I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Land of Cablinasia

Stepmother vehemently objected to my "Black is a club" analogy, writing,

"Not sure what you mean by a club because clubs are organizations that you voluntarily join. People like Tiger are considered Black whether they want to be or not and in his case he is still look for the land of Cablinasia! I think racism in America places people of color in buckets and if you are Black your bucket is not valued – White Hats/Black Hats; Black Tuesday; Dark moods. In America being Black is thought to be negative. What club would you join if you knew that you would be dumped on daily because of the color of your skin and not the content of your character."

To which I say, in any group, no matter how marginal, there are benefits to being recognized as one of "our own." Now, you can't tell me that Black people don't spend a WHOLE LOT of time and energy on what is Black, what is Black ENOUGH, who is not acting Black, who is putting on airs, etc. There's a reason for that. I get that. When you're under attack, you circle the wagons. You emphasize and take pride in the thing that sets you apart. But it does amount to a social norm. If you want the solidarity and support of the Black community, you must behave certain ways.

She also had no time for my Bill Clinton is Blacker comment, saying, "Skin color is the 1st and last thing –just ask Barack Obama. Having a political consciousness concerning the negative affects of racism is probably more productive. The tapes that run in our heads about Black and White is what keeps racism alive."

To which I respond, Barack Obama is a good example. He is light-skinned but phenotypically Black, goes to an established Black church in Chicago, has a long- standing marriage to a Black woman, has made his career in urban community organizing, and still often faces questions about his membership in and commitment to the Black community.

But, hooboy, she saved most of her ire for my shopping at Goodwill comment, saying
"Boy, this comment is hopefully for effect because this level of bias is interesting. You shop at Goodwill by choice—what if your had to shop at Goodwill because that’s the only way to buy your children clothes."

Funny that of all the inflammatory things I said, she picked up on that one. Of course I made the statement for effect, but I said it because it fingers a cultural taboo. No Black American of my acquaintance, no matter how destitute, would be caught shopping at Goodwill.

No, we don't live in the 'hood, but we do live in Black Phoenix. If you have just gotten a little money and you've just escaped from the 'hood, this is where you live. Most of Girl and Jones’s friends are one degree removed from the 'hood.
Now I am not telling family secrets when I say what we all know. Those kids are astonished that our kids got books and Sunday school clothes and science kits for Christmas. I mean drop-jawed astonished. Because they all got gold chains and flat screens and i-phones.

Again, I do get WHY that is. I GET to shop at Goodwill, because when I do it, it's interpreted as being charitable or thrifty or at worst quirky. I have the option of disregarding those status symbols. They don't, or don't feel like they do, have the option.

But of course I'm not just talking about the 'hood. It's the fabled bourgeoisie that are the most rigid enforcers of a selected list of these social norms. Not for no reason are there e-mails circulating with titles like Black women's dress code, urging them to pledge never to be seen in public with unpainted toes, etc.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bill Clinton is blacker than me

I am having this very interesting discussion with my stepmother and sister. My stepmother is the child of a Black serviceman and his Japanese war bride, who loves her some sashimi but is basically a "race woman."

My sister and I are what happens when you let hillbillies and foreigners into your college. Our father is a Jamaican immigrant with Black slaves and Scottish plantation owners and Chinese merchants all in there. Our mother is of many generations of Irish, Germans and Dutch in Appalachia.

I don't know but I imagine my parents related to each other as collegians, as bohemians in a shrinking, post-race world. I think that Black Power happened to them, that it made my father feel that he had a birthright he was neglecting, that our racial identity became a turf issue for them, and that his pursuit of that path eventually killed their marriage.

We were talking about how, even though we both know the politics of standing up and being counted, it feels inauthentic to be as pale as we are and insist on being Black. My sister was saying she felt "limited" in her ability to relate. My stepmother was kind of dismissing it, like oh, we're just people. But everybody knows that's not the half of it.

Black is not a birthright. It's a club. And the shibboleths -- the secret passwords -- change every day. Skin color is only a teensy part of it. I can hang A LITTLE BIT. I have read my Angela Davis and my Toni Morrison and I AM very politically involved and I DO have an extensive network of Black professionals (IF I namecheck my Dad). But even by that calculus, Bill Clinton is Blacker than me.

My sister, who never insisted on a Black identity, always could and still can hang more than me. Could dance, had more Black friends, boyfriends,...

In Columbia, there was enough of a critical mass of iconoclastic Black people, that you could kinda point to them and say, y'know, like that -- I'm Black like them. Plus, everybody knew me.

Anywhere else, it's not my skin color but my behavior that makes people assume I'm white. I could be ebony and I'd still be a Unitarian. I still wouldn't know the catch phrases circulating on the HBC's. I still wouldn't see the relevance of Terry MacMillan or Tyler Perry. I still wouldn't find comedians funny who talk about how their momma used to slap them around. I'd still have a lot of gay friends. I'd still shop at Goodwill.

Well, and I'd still be married to a white guy. Because the other thing I noticed is that a lot of people cared about what my deal was racially when I was "in play." When it's like, are the Black women going to hate me if I date you. Now that I'm married, who cares? That draft is over and I'm under contract.

Interesting race/ gender intersection there. That you could have a maiden racial identity like a maiden name.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

You're Jurassic Park!

by Michael Crichton

You combine all the elements of a mad scientist, a brash philosopher,
a humble researcher, and a money-hungry attracter of tourists. With all these features,
you could build something monumental or get chased around by your own demons. Probably
both, in fact. A movie based on your life would make millions, and spawn at least two
sequels thatwouldn't be very good. Be very careful around islands.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.