a black man, Dr. Daniel Black, wanted to buy Mayer's house for him and his family.

What to do?

The other residents in the development (Lenora May, the actress I met on the plane, played a bigoted neighbor) held a vote, and 70 percent wanted Bluestein to refuse to sell to the black family. Furthermore, selling to a black family would threaten the success of Bluestein's new development as the word spread that a black family moved in only a couple of blocks away. How will this change the neighborhood? And what about the threat to property values?

Dr. Black, the would-be buyer, worked as a chemical engineer. Handsome, poised and gracious, he told Bluestein that he did not intend to sue, even after he learned about the development's residents' resistance to him moving in. He calmly said that he expected Bluestein to do the right thing.

I told Lenora the play sounded fascinating, and that I would come to see it. I did.

Funny, sad, tragic but ultimately uplifting and life-affirming, "Black and Bluestein" somewhat paralleled the experience of my family in 1959, when -- while my dad worked as a janitor -- we became the second black family to move into a previously all-white neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles.

After the play, I met the playwright, and told him of my family's story. I spoke with the excellent cast members, including Loren Lester, who played Bluestein with sharp wit and integrity. I had an especially long conversation with John Eric Bentley, the charismatic actor who played Dr. Black. He told me how much he enjoyed my radio show, and he agreed that too many people behave in a "victicrat" manner -- believing that even today, in 2008, racism and bigotry remain major problems.

I told John that, early in the performance, I found it bothersome that he so graciously accepted this racism, until the audience uncovers why he maintained his dignity in the face of such bigotry. John said, as does his character, that he considered calm and steadiness an even bolder statement of strength than lashing out in anger.

I left the play and walked outside into a busy, trendy, upscale Santa Monica street. I passed a black city street cleaner, efficiently and briskly sweeping the street. He looked up. Our eyes met. He smiled and said, "Larry Elder! I can't believe it! I'm gonna tell my wife I met you." I walked over and hugged him.

As we hugged, he whispered in my ear, "And I'm not a victicrat."

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