Before There Were Karens There Were Stephens
Django Unchained, Samuel L. Jackson

Before There Were Karens There Were Stephens

These Black men are motivated by a greater cause than person grievances

Say what you will about Karens, but they are usually only concerned with personal grievances. If you aren’t offending them, they don’t care about you. Not that Karen’s can’t be dangerous. When they falsely accuse Black people of rape or assault, the result can be an Emmett TillBlack Wall StreetRosewood Massacre, the Groveland Four, or the Scottsboro Boys. White women’s lies have destroyed whole communities, but they usually stem from something personal.

Stephens are another matter, as exemplified by the fictional Stephen Warren, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Stephens are Black men, motivated by a greater cause than personal grievances. They seek out personal power to be sure, but their primary purpose is the protection of their white masters/bosses without concern for the harm they do to other Black people. Sometimes that’s even the proof they offer to the whites they are attempting to please, the number of Black lives they’ve destroyed or subjugated in their name.

Stephen in the movie was the head house n*****. He believed in white supremacy and did his part to keep everyone beneath him in their place. He grew up having experienced the lash and inhumane treatment. Having risen to a position of limited power by pleasing his white master, he now oversees the administration of punishment and is responsible for maintaining the status quo. Stephen lives a life of relative comfort, and he eats better food than other Black people. There is an inverse relationship between Stephen’s quality of life and the pain he inflicts on others.

The movie Django Unchained was primarily set in Mississippi in the year 1858. James Buchanan was the president and a staunch believer in state’s rights. A year earlier, the Supreme Court declared in Dred Scott that Black people had no rights white people were bound to respect.

The simplest way a Black man could thrive in 1958 indeed was to do the bidding of the white men. The top positions available were often slavecatchers and overseers, and on the Candyland plantation, it was a Stephen.

We have Stephens in 2024 as well. Once they reach a position of relative power, they are willing to do or say anything to maintain their position lest they get dragged back down to where they came from. Florida Rep. Byron Donalds is such a man. His life didn’t begin as a struggle. He was one of three children raised by a single mother in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn. Donalds graduated high school in 1996 and matriculated to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, FL. Donalds was arrested in 1997 for possession of marijuana in quantities indicating he intended to distribute the drug. The charges were dropped as part of a pre-trial diversion program. He paid a $150 fine.

In 2000, Donalds was arrested for felony theft and attempting to defraud a bank by depositing a bad check into his account. He pleaded no contest and later had his record sealed and expunged. Donalds transferred across town to Florida State University and graduated in 2002. Despite his history of attempting to defraud a bank, Donalds began a banking career with TIB bank, later moving to Wells Fargo. Donalds became active in the Tea Party movement and was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he chaired the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee. In 2020, he eeked out the Republican nomination for Congress in a 7-person field. During the campaign, he called himself a “Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect Black man.” Donalds found success following the Stephen model, giving the white man what he wanted, while those with real power had enough on him to take away his power instantly.

Word of Donalds' criminal past did get out in 2014 when Governor Rick Scott wanted to appoint him to the Board of Directors of Edison State College (now Florida Southwestern University) in Florida. His appointment was delayed while Republicans debated how to handle the situation. They opted to go through with his appointment, knowing he could never oppose them meaningfully. Donalds claimed he was only guilty of theft and not bribery, that the marijuana was for his own use, and that he wasn’t really a drug dealer, so there’s that.

Donalds did attempt one time to stand up to the following Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis when he was changing Black history and touting the benefits of slavery.

Donalds was immediately slapped down by Florida Republicans who accused him of siding with Vice-President Kamala Harris and of being a supposedly conservative congressman.

Donalds was caught between two presidential candidates at the time. He supported Trump, who could have a greater effect on his career, but he wanted to get along with DeSantis, who looked like the Republican future at that point. Stephen couldn’t serve two masters, and neither could Byron Donalds.

Related: When Exactly Did America Stop Being Racist

Donalds pushed back by saying how much he supported the Black History standards, only disagreeing with a single line. After DeSantis dropped out of the race and found his way back to supporting Trump after months of insulting him, Donalds found a way to ingratiate himself with the white supremacists that inhabit his Party by claiming Black people were better off during Jim Crow. Stephen would be proud. When Donalds received the inevitable criticism for his comments, he doubled down but said he was only referring to Black families who were apparently made stronger by redlining, voter suppression, segregation, and mass incarceration.

Donalds seeming purpose in life is to defend white supremacy and reject the mere notion that racism exists.

He defended Trump’s assertion that Black voters will support him because his indictments give them something in common,

During an appearance at George Washington University, Donalds announced that someone had sent a copy of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to his office. That might be considered a badge of honor among his white friends.

It isn’t being a Republican or an alleged conservative that makes Byron Donalds a Stephen. There is no doubt that some Black Democrats fit the bill as well. Senator Tim Scott has some Stephen-like tendencies when he proclaimed, “America isn’t a racist country!” I still give Scott a little credit for standing up to his Party’s attempt to appoint some racist federal judge appointments. He at least drew a line somewhere, though he might yet sell his soul to become Trump’s vice presidential nominee.

Donalds is a Stephen because of his willingness to run to the front of the line to support white supremacist views when his masters get in trouble for supporting them. Donald is still at the stage where he’ll take a bullet for Trump and others. Not yet realizing they will turn on him in a New York minute if it benefits them. He’s also at a stage where he’ll turn a figurative assault rifle on Black people if it will help him in any way. Donalds has his supporters for as long as he does their bidding. Stephens only have value as long as they contribute to the power of others, and help take down those who look like him. Donalds advocates for voter suppression, as you might expect.

Donald's name appears on all the lists of potential Trump running mates. He has as much chance of being picked as he did when his name was placed in nomination as House Speaker during the debacle surrounding Speaker Kevin McCarthy's removal. Like Stephen, Donalds will be used until he can’t be used anymore. The benefits of being a Stephen are short-term, and the penalties can be severe. We will see what fate awaits Mr. Donalds, hopefully, the one he deserves.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of William Spivey's work on Medium. And if you dig his words, buy the man a coffee.