Black White Man

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

Archive for December, 2011

Thoughts on a Manifesto

I’ve been writing this blog, on and off, for over five years now, and I’ve been thinking recently about what kind of overall patterns are emerging in my posts. Here, in no particular order, are some ideas that I think should eventually go into a Black White Manifesto:

— Multiracial people like myself, Americans with one Black parent and one White parent, are basically Black people. Within the context of American culture “Black” people are already mixed race.
— That being said, light-skinned Blacks such as myself may have a very different experience of racism. It’s not that we haven’t experienced it, we have. But our experience is different. Nobody has ever been afraid that I was going to mug them, for example.
— Racism is still a problem in this country. One can easily prove this by looking at certain statistics. It’s indisputable that Black people are, on average, more poorly educations, more often incarcerated, and subject to more poverty and disease. If you don’t believe that racism is a factor in our culture, you must believe that Black people are less intelligent and more violent than White people. The assertion that racism is a thing of the past is, then, a not-so-subtle assertion of racism in itself.
— If racism is still a factor, then what is to be done about it? I think the first thing to do, ironically, is to de-stigmatize it. We have to be able to talk about racism, and the conversation needs to rise about accusations and name-calling. If our culture is systematically racist, then lots of people must be racist because of the mis-education they have received from the culture at large.
— As a multi-racial person I have a weird fascination with mixed race celebrities. This is maybe the only pattern in this blog without any political overtones. I just like to comment on mulattoes in the media.

Refutation of Scientific Arguments for Racism

For Dr. Watson and Other Racists, Racism Lies in It’s Simplicity [via T’ings ‘n Times]

One of the things I find most interesting about our history of racism is the various logical frameworks, scientific and theologic, which have been used to prop up systems of discrimination. Here we shockingly see science being quoted by one of the worlds’ most noted scientists. But, it goes to show you that we can’t really trust that people will be generally consistent. Scientists are not better people just because of their exposure to a system which hopefully helps us arrive at the truth, any more than priests are better people because of long exposure to the system of ethics and morality. Unfortunately, the best of us have an extraordinary ability to rationalize around our weaknesses.

In a weird sadistic way, I actually like walking through these types a racist thought processes. I believe that everyone should challenge their beliefs on occasion. I’d a relish the opportunity to look at something like this and use it to try to challenge my own beliefs. I have to admit that anyone would be hard pressed to convince me that Africans are less intelligent than anyone else — just because my mother may be the smartest person I know, and if not she’s very close. But, I entertained the idea as seriously as I could, and I do appreciate the chance to do that. Thankfully, it seemed to fall flat for me.

Mainly the problem, as this wonderful blog post points out, is that “Africans” have very little in common physically. Height and weight, eye shape, body type, genetic resistance to diseases, even skin color, show a huge amount of variation across the continent. Our concept of “race” is mired largely in skin color and accidents of geography, and has very little to do with anything else.

Even if you subscribe to the idea of measurable genetic variation between the “races” (which I don’t), I’m not convinced that intelligence is highly genetic in that way. If you look at things that vary from country to country, or even family to family, they tend to be gross physical characteristics: height, hair color and the like. If someone has a father and mother who are very tall and have a great sense of humor, I would put more money on tall, humorless children than on short comedians. Human beings are born with underdeveloped brains compared to other animals. We develop most of our cultural traits after we are born. Consider that we are hardwired to learn language, for example, but which language we learn is an accident of our upbringing. Why should intelligence be any different. Clearly there is a component of intelligence which is genetic. But, it seems to me that it’s just as much about upbringing and education. Some things I have read point to intelligence being 50% “heritable”. In that case, I’m not sure we would even have the tools to factor out the other 50% which is about the specifics of upbringing, education and so forth.

Lenny Kravitz

It seems like a lot of the mixed race people I talk about on this site come as a surprise. Most people I talk to, anyway, are shocked to find out that people like Vin Deisel, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Slash are all mixed like me. But, Lenny Kravitz is cool because he’s always been totally out and obvious. His mom was the white lady neighbor on “The Jeffersons”. And I’ve always appreciated that his music seems to encompass and transcend the divide between white music and black music that happens too often in this country. I’d compare him to Jimi Hendrix and Prince in that way, although both of those fine gentlemen are, as far I know, not multi-racial.

Jennifer Beals

Not to be confused with Jessica Beals, who is not, as far as I know, Black in any way. Jennifer Beals is the 80s icon who was in Flashdance. And she’s recently had a bit of a comeback with both “The L Word” and “Chicago Code”. She actually comes from Chicago. I live in Chicago now, and I feel like there’s a special meaning, for me, to know that she’s biracial from the Windy City. This city is so very segregated. Ms. Beals is a South Sider, but her dad is African American and her mom is Irish American. These are usually populations that don’t mix overly. I’m not usually one to fawn over celebrities if I happen to run into them in person (which I’ve done once or twice). But, I would love to ask Ms. Beals what it was like growing up biracial in Chicago in the 1970s.

Great Post about Jennifer Beals [via Black Snob]

Turn Off Channel Zero

BET, MTV, VH1 Believed to Promote Harmful Activities Among Youth

Marvin Gaye’s rendition of the National Anthem

Marvin Gaye Singing the National Anthem [slyt]
full story by Thomas Dolby [via counterpunch]

Much has been said about user-contributed content and social networks, and how they encourage us to chronicle every little bit of trivia in our lives as it whizzes by. I’m not sure I believe that. But, more, I think that the Internet’s ability to uncover nuggets from the past is remarkable, and shouldn’t be overlooked. Particularly for minorities and others whose histories are not always found in the obvious places, the internet is a vast treasure trove of information about us and our place.

Maybe I’m making too much of a deal out of one pop singer doing a rendition of the national anthem at a basketball game. But, Dolby’s story is so moving, and has been echoed by many people I’ve talked to, both about this clip and other things from the youth of my mother’s generation.

Figurative sci-fi racism is a smokescreen for literal sci-fi racism

In the last few years there have been a couple of movies that came out with a certain amount of controversy around symbolic racism — where I have been more concerned about the actual racism.   In particular, District 9 and the most recent remake of King Kong both drew an enormous amount of hit for the racism in the science fiction elements which are central to each piece. Critics analyzed the insectile District-9 aliens as being evil, cunning creatures which live in a slum, and drew them as parallel to racial minorities. Many critics said that King Kong, being an ape, was an obvious metaphor for the Black Man. I find these issues interesting in themselves, and am frankly undecided on their merits. But, I’m more disturbed that the critics seem to overlooked the overt non-metaphorical racism in both movies. The portrayal of Black South Africans in District 9 mainly consists of insulting their native religions with a half-baked belief that if they, the Black South Africans, eat the aliens meat they will gain their virility. The portrayal of Pacific Islanders in King Kong is infinitely worse, hearkening back to colonial images of death-worshiping savages beating drums and demanding virgin sacrifices to their bizarre primitive gods. Both movies need to upbraided for their portrayal of real people before we start to get into the potential problems with the fictional elements!

De-desegregation in the Chicago Public Schools

Way back in 1980, there was a court ordered “consent decree” that the Chicago Public Schools should desegregate.   Out of that decree came a lot of affirmative-action style quota systems, and a robust busing system for the city of Chicago.   As a result, the current system allows Chicago students an unusual amount of choice in schools.   Even aside from the “selective enrollment” schools, basically gifted schools which you have to test into, there are magnet schools all over the city, and a system in place wherein a student can apply to neighborhood schools other than ones one.    Most of these processes where established in reaction to the desegregation rules, but aren’t specifically racial in their implementation.   Any student can apply to any neighborhood school, for example.

Fast-forward to 2009 and a state court ruled the consent decree to be unconstitutional — basically a formalized version of the idea that affirmative action is reverse racism which targets whites.   The city has been scrambling ever since to rework its diversity policies to operate on the basis of economic background instead of race.   Personally, I think that affirmative action is important.  But, I also think that the huge overlap between class and race, especially in Chicago, means that it’s better for Blacks and Hispanics that there be an economically based affirmative action than nothing at all.

The problem that’s growing in Chicago is that the emphasis on diversity is now entirely simply a priority of the executive branch (that is, the Mayor’s office and the Public School system), whereas before it was a matter of compliance with the law.   When the consent decree was first overturned the largely liberal and Democratic Chicago government put a lot of work into keeping the diversity based systems in place, just changing their specific criteria.   But, as they deal with the city’s budget crisis during the recession, diversity is becoming less and less of a priority and those systems are quickly becoming eroded.   Now we’re seeing neighborhood schools which do not accept applicants from outside their neighborhood.   This is understandable from their point of view, because their physical buildings are at capacity and they have no more seats after the neighborhood students enroll.   But, previously they were required to admit some percentage of outside students for desegregation.   Also, the very existence of magnet schools is becoming a question as the city assesses it’s spending across the board.    We’re already paying tax money for each student to have a neighborhood school, the thinking goes, can we afford to also pay for other, optional, schools in the city?

If we continue along this coarse, we’re going to slide back to the 1970s or 1960s in Chicago.   Kids in neighborhoods with failing local schools already don’t have enough options.   Even in Chicago going to a good school often involves chancy applications with acceptance rates of 1:100, and even if you do get in it may involve lengthy commutes that parents just may not be able to make.   But, it’s at least something.   If you take that away, what have you got left?