Black White Man

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

Archive for January, 2012

Grammar in Black and white

Both in high school and in college, I was taught that ‘Black’ should be capitalized and ‘white’ should not. I think that’s ridiculous. I have no idea where it came from, and frankly I don’t particularly care. I’m of the opinion that etymology is interesting, but rarely relevant.

It seems to me that, for both ‘black’ and ‘white’, they should be capitalized for the majority of the time when dealing with a cultural identity and not capitalized on the rare occasions when you really are just talking about physical characteristics. Now, I realize that I’m more sensitive to the distinction than most people, but I think it’s important to the grammar. I think one should say that Obama is Black and Bush is White. But, I think you should say that Indigenous Australians are black and Iranians are white.

An open letter from a multi-racial man to the Black community

I found this letter, “” [via the Voice Online] to be fascinating. I haven’t encountered as much resistance to my describing myself as Black from within the Black community as I have from White people. But, then, I’ve spent much more of my life in White communities. So, I suppose that might explain it. I would also maybe argue with him, from the point of view of a lighter-skinned Black guy. I don’t know that the Black community owns lighter skinned mixed-race folk, like Vin Deisel and Dwayne Johnson, as much as it owns darker skinned mixed-race folk like Halle Berry and Barack Obama. Still, I find it a very interesting topic.

My lazy, accurate method of describing my ethnicity to strangers.

People Will Recode You [via Mulatto Diaries]

The brilliant blogger over at Mulatto Diaries very eloquently describes the reactions I’ve gotten my whole life when my ethnicity comes up and I try to explain: I get “a blank stare, a condescending smirk, an accusation of self-hatred and/or denial”. The most common response used to be a fairly violent “you’re not Black!”, as if I were somehow insulting them. So, most of my adult life, I’ve been in the habit of simply saying, “My mom is Black and my dad is White.” No one can argue with the facts. Some might say I’m not asserting myself enough. The whole point of my tactic is to leave space for the listener to freely “recode” me. But, I’m just too tired these days to pick fights with strangers. Once I get to know people I make it clear to them how I think of myself, why I do so, and why it’s important to me. But, when I’m just engaged in small talk, I don’t find the energy.

Conversation Landmines

As is usual, I spent the Christmas and New Year’s holiday this year with my wife’s family in the rural midwest. It’s not unusual that my wife’s family will forget my background when talking to me, and say things that they really shouldn’t in mixed company. This year there weren’t any overt slips or arguments, but there was one conversation which I consider to have a racial component, but the rest of the family probably didn’t, and that’s the argument we had about divorce and single-parent families. Race was never brought up directly during the discussion, and I’m fairly sure that it never entered the mind of my in-laws as a factor in the discussion. But, in my mind, the huge gap between how the White community is affected and how the Black community is affected (statistics) mean that any discussion of divorce and single parenthood is also a discussion about race in America. It got me to thinking about how many topics are, in my mind, inherently about race that my in-laws might not be thinking about, and walk into blindly. Crime and incarceration certainly. Poverty and welfare. Education. Disease prevention. Unemployment and the recession. All of these things affect all Americans of every background. But, they all affect the Black community disproportionately. So, when conservatives particularly start talking about “family values”, it’s hard, for me at least, not to hear that as an assault on the values of an entire minority culture.

Diversity is the new segregation!

Now that I have a little son, I’ve spent an enormous amount of time looking at, and thinking about, public schools in my area. I want him to be exposed to people from all walks of life, and, in particular, I want him to go to school with both White people and Black people.

Something interesting I noticed as I looked at schools is that all the public schools around here have fewer white kids, by percentage, than the neighborhood at large. So, a neighborhood with, for example, 95% White people, might have 80% White people at the local public school; and a neighborhood with 5% White people almost certainly has 0% White people at the local public school.

When I was touring schools, I saw that even excellent schools in the Black neighborhoods had almost no diversity. One principal, when asked about diversity, proudly explained that they had African-Americans, Africans, Haitians, a few Hispanic kids, and one Asian kid. I didn’t see that kind of homogeneity anywhere in the White neighborhoods–no one said that their school was diverse because of Jewish and European kids.

It got me to thinking. We’ve done a lot of work through desegregation laws to give minority kids the opportunity to go to White schools. And we’ve done a lot of work to make diversity itself a goal for any school. I’m not the only one who wants their kid to be in a diverse environment. But it’s the successful, affluent schools–generally schools in White neighborhoods–that have the resources to make it happen. So now, ironically, diversity itself is a privilege which is afforded to the schools in White, urban neighborhoods.