Black White Man

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

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, African-American… or African Canadian… or African Canadian American… or?

A lot of people (or at least a lot of WWE fans) know that both The Rock’s parents were also involved in professional wrestling. His dad was “Rocky Johnson”, and his mom was a big deal in women’s wrestling. Indeed, his maternal grandfather was also a professional wrestler. His mother and her family are Polynesian, from Samoa. His father and his family are Black, from Canada. He was born in the United States. So, he’s African American, but the story is a little more complicated than most. Unlike most of the famous people I blog about, as far as I know, he doesn’t actually have much European ancestry, although many people I think mistakenly think he’s Italian or something similar.

That guy at the party

I went to a fundraising party a couple of weeks ago, and had the dubious pleasure of being one of two Black people there — actually both of us were mixed-race Black and White. I was reminded that a lot of White people have a lot of stuff they’d like to talk about, if you only give them half a chance. Two different people approached me with non sequitur racially charged conversations. Both where a little unsettling, but one ended up being a really good fruitful conversation, and the other a heated argument.

The first was about Ferguson. The guy, a friend of mine, just suggested that he thought the cop/shooter may be innocent. We talked about whether the victim’s assault on the convenience store, his crazy-walking down the middle of the street, and/or his massive size where relevant. I don’t think any of that is, but my friend thought it might be. I explained that, this being a gray-area case makes a lot of Black people more upset, not less; because we feel like gray-areas usually swing for White people and against Black people — hence the elation about the OJ Simpson verdict. Anyway, my point is really that I felt my friend was listening when I spoke, I hope he felt I was listening when he spoke, and on my side at least it was a productive “deep” conversation.

Sometime later a total stranger came up and told me she felt it was appropriate for someone to show up at a costume party in Black face. During the course of this conversation she told me that the problems in the Middle East are caused by people being easily offended by things like Black face, and that she knows more about discrimination then anyone because she’s Persian from the South. I couldn’t keep my shit together during this conversation. My lovely wife said she hadn’t ever seen me that upset, and had to come rescue me because she was worried about me.

So, this shows a few things. Some people don’t have enough opportunity to talk about race, and welcome any opportunity that may come up. As a very light-skinned Black person, I think I come across as a safe space to bring up these issues. I think this is a good thing in and of itself. We have to have more of these conversations, generally, and not just bottle it all up and segregate our feelings on race. But, how we deal with the conversations is important. We have to listen, we have to be sensitive, we have to have a sense of humor.

The Death of Nelson Mandela, “Kids Say the Darndest Things” Edition

So, a few days, when Nelson Mandela passed, I was trying to explain his importance to my seven-year-old. The big guy listened very carefully and attentively, and then said, “That’s great, but I think that Martin Luther King is better.” Suppressing a smile, I told him that it’s not a contest and comparing them isn’t really fair. For one thing, I pointed out, Nelson Mandela continued to live and do his important work long after MLK had been shot and killed. Mandela was inspired and informed by MLK’s work. Furthermore, MLK himself was inspired and informed by Gandhi. He asked who Gandhi was inspired by, and I replied that I don’t know much about him, but I think of him as the father of non-violent resistance and civil rights movements.

So, a couple of days pass. Clearly he’s been thinking about it (good), because today, out of the blue, he tells me, “I think that Gandhi was inspired by his own heart, and his heart was inspired by God.” Awww. He told me that while I was driving, I had a hard time with the tears welling up in my eyes!

On Coming out as biracial

This excellent essay on Coming Out As Biracial was forwarded to me by my sister (who is also biracial, not all of my siblings are!) and really hit a chord with me. The combination of the awkwardness and necessity to explain your race to people is something I constantly feel. When I’m first meeting people, if I think we’re going to end up being friends, there’s a part of my mind which is always just looking for the opening to explain my heritage to people. Being Black is an important part of how I think of myself. So, I think that on some level I find it disjointed to be “passing” as White, and I’m acutely aware that I’m passing by default unless I say something. On the other hand, I really don’t think it should matter that much, and I also really don’t like having the conversation — along with it’s corollary doubts and my having to prove what to me is obvious. I make jokes to get through it (my dad is of Scandinavian descent, so it’s easy to poke fun at his alabasteriness). But the whole thing is just uncomfortable, and even more so because necessary. I very much appreciate Ms. Georgopolus coming out more publicly and sharing her thoughts with all of us.

The odd desire to thank multiracial families

Now that my older son is in school, I’m seeing that multiracial families are far more common than they were when I was a kid. A see so many families with multiracial children, and especially when I see families with a white dad and a Black mom, I have this deep urge to run up and hug them and chat them up. I love my family, I really do. And although I know a lot of people in the Black community look down on multiracial families and interracial adoption, I can’t help but see myself in it and be proud. So, I always have this desire — but I usually end up just starting at the family creepily. They probably think I’m a racist who disapproves, which is ironic and funny.

I’m sorry to say…

I learned about the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case while I was at a fancy party filled with rich white people. My son goes to a public school here in Chicago, but it’s a high performing lottery magnet school which happens to be in the very wealthy Old Town neighborhood. There’s a certain preference given to people who live near to a school when they do these lotteries in Chicago, so 40% of the kids at my son’s school come from said wealthy neighborhood. So, the fundraising dinners tend to be pretty “nice” affairs at the opulent houses of rich families who have committed to their local public school — which is entirely commendable, I think.

But, it was a little awkward for me, as I reeled from the emotions of hearing that Martin was found not guilty, to be surrounded by cocktails and cocktail dresses and smiles and chit-chat. My wonderful wife was the only one who knew I was hurting, and she did a fantastic job of running defense for me while I tried to hide my anger and disappointment.

It’s indicative of the life I’ve built here. Chicago is a very segregated city, and we found it easier to find a real estate in our price bracket on the north side (I would have liked to have moved to Hyde Park, but the houses we liked there were too expensive). I have a few Black acquaintances. I’m very glad we chose to send my son to a diverse school. But, all of my good friends are white or Hispanic. I miss my peoples.

Oh, Bloomberg, you crazy racist bastard.

I love Bloomberg for a lot of reasons. I also gets under my skin for a lot of reasons. I suspect that most people are in the same camp as me. He seems like a controversal figure.

This week he defended the policy of frisking minorities in New York, saying that, if anything, too many white people were being frisked, since so much crime is perpetrated by minorities.


Not only is this crazy racist, but he had the audacity to say that people who don’t agree with him are lacking in basic numeracy and logic. His argument goes that 86% of the people frisked are minorities. But 90% of crimes are committed by minorities (a dubious statistic, but let’s accept it for the sake of argument). So, he says, logically, only 10% of the friskees should be white, when the actual number is at 14%. The fallacy that he’s falling into is that statistics involving the subset of criminals don’t necessarily apply to the population on a whole. Most criminals are minorities, but most minorites aren’t criminals. Therefore it’s a terrible basis for probable cause. Our justice system is based on the idea that it’s better to let a guilty man go free than imprison an innocent one. His loose understanding of how numbers work runs against that basic assumption.

I think it would be more clear to most (white, male) people if you switch race for gender. It’s certainly true that most criminals are men. But most men aren’t criminals. I think most of us would be rightfully upset of the mayor of a city gave their police free reign to search any man without probable cause, other than, “Well, most criminals are men.” It’s a ludicrously low standard upon which to violate our Constitutional protection against search and seizure.

Raising multiracial children

When I became a parent, I had to rethink a lot of my childhood. I had never really considered a lot of the family from their point of view before. As a child, your parents are simply there. It doesn’t occur to you to think of their personal, internal lives.

One of the things I think back on now is how it was for them as interracial parents. Having children who identify as a different race than you do is an odd feeling. I consider myself Black, but my son considers himself White. It’s not a bad thing, or a good thing, for that matter. It’s just a strange thing. And it’s also something that people have emailed me about in relation to this blog.

In some ways there’s a tribalism that we have to overcome. We think of our children as an extension of ourselves. And race is part of how we think of ourselves. So, when our children look or are identified as something different than we are, that causes a bit of a disjoint. They are part of us, but also not part of us. Of course, that’s something we just have to get over. I’m sure it only gets worse when they get older and start pursuing different interests and just generally being their own person. My older son is 7 at the moment, and although he’s a clone of my wife — blond, blue eyed — he takes very much after me in personality.

Anyway, not much by way of answers or direction. Just sharing my feelings. Hope it helps someone out there, somehow.

What if Rashida Jones and Tiger Woods had kiddos?

This past week on Parks and Recreation, Rashida Jones’ character makes a quip about having had a crush on Tiger Woods and fantasizing about them being married. This led me into a interesting side dream about them having kids. If they did, their kids would also be half-Black, and almost (three-eighths?) half-White. I just find that really interesting on some level. Are any of my readers half-Black/half-White kids of two half-Black/half-White parents?

The sad state of internalized racism in Africa

We here in the States often talk about internalized racism in our (the African-American) community. We talk about Black men dating White women. We talk about the use of the n-word. We talk about Black on Black violence, and the need for support within the community for Black owned businesses. All of these are important conversations.

But, I think, our community suffers from the same kind of egocentrism, isolationism and, in some cases, xenophobia that American culture at large generally suffers from. I think we don’t know enough about modern Africa. And, sadly, a lot of understanding about the modern state of Africa has to do intense internalized racism.

White people are a minority in Africa. And they are often immigrants, those who are wealthy enough in their own country to travel to Africa for business, charity, or tourism. So the perception equating White people with power and privilege is even more strongly felt. When I lived in Africa I would often hear people compliment each other on light skin (“Comment il est si claire!”). I once heard a policeman doing a routine search of a public bus at a highway checkpoint warn the passengers that although his skin was dark, he “thought like a white man”, that is to say, he was smart. At one point a friend of mine had a friend who had moved to America come back to visit, and everyone remarked about how he had lightened while there — as if living in rich, White country literally rubbed off on him. As a very light-skinned man with ancestors from the area (in fact, more ancestors from that area than from any other in the world), it made me very sad.

Most of it, like many things, has nothing to do America. But some of it, like many things, does. I think a piece of it is that everywhere around the world they consume huge amounts of American media. Even out in the bush near where I lived, where people don’t have electricity and running water, they would come together in the local church to watch DVDs of movies like Die Hard and Rapid Fire. They had Manimal and Columbo on TV. And through American media they absorb our messed up ideas about what makes women (and men) beautiful, smart and successful. And part of that, unfortunately, tends to be having lighter skin.