Black White Man

My mother is black, and my father is white. I walk among you.

Archive for November, 2007

Rodney King shot by birdshot

Well, ain’t this just a bitch. More than ten years after the riots in LA, Rodney King is in the news again for something shady. For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with his exploits, he’s been in trouble with the law for a variety of small-time crimes, such as speeding, driving while intoxicated, and drug possession. He’s basically been leading the kind of Lindsay-Lohan style life that gets you repeatedly into small-time trouble.

Now it’s possible that this is just the kind of guy he is. He was, after all, involved in a high speed chase before he got his civil rights literally beaten out of him on that fateful day in 1994. And whatever. There’s plenty of folks of every race and creed who get repeatedly involved in petty crimes like this. But I guess I’m prone to see patterns where maybe there aren’t any, and it bothers me. Thinking back to the riots let me to dig a little into the white trucker that was beaten during the riots, and the black kids who did it. Like the cops who beat Rodney King, they were acquitted. But out of the six of them, one was later shot dead in a nightclub, and one is currently serving life for killing a drug dealer. Again, you could chalk this all up to lifestyle choices: the “LA Four” were members of the crips, and clearly they chose to beat a white trucker nearly half-to-death. But I wonder if there isn’t a larger point you can make here about being trapped in a cycle. Even though he achieved a measure of national celebrity, and a $4million dollar settlement, Rodney just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. Despite being found innocent of a beating a guy half to death, the LA Four haven’t faired much better. By contrast, the white people in these situations seem to be doing relatively fine (other than losing their jobs and having his head caved in… subsequently they seem to be doing alright).

The recurrence of the noose: a “white backlash” to the protests for the Jena 6?

I found this article to be an interesting exploration of the noose as a symbol of terrorism, and whether the famous noose used in Jena earlier this year has changed our impression of it. I have to say, I’ve been pretty well aware of the use of nooses and other threatening symbols (burning crosses, graffiti, swastikas), and I haven’t noticed any increase since Jena.

A few years ago, when I was in Boston, someone left a noose in the parking space of a motorcycle cop down at the precinct. At the time, the BPD was trying a controversial measure to *combat* the white-on-white as well as white-on-black racism which is endemic in Boston. Under this new measure every year some portion of the officers would be transferred to another precinct. The idea was to get the precincts mixed up, ethnically, so that people were working along side Irishmen, Poles, Italians, and, of course, Black officers. So, yeah. One of the results was a noose.

My point here is that I was very aware that this had happened, but it never really got into the mainstream media, and my white friends where generally ignorant of it. So, I don’t think that this kind of thing is becoming more common, I just think that the mainstream newswatcher (or websurfer, as the case may be) is a bit more sensitive to it.

Sadly, it happens all the time, everywhere.

Don’t underestimate the effect of social racism on the measurement of intelligence

Although clumsily written, this rough draft of an undergraduate paper has a good synopsis of modern support for the concept that Black people are genetically less intelligent than White people (ridiculous). The point I’d like to react to, is that the Bell Curve uses mixed-race adoptions to support it’s thesis. The idea here is that, since Black children adopted into white families still show a lower IQ on standardized tests than white children adopted into the same families, that some sort of control for environmental factors can highlight inherent differences. I don’t think that follows at all.

When I was in Middle School, my best friend was another mulatto who, I think, was roughly in the same ballpark as me in terms of intelligence. We went to the same middle school. Both of us were raised by a single mom, and both of our moms had post graduate degrees. But by the time we were 18, I was being accepted to ivy league schools and my old best friend was graduating from juvenile delinquency centers. I chalk no small part of this up to social expectations. My friend was dark, passing as Black all the time, and I am very light, passing as white all the time. This may or may not have made a difference in our home life, but it certainly made a difference at school and in the world at large. Simply put — as children we often incarnate the expectations of us from the world outside of our home. And very few people are going to look at a class of 30 fifth graders and think that the really smart future scientist is the Black kid. It’s sad, but it’s true. And I would think that a lot of people are going to look at that class of 30 fifth graders and think that one of the young Black boys is the future trouble maker.

A History of Strong Black Women in my Family Bible

My mom’s family (the Black side of the family) has a great, old, family Bible. It’s one of those afro-centric Bibles, with wonderful painted illustrations of Black Moses and Black Christ and all the Black disciples. It’s big and thick, and mostly waterproof. There’s something puffy and leather-like about the cover. In short, it’s a wonderful bible to have as the family bible.

At the front of the Bible it holds genealogy information, going back five generations (six including my kids). I was looking through it the other day and noticed that the genealogy in my family bible is actually matrilineal — it’s the history of the women in my family. All the men, going five generations back, were drifters of one sort or the other. They travelled the world, and rode harleys and in general were badasses who didn’t necessarily stick around with their women or for their families.

I hope that this isn’t as relevant to my experience as a Black man as I fear that it just might be. In any case, I plan to be around for my son. Not that my wife isn’t great, but I hope that she’s not the main branch of my new family tree, the way that women have always been in my family.

It’s been 30 years, and I still feel awkward about my “race”

I was blogging on the bus today, and I realized that I felt uncomfortable posting here when strangers were looking over my shoulder. In the immortal words of the Hardest Working Man in Showbiz, “I’m black and I’m proud.” I know this. But I also know that random person who doesn’t know me is going to think “this guy is black??” right off the bat. I just don’t want to deal with this sort of thing. I probably shouldn’t worry about what strangers on the bus think, but there it is.

“Black” with a hushed voice

As a white-skinned guy who considers himself Black, one of the things that I suffer and enjoy is being privy to the way that white people talk about Black people behind their backs. Sometimes it’s overt racism… but more commonly it’s just an insinuation… a tone of voice… or a sideways glare.

In particular when describing Black people, white people often have this weird hushed tone. It’s like they have to mention it (I don’t know why, but the tall, Black guy in the glasses is usually “the Black guy”), but they feel guilty about it or something. You can say it proudly, or you can choose something else to distinguish people. But this weird guilty tone is… weirdly guilty

“You no longer represent the voice of African Americans”

Oh, my. This is a prime illustration of the perils of “ethnic studies”. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great for people to study other cultures. But you have to distinguish between the things that you learn in school, and the things that you learn by, well, being.

My mom is a prominent research doctor who has a lot of occasion to talk about disease in the African-American community. She’s a little older now and has been doing the Jefferson’s thing for a little while, moving on up, but she’s made a real effort to stay in the community.

Anyway, she’s got a co-worker, a white lady, who is the resident expert sociologist who has studied African-American culture in post-grad studies. She had some disagreement with my mom and told her point blank that my mom, a Black woman, can’t really speak to the African-American experience anymore, basically insinuating that if you’re a professional, academic or affluent African-American that your experience is somehow inauthentic.

This is one of the most insidious problems, I think in both the white and Black communities. Members of the Black middle and upper class are seen as “sell-outs” who aren’t “real,” and therefore there’s pressure to _not_ be upwardly mobile. Getting this from an over-educated white woman is just adding insult to the injury.

A Black White Woman

It’s amazing to me how the ethnicity of African people can be judged solely on the color of their skin. Looking at this beautiful woman from a recent Marie Claire article, it’s clear to me that she’s Black… even though she’s not, um, Black. Her nose, lips, eyes and hair are all purely African. It’s no suprise that she’s an albino. And yet, from her own account, she generally taken to be white by strangers. This is mind-boggling to me.Kenosha Robinson

Sanford and Son

When I grow up, I want to be like Redd Foxx. He’s such a bitter, funny, mean old man, on the surface. But whenever push comes to shove, he’s so sweet and giving. Why aren’t there shows like this on TV more? Sanford and Son is such a far cry above all the various WB black sitcoms; even so far above the Cosby Show. It’s just like Nas says, “What ever happened to Weezy, the Redd Foxxes? / Never got Emmies, but were real to me.

Hip Hop + Kung Fu

When I was growing up, as a fan of Gospel, Jazz and the Motown classics, I had a kind of inherent dislike of cross-over artists. Beastie Boys were basically just a white rip-off of Run DMC and the Fat Boys. Frank Sinatra was ripping off the Big Band crooners like Ella and Louis. And let’s not start on Elvis.