Black White Man

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

Archive for the ‘Undercover’

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.

“The Race Card” vs. “Real Racism,” part three: self-knowledge

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about “The Race Card” by Richard Thompson Ford, I wanted to say that I get that part of his accusation is leveled at people like me: affluent liberals who spend a lot of time thinking about and complaining about racism.  I will be the first to admit that I haven’t been victimized by racism in the the way that others have.  And I’m the first to admit that I’ve enjoyed enormous priviledge in my life because I have white skin.   In many ways, Mr. Ford (as a Black man with a more average complexion) probably has encountered more racism in his life than I have.  But I don’t think that I need to discount myself from the conversation for that reason.   On the contrary, I think I can offer myself up as having the insider perspective of a white man, but without the blinders that most white people have to the experiences of minorities.   I find that a lot of my white friends can’t easily or adequately imagine the daily struggle that being a minority creates.   It’s not the struggle that minorities had in previous eras (under apartheid of slavery), but it’s a kind of a constant wear regardless.   On the other hand, I also find that a lot of my Black friends have false sense of racism in white America: either they imagine that it’s gone based on all the white people who have been nice to them, or they imagine that it’s some kind of organized and clandestine conspiracy.   Since I’ve been the proverbial fly on the wall when white people thought that they were in all-white groups, I can talk from personal experience how racism is alive and well in America.   And it’s not self-conscious, and it’s not rabid, and it’s not organized.   It’s a series of petty rationalized assumptions that lead up to one big uphill bias.

Sure, we’ve come a long way.   Sure, a Black person in this society can make it if he works hard and keeps his nose clean.   Sure, Black people need to take responsibility for their own efforts.   But, when a Black intellectual like Mr. Ford (or Cosby or Elder) says that Black people have to take responsibility for their own education and make it in this world despite racism, what a lot of white people hear is that racism is no longer a problem.   There’s a big difference between saying that racism is more surmountable than it was in the 50s and 60s, and saying that it’s no longer a problem.   And I think that when Black intellectuals want to make the point that Black people need to take more responsibility for how the deal with their lives, they have to be very careful about how that message will be taken by the mainstream white media.

Anyway, my point is that I understand the criticism that many Black leaders have leveled against commentators like myself who concentrate on the problems we still have.  I don’t think that I’m offering minorities a crutch, encouraging a culture of victimization, or detracting attention from the “real issues”.   But I do take the argument seriously, and I’ll try to keep it in mind.   You’ve at least given me food for though, Mr. Ford.

“We’re trying to get rid of them…”

So, I just started a new job at a design firm in an up-and-coming part of town.  By up-and-coming, I mean that there are a lot of design firms and little antique shops and what-not, but there is also an old entrenched, poor black community.

So, I’m in the snack room talking with some of my new co-workers and the topic comes around to the local project tenement housing.   One of the principles, a middle-aged white woman, immediately says, “Oh yes, we’re trying to get rid of them.”

As the conversation progresses, it becomes clear that “us” is the local business bureau.    It seems that all of the small businesses in the area are colluding to force these poor black residents out of the area.    This is the worst elements of gentrification in action.    Rather than help the local residents participate in the improvement of the area, they are pushing them out — and not through the mechanisms of “unfortunate consequences” like property taxes, but through malicious and organized action.    Sometimes there are conspiracies against the Black community.   I hope that in my role as an insider to these types of conversation, I can at least serve as a warning to all of you who are more visible minorities and therefore not privy to them.    I tried to argue against her, but being a lowly employee there wasn’t much I could do.    I don’t think I’ll be working there much longer.

The Ability to Speak English

… is largely just a euphemism for “foreigners need not apply.” It’s thinly veiled and very sad. I work as a computer programmer, and you really don’t need a high level of English fluency in order to succeed. Hell, my boss, who’s a thoroughbred New York mick, can’t spell worth shit. But the only guy whose been fired here just happened to be African, and he consistently turns away foreigners of all types: Koreans, Indians, Russians. It’s ridiculous.