Black White Man

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

Archive for the ‘History’

Walter White: the most ironically named Black White Man?

Particularly as the father of a blond, blue-eyed boy who has some vague claim to African American heritage, I am very heartened to read about this guy, Walter White.    White was a head of the NAACP, a contributor to the “Harlem Renaissance”, and a graduate from a historically Black university.   He was an African American.   He was also blond and blue-eyed.    From, Wikipedia:

Of mixed race with African and European ancestry, White’s appearance showed his high proportion of European ancestry. He emphasized in his autobiography, A Man Called White (p. 3): “I am a Negro. My skin is white, my eyes are blue, my hair is blond. The traits of my race are nowhere visible upon me.” Five of his great-great-great-grandparents were black and the other 27 were white.

Note that, out of my son’s great-great-great-grandparents, six were Black, one was Cherokee and 25 were white.

I say to you White Americans, “You are not as white as you think!”

One of the reasons I consider myself Black, despite my white skin, is that, as a result of the One Drop policy which ruled this country for hundreds of years, so-called “African Americans” are actually a people of extremely mixed heritage: African, European and Native American.   It may be essentially racist, but our culture is steeped in it.   We are the Hispanics of the USA.

Most have heard (a lot) about the old trope of the White slave master who would go down into the field to spend time with the slave mistress.   And sure, that happened.   And that has something to do with the mixing in the African community here.   But, I like to remind people what I would have done a hundred or two hundred years ago.  I would certainly have moved to a big city somewhere up North and claimed to be some kind of White Mediterranean type, or possibly Jewish.    And I’m sure lots of Black folk did exactly that.   And they took that secret to their grave.   That means that, if you’re White, and if you’re family has been here more than three generations or so, than there’s a pretty fair chance that you’ve got a more colorful ancestry than you might assume.   I think that these injections of African ancestry into the European community here happened at least as often as the other way around.   We’re all a lot more mixed up than we like to believe.

Confederate Monuments

Protesters Say Monument Stands For Racism, Bigotry

I spent a lot of time growing up in the South, and I’ve seen how pride in being a Southerner gets all wrapped up in pride about the Civil War.   I’m sensitive to it, and I can see the other side.   Especially since our country still grapples with the tension between states’ rights versus the power of the federal (or even international) government, the values of the Confederate uprising aren’t entirely something of the past.  Theres a mythos there that persists.

On the other hand…

Near my house here in northern Virginia there’s a plaque on a tree which memorializes that Yankee spies used to be hanged there.   This is directly on my way when I take my family out for our weekly Sunday brunch.    It’s both morbid and disturbing.   As much as I sympathize with the ideals of the Civil War extending past a battle over slavery — it was also about slavery.   As a “mulatto,” if I had lived at the time, I would certainly have been fighting on the side of the North, and I would also certainly have been ‘passing’ as white.   And who’s to say I wouldn’t have been discovered and strung up on that tree?   For that matter, whose to say that any of my white friends wouldn’t have been caught as spies and strung up on that tree.   Regardless of what the real underpinnings of that war were, regardless of what it means for cultural pride, there are appropriate ways to express your culture and commemorate history and there are inappropriate ways.   I’d like to think that the issue of confederate monuments would be a prime example of something that we could compromise on as a culture… but maybe I’m wrong.

“Ten Little Indians” is not for kids.

An elementary school production of Ten Little Indians is cancelled

Despite yesterday’s post, where I attempt to defend racist historical figures and literature a bit, I do have to say that I think it should be kept from small children until they are old enough to understand.    I know I won’t be reading Dr. Doolittle to my son anytime soon.    I’d hate to see the ignorance of the past revived in the present.   And nowhere is this more true than the way we, as a culture, treat the Native American.     It’s galling that, after one of the worst genocides in the history of the world, that we are insensitive enough to continue infantilizing Indian-play and serving it up to our children.    Good for this school board.

Our founding fathers…

I was reading somewhere else that Lincoln had a plan early on to avoid the Civil War by gradually buying the freedom of every slave at $400 each.     It’s clear that whatever else he believed, his primary concern was in keeping the strength of the republic.    And I think that’s okay.

My grandpa was fancied himself a progressive type of fellow, but at the end of the day he was a generation or two out of date, and what he thought of as very open-minded still ended up often sounding a little off (“That Angela Bassett is certainly a strong little girl!”).   But I loved him for trying.    I can’t say that I would be better, I’m also a product of my generation.

In undergrad I studied comparative literature, and this came up a lot for me.    From George Orwell to Dr. Doolittle, our literary history is filled with people who were progressive for their time, but fall short when judged by modern standards.

In simple fact, we’ve come a very long way in a very short period time.    In the last two hundred years we’ve gone from arguing against the Hamitic myth and abolishing chattel slavery, through apartheid and the civil rights movement, to our current problems and triumphs.    I don’t think it’s entirely fair to judge Lincoln, or even the founding fathers, but the standards of a society where we’ve learned so much.   I think that race relations should be dealt with more-or-less like science.   Newton’s laws are now taught in middle school, and basic concepts like ‘zero’ were very impressive 2000 years ago.    Race relations, like science, is a progressive field.    It goes forward bit by bit, and even though historical figures almost always seem racist to us (just as they seem stupid for the levels of math and science that they understood), I think they feel a lot more impressive when you consider the world in which they lived.