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SEPTEMBER 7, 2008 3:01AM

America, Zebra Nation

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zebraThe hullabaloo about Obama’s racial identity reminds me of the day a few years back when a Spanish friend called me with a strange and urgent question: “Do you understand black people?”

As it turned out, her question was far less profound than it appeared at first. First, by "black people" she meant black Americans. She was translating documentaries about American music for a Spanish film festival. A few of the films were about old-time Delta blues. Others featured the origins of hip-hop in Brooklyn, NY in the 1970s. She couldn’t make heads or tails of what she was hearing, despite her excellent English.

So if I ever write that rarest of documents – the 100% honest resume – Ebonics-to-English translator will have pride of place, just above salmon gutter (job experience Hillary Clinton claims as well) and fashion model masseur.

But back to racial identity. I later learned that I wasn’t the first person my friend had turned to for help. Before me, she’d called a British guy she knew. Despite being black, he couldn’t make out what was being said, either. Turns out, a cloud-white Irish-American from Pennsylvania had a better ear for Brooklyn slang and bayou drawl than a black guy from Brixton, England.

Just goes to show you.

I was reminded of this by talk of Obama’s blackness (Black enough? Too black?) and the so-called “white vote.” Isn’t this a clear example of linguistic simplicity leading to conceptual confusion? Obama is as black as a zebra – or less so. His white mother and even whiter grandparents raised him in pretty white areas (Hawaii, Kansas), and he attended overwhelmingly white schools and had mainly white friends. So what, other than his absent father, was “black” about his experience? I haven’t read his books yet, but I’d bet that the main thing that made him feel “black” – if such a feeling can be said to exist – was the dark reflection of himself he saw in the eyes of many whites.

A friend of ours was born in Republic of the Congo and raised in France. Visually, she’s far "blacker" than Obama, Martin Luther King, or Malcolm X, but she doesn’t consider herself to be “black” at all, in the sense that Americans understand the term. Though she knows many people see her as black, she considers herself to be French. She’s got no personal connection to the black American experience. Her ancestors were never sold as slaves in the West Indies.

But mine might have been. In the 17th century, about 80,000 Irish women and children were sold in the same slave markets that processed the millions of Africans brought across the Atlantic in chains. According to a fantastic essay by Michael Ventura (Hear That Long Snake Moan), as late as 1800, there were blacks in Jamaica who spoke Gaelic. Listen to Bob Marley speak (whose father was white, by the way), and you’ll hear echoes of an Irish brogue. So don't call me white -- I'm only as white as my French/Congolese friend is black.

These thoughts lead to a possible answer for those who ask why Obama didn’t tell his Reverend Wright to cool it with his passionate denunciations of mainstream “white” American culture. Maybe, like our French/Congolese friend, Obama simply had the decency and intelligence to recognize that it really wasn’t any of his business. His ancestors hadn’t toiled in Mississippi cotton fields. Who is he to tell an African-American leader what to say or not to say to other African-Americans about the black struggle in the United States?

What makes Obama an inspirational figure for us is not that he could be the first “black” president, but that Obama could be the first president to render the question of racial identity too damned confusing to bother with. And this would be the truest reflection of American life. Look in the mirror and the face you see is white, black, or some shade of brown, peach or pink. But what if you could see your mind or personality in that mirror? What tones would you see then? Is there a white American alive who’s head isn’t filled with Robert Johnson, James Brown, Miles Davis and/or Snoop Dogg? Suburban white kids in Connecticut walk around in baggy pants hanging off their asses because belts aren’t issued to the mainly black inmates of overflowing America's prisons, but most of these kids have no idea where the fashion came from; they just think it’s cool. Similarly, even the most militant black Americans are steeped in white culture every time they turn on their TV set, go to school, or get a job.

Comedian Dave Chapelle’s got a fantastic sketch where he plays a blind white supremacist who doesn’t know he’s actually black (Clayton Bixby). I think Chapelle's point is that you’ve gotta be blind to be a racist, cause no matter how white you think you are, a big part of you is black – and vice-versa.

 Update: Brown Man ATL has just posted his thoughts on this question which, although he's black and I'm white, are very similar -- thereby making both our points! Seems like we worked it out beforehand, but scout's honor, it just happened that way. Check his post out here.

Update #2: A friend just pointed me to this article, which examines the issue of black identity in contemporary American culture. It's quite good.

 

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Obama could be the first president to render the question of racial identity too damned confusing to bother with.

I love this line. Very nice.
I just noticed as I scrolled back up to the top of the page after reading this that you posted this about 30 minutes before I posted mine!

My real name is Krishna (although I'm not Indian), but I use Kris - another coincidence.

Good article - although the question of whether race will continue to count lies in the hands of those who shape America's opinions and self image.

My stated position on the Obama campaign has been the same all along - whether or not he's a great president is immaterial to me. The thing I want from him is the thing he will do simply by BEING the president, which is to raise the expectation levels of young black boys and young black men. Seeing that brown skinned face on TV night after night has already done something to the mood on the streets here in the ATL.

A rising tide will lift all boats.

My post was pre-written - its part two of a five part series I did last month titled "What Do We Want?" that tried to look at the motives of certain factions in the black community who were attempting to delegitimize Obama's candidacy, posted here mainly because I was a little hot about another post here that equated the characteristics of being black with those of being poor.

The only real common bond all black people seem to share is a sense of being an outsider. Love of cornbread, cabbage or chittlins, contrary to popular belief, is not a common denominator.
I wasn't talking about being black being equal with being poor. I was talking about 35 years ago in a 600 person town in rural NC. Everybody there was poor.
Great, GREAT piece.

Share a story with you. Daughter of friend (he's Indian, his wife American-- German ancestry) just got back from spending the summer at an archaelogical dig in Greece. She's sitting in a cafe with her *obviously* American friends when this older local guy asks her in passable English *what* she is. She replies, "American". "No, no" he persists, "what are you *really*?"

This goes on for a while, till she finally relents and tells him her dad is Indian and her mother American. The old guy beams with delight and shouts, " I knew it. I knew it. BARACK OBAMA!"

True story. My daughter.

WOOF

P.S. Come visit my site. You may find it simpatico, though others have said I'm too hard.
Excellent. As an anthropologist, doesn't it make you crazy--this skin color stuff? I mean, we all come from the same ancient hominids. We're all mixed if we go far enough back, right?
I'm sick of people who claim that Obama (who rejected the race and ethnicity of his loving white mother and grandparents in favor of "blackness") represents the end of forced "racial" identity when these same people will not stand up to the blacks (like Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) who demonize the late Anatole Broyard for "passing" for a white race that was his biological and cultural reality. Blacks have no right to claim anyone who "looks white" or otherwise nonblack for their "race." That is a "right" they claim which no one should respect.

http://multiracial.com/site/content/view/38/54/

http://multiracial.com/site/content/view/417/27/

http://multiracial.com/site/content/view/460/27/
While I philosophically empathize with most of your points, as an oppressed minority people still overcoming governmental and societally sanctioned racism, we don't necessarily get to decide when to end the racial identity game and all of its assumed precepts. Notions of racial identity don't end just because some of us have dropped the mantle of victim and learned to integrate with society. You point to Obama's white culturalization and wonder what was so black about his experience other than his father and his image reflected in the eyes of whites. I don't think you give enough weight to the simple fact that his skin color screams "black". Yes, the one-drop rule is still alive and well in America.

Your Congolese friend's experience is interesting. It reminds me of a friend of mine who married a Honduran woman. Visiting with a lady friend of his wife's, he noticed her African features. One day after seeing her iron her hair, he told his wife that her friend was black. She merely laughed and vigorously denied the accusation. So I understand that other cultures define ethnicity differently. But the violent history of blacks in America preclude such nuanced interpretations of color in this country.

I find your point of view common among white people I know and interact with regularly. I attribute it mainly to the fact that whites are still about 80% of the population. Does Obama transcend his racial identity? Certainly. But I find the notion that he renders racial identity "too damned confusing to bother with" lacking in a substantive understanding of the black experience in this country. I rarely speak for other people, but I think I can safely say the chance that Obama will be our first black President is what inspires many black supporters of his candidacy. Understand, I'm not accusing you of any untoward motives, but to make the supposition you did is in a way insulting to the struggle and the people it took to pave Obama's way.
Thanks to all of you for your comments. In response to Eric Anam's thoughtful points, I'd suggest a few things.

I'd certainly agree with you Eric, that "the black experience in this country" is more complex than my comments fully acknowledge, and that "whites are still about 80% of the population." I'd agree so much, in fact, that I'd use both those statements to reinforce my original point, which was that the issue may have become too complex to bother with any more.

What, for example, constitutes "the black experience" you refer to? I don't see that there is a coherent black experience we can use at a referent for that phrase. Whose experience qualifies? Certainly not Obama's, whose black father had no memories of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, or institutionalized racism -- all of which, presumably are integral to "the black experience" you refer to. Spike Lee has made a big point of how different "the black experience" can be for African Americans with different skin tones, and there's little doubt that class is as important an issue as race for many blacks -- more determinative of what opportunities are available in education, employment, health care, and so on. Do you really think wealthy black families living in Connecticut really have more in common with inner-city black people struggling with gangs, drugs, and shitty schools than they do with their next door neighbors?

Then, there's the 80% of America that is white. Well, what's white mean? Are first-generation Russian immigrants "white" like the Bush family is "white?" How similar are Orthodox Jews and Texan born-again Christians? As I suggested in my original post, the experience of Irish Americans included, in tens of thousands of cases -- being sold to the slave markets of the West Indies. In addition to those cases, you had millions of Irish who sold themselves as indentured servants. Are they "white" too? Isn't the essence of racism the making of assumptions about someone's identity based upon their skin color?

There are as many shades of white as there are of black.

I'd hate for anything I've written here or elsewhere to be interpreted as an insult to the struggle for racial equality. But I'd also hate for that struggle to be drawn out unnecessarily, because it divides us distracts us all from the real struggle, which is, same as it ever was, about opportunities in the present and future, not the perceived slights of the past.
This reminds me of a debate I had a few years ago at a forum about race here in Jackson, Mississippi. A young black man stood up and gave a very good explanation of race as a social construct--that there is no biological basis for dividing people along racial lines. He is absolutely accurate about that, but I took issue with him because what he was really saying was "we can all stop talking about race now"

Would that it were so. I live in a city that is about three-quarters black, although the larger metro area is about two-thirds white. There has also been a sizable influx of Hispanics, particularly since Hurricane Katrina. Issues of race and culture are part of daily life here and all the declarations of "race no longer matters!" will not change that. The long legacy of racism--not just slavery, but the century of racist policies that followed the civil war--have left a mark in our individual psyches, our local cultures and "tribes," and socioeconomic stratification.
... and I wasn't through with that. Hit "post" too soon.

But I also realize I am about to go on and on about this, so would you mind too terribly if I finished these thoughts over at my blog? This should also have the effect of revitalizing the discussion as it seems most of us are developing blog-attention deficit disorder. I'll link to your post and Kris's.
"...not the perceived slights of the past."

I WISH slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, etc. were "perceived slights." Just as I HOPE Obama's presidency will help this country turn the corner on race.
I think James just hit on it. Obama's candidacy, whether he wins or not, will be turning the corner, it will change the scope and focus of the journey, but it's definitely not over.
What, for example, constitutes "the black experience" you refer to? I don't see that there is a coherent black experience we can use at a referent for that phrase. Whose experience qualifies?

Chris (Christopher?), I think we may be looking at two different sides of the same coin. Philosophically speaking, there should be no black experience, no white experience, only a human experience. The black experience I speak of is not so much about how people are raised. Rather, it speaks to how blacks (and consequently those perceived to be black) were and are viewed and treated in this country. Of course we all have different experiences, but one coherent factor is racism. Substitute "racism" for "black experience" and you should be able to place my comments in clearer context. And don't forget, well-heeled, gentrified blacks are still harrassed for driving too nice a vehicle in too nice a neighborhood. That's part of the coherent and ongoing black experience in America I refer to.

Obama overcame all of his difficulties and familial deficiencies to get where he is today. But Chris, regardless of how moot you may think that renders the issue of race, Obama is today living the "black experience". With every suble and not so subtle hateful racially tinged comment about his candidacy, he's part of the black experience. See my meaning? It's not about what he takes and gives from the world, it's about how the world treats and views him.

Isn't the essence of racism the making of assumptions about someone's identity based upon their skin color?

No, you've just defined prejudice. Many learned, caring, and genuinely good people conflate racism with prejudice. Racism has a deeper meaning and even more insidious implications than racial prejudice. Nils Gilman explains the difference much better than I in this article.

I'd hate for anything I've written here or elsewhere to be interpreted as an insult to the struggle for racial equality.

I haven't made that assumption. :-)

But I'd also hate for that struggle to be drawn out unnecessarily, because it divides us distracts us all from the real struggle, which is, same as it ever was, about opportunities in the present and future, not the perceived slights of the past.

Trust me, you don't hate it any more than I do. I've taken advantage of opportunities and encourage any Brother or Sister I can influence to do the same. That way we move forward together, and leave not just perceived slights, but actual ones in the past.

peace
Eric and James,

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. In response, just a few brief words.

-- "Perceived slights." To be clear, I was thinking of my own mention of Irish women and children in slave markets when I wrote that, not the very real suffering of Africans in their millions, as well as their descendants in the U.S. As an Irish-American, I've certainly never suffered because of this and any slights I could point to would be "perceived" only.

-- The distinction between racism and prejudice. I read the essay you linked to, Eric and, although as a rule I stop reading anything the instant I come to the word "chthonic," I soldiered through to the end. I see the point (racism is reflected in structural artifacts of previous generations prejudice), but I think it's a bit strained.

The example he uses is the lack of blacks in many country clubs that don't have an active "no blacks" policy, but whose members just don't know many blacks. OK, but what about the lack of Jewish members? Or woman members? They'd both be considered "white" people, yet they are passively excluded in precisely the same way blacks are. So while I see how social structures can replicate prejudice contemporary people no longer feel, for the most part, I don't see how this phenomenon pertains more to racism than to sexism or any other groupism.

In any case, thanks for engaging.
Nothing to add to this, beyond a rating...except to say as an ignorant observer that when visiting major centres in the U.S. and Canada I am struck by the number of mixed-race people, and people of races other than 'white'. America and Canada present a white face (or have until Obama and our Haitian-born gov-gen), but the body of the population seems different. Is the U.S. really 80% white?
You are commiting the common mistake of marking Obama according to his (largely multi-cultural- NOT white) schooling and upbringing. Obama is a black man because he chose to be a black man. He found his true calling as a Chicago community organizer in the black neighborhoods there. He married a black woman and joined an overtly black church. He has made several trips to Africa as an adult to reconnect with and rediscover his black ancestry. A man is what he makes of himself. In Obama's case, he is black not because of his upbringing, but because of his conscious decision to be one.
"Look in the mirror and the face you see is white, black, or some shade of brown, peach or pink. But what if you could see your mind or personality in that mirror?"

I'm black of course, that's what everybody sees, my African ancestors. Sometimes though, I think I can see my Polish, French or Arab ancestors staring back at me from the mirror... I imagine they're trapped and can't get out! Bwwaahhhahaha!
I've got nothing to add that Eric hasn't already conveyed, but I do always find it interesting when a majority individual decides to comment on the factors that go into the underrepresented minority's ethnic identity. It's as if s/he believes that it can be tried on and thus understood in some intellectual way, thus deconstructed and commented on with validity. It can't be. It isn't that simple.

But I do want to point you to one of my favorite blog postings for your cultural library. There were great points made in the post itself as well as in the myriad comments: 16 maneuvers to avoid really dealing with racism
Teendoc wrote: "I do always find it interesting when a majority individual decides to comment on the factors that go into the underrepresented minority's ethnic identity. It's as if s/he believes that it can be tried on and thus understood in some intellectual way, thus deconstructed and commented on with validity. It can't be. It isn't that simple."

No, teendoc, but it's not as complicated as you make it seem, either. If you'll pardon the construction, I think you're stuck in pre-Obama thinking. "Majority individual." Who's that? Me? Didn't you read the article? I'm not "white." I'm Irish-American. Very different (though maybe we all look the same to you? ;) As for "trying on" racial identity and commenting on it intellectually, you must be talking about Obama, who is defined as a black man because, as was pointed out in an earlier comment, he decided to (after a lot of seriously intellectual consideration).

I read the list of racists evasive techniques you linked to, but found myself in a house of mirrors in which any response, no matter how legitimate, is dismissed as just another racist ploy to deny responsibility. You could construct the same sort of maze to trap people in presumed guilt for anything else you want: misogyny, anti-Semitism, whatever. It's "When did you stop beating your wife?" style thinking.

You seem to be implying that you're in a better position to understand Obama's "underrepresented identity" than I am, based upon our different skin tones. But I think you're wrong about that presumption, and that the presumption is, in fact, somewhat racist.

Isn't that the basis of racism? Thinking you know something about a person's experience and perspective on life just because you've seen the color of his skin?

It's not that simple.
You seem to be implying that you're in a better position to understand Obama's "underrepresented identity" than I am, based upon our different skin tones. But I think you're wrong about that presumption, and that the presumption is, in fact, somewhat racist.

Racism is prejudice employed with power over the group in question. So I fail to see how my presumption that I share common experiences with President Obama as he discusses in his own book makes my position racist. I have no power over you. Yet I do have a different life experience from you as an assimilated black woman of West Indian descent in the United States.

I have no idea where this idea of a pre-Obama and post-Obama nation is coming from. Do you honestly believe that the election of Obama removed all issues of race from this country and wiped clean the divisions? If so, why was it OK for a young black man to be executed by cop on an Oakland train platform while offering no resistance with another cop kneeling on his back, and there is no general outcry about this execution. The video is available all over the web. Why? Because the life of this young black man doesn't matter as much as the life of a young white one.

And fine, you're of the race doesn't matter ideology. You're not white. You're Irish-American. [Insert eye-rolling here] Sorry but your privilege is showing.

And what is really sad is that all you got out of that blog posting is that there was supposed to be some guilt involved regarding racism. That was not the point. The point was to acknowledge that racism, sexism, and other discrimination exists as a construct in our society. There are people who benefit from it either directly or indirectly and there must be vigilance to work to challenge the complacencies that exist around these privileges. Worry about proving that you are not racist, sexist, homophobic, or whatever defeats the purpose of trying to address the problem. It's not about you as an individual. It's about society.

But no, President Obama himself would be the first to tell you that his election did not render the issue of race moot.

Also, note how I didn't flinch when you called me "racist?" Interesting tactic, but pretty ineffective since racism involves power and I have none over you.
Kris Broughton wrote: "The only real common bond all black people seem to share is a sense of being an outsider. "

This is not an accurate statement because, all people have that sense at some point in their life.

Most black people have the common bond of having experienced discrimination based on their race. That is an accurate statement.

At some point every [insert ethnicity here]-American shared the common bond of a sense of being an outsider in America.
Hi Teendoc,

"Racism is prejudice employed with power over the group in question. So I fail to see how my presumption that I share common experiences with President Obama as he discusses in his own book makes my position racist. I have no power over you."

Nor I over you. So what's the problem?

" Yet I do have a different life experience from you as an assimilated black woman of West Indian descent in the United States."

And? Tell me where to insert my eye roll.

"Do you honestly believe that the election of Obama removed all issues of race from this country and wiped clean the divisions?"

Of course not. My point was that the divisions are becoming much less tangible as time goes on. Children are being raised in mixed-race families, in a mixed-race culture, led by a mixed-race president. So "racism" as you're defining it (one group wielding power over another) no longer makes any sense. That was my point with the Irish-American stuff. You're West Indian. Is that "black?" Even if your ancestors didn't toil in cotton fields? Malcolm Gladwell (who is West Indian) has an excellent article on what it means to look black but not really "be" black.

My point was that skin color isn't really relevant any more in these discussions, not that racism is over, just that it's become very multi-hued and is no long a black/white issue. It's much more about class now.

"If so, why was it OK for a young black man to be executed by cop on an Oakland train platform while offering no resistance with another cop kneeling on his back, and there is no general outcry about this execution. The video is available all over the web. Why?"

I think there was a general outcry. I live in Barcelona, and I heard all about it. Do you think no white kids were shot by cops recently? If so, you're falling into your own trap.

" Because the life of this young black man doesn't matter as much as the life of a young white one."

Bullshit. We can insert my eye-roll here, I guess.

"Worry about proving that you are not racist, sexist, homophobic, or whatever defeats the purpose of trying to address the problem. It's not about you as an individual. It's about society."

Go re-read the article you linked to. It's ALL about how individuals try to evade responsibility for their racism: "But I've got black friends!" "Oh, I'm so sorry for your suffering!" "My grandparents didn't have any slaves!"

"Also, note how I didn't flinch when you called me "racist?" Interesting tactic, but pretty ineffective since racism involves power and I have none over you."

You don't read very closely, for an intellectual. I didn't call you racist, I said it was a racist presumption to think that simply by being black, you understood Obama's perspective better than other, non-black people. Which is true, I think.

The example I gave in the blog piece was of my Congolese friend, who resents American blacks thinking she's automatically one of them, just cause she's black.
Teendoc says: "Racism is prejudice employed with power over the group in question."

Aren't you describing institutionalized racism? Why give so many "white" people the presumption of power over you?

Example: My sister was an entertainment lawyer. A hip-hop artist refused to work with her because she had "no juice." Was he being racist or sexist or both. You're definition would eliminate the racist element. But if it keeps her black law firm, which employs other blacks from entry into the music industry. Why not call it racism? You know who you are Chuck-D.

Dude said--"it's become very multi-hued and is no long a black/white issue. It's much more about class now."

I feel you, as a black woman of working class origins, at times I have felt some reservations about Barack Obama. One instance was when he presumed to advise African Americans to take more responsibility for their lives and families. Had the same issue with Bill Cosby.

OK, so now we are at the point of questioning my intellect. Nice.

I *have* read the post I referred you to. And it is about how people use tactics to avoid discussing the issues related to societal "isms." When one talks about the racist (or sexist or whatever) societal constructs that exist the reaction from those listening is to prove that you're not referring to them. It goes from the macro to the micro. It is deflection and avoidance. Having the discussion is not about assigning blame. It is about recognizing what exists and working to make change.

To answer your questions, yes, my family does consider being West Indian to be black. We were brought as slaves from our homeland to many places. I am of African decent. I am black. My husband is white. My child is biracial. There is clear understanding of what this means in the United States.

I'm not sure why my pointing out that my life experience is different from yours warrants an eye roll, but chaqu'un a son gout. I cannot tell if you are being dismissive of the difference or simply denying that it exists. In any event, enjoy your eye twirl.

And tell me, what is this "being black" you speak of? You put this forth as if there is a definitive black experience that creates blackness. When I was growing up I heard that doing well in school and using standard English were not being truly "black." Of course those ridiculous narrow-box definitions are nothing more than utter crap. So what is this concept of looking black but not being black. Is blackness nothing more than a state of mind? So that were I accosted by white supremacists, I could simply assure them that I may look black but I am not really black, thus they should let me be. Is this what you are asserting?

Oh and it's all about class now! Right! So that when the police stop my upper class black male friends for driving cars that are a bit too nice and ask them what they are doing in their own neighborhood, they should pull out their most recent pay stub and show the cop that they belong in the nice neighborhood? See Mr. Officer, I have money. I belong here!

And when my 13 year old brother got accosted not just once by cops in our own affluent neighborhood who drew down on him as he walked his bike to his friends house...well that was all a misunderstanding as they should have looked at his designer jeans (normal fitting, no bagginess) and izod shirt and realized that he belonged there. Yeah, I understand now. Thank you for that clarification.

And about the poor young man executed in Oakland...how long did it take for the officer involved to have charges filed against him for this execution? I know, as far as you are concerned, that wasn't about race. It was just one of those things that could have happened to anyone.

But hey, the beauty of this country is that we don't have to see eye to eye. You think I'm employing "racist presumptions" and I think you are so wrapped up in privilege that you cannot see that in 2009 race/sex/religion and sexual orientation still matter, and to be dismissive of the experiences and...dare I say it...feelings of others on the matter is narrow and unhelpful.

Truth be told, I don't want to be lost in your melting pot where there are no differences. I like being black. It has been a gift that has helped me gain significant perspective about the outsider experience. I don't dismiss these perspectives and say that they no longer matter. There will always be differences between people. What I would like is for the differences to not be attached to negative connotations by others. That's where the train goes off the rails.

I appreciate the opportunity for dialogue and to give you more eye rolling moments than you gave me (even if I don't understand why they induced eye rolling).

And TheZenHaitian: I don't even understand your question. Maybe you could break it down for me in another venue.

Goodnight.
Teendoc-- I don't have a question, I have a point. You and "Dude" are both privileged people, who at one time or another have exercised power over another group of people. I have equal ambivalence about that exercise of power whether it comes from a black person or a white person. Having myself been on the receiving end of dismissal, prejudice and hatred from both.
I don't have a question, I have a point.

Um, you had questions in your original section you directed to me about your sister the entertainment lawyer.

You and "Dude" are both privileged people, who at one time or another have exercised power over another group of people. I have equal ambivalence about that exercise of power whether it comes from a black person or a white person. Having myself been on the receiving end of dismissal, prejudice and hatred from both.

OK, then. I'm speaking macro and you are speaking micro. Let's pick a playing field and both stay on it. On a micro level, I agree with you, but I don't see that having to do with any of the societal constructs I am discussing here.

Really going to bed now.
rated because I'm proud to be American, for a change.
Teendoc-- Sorry, I posed that question in an awkward way. I was making two separate points. Let me just elaborate on what I meant to say.

I take issue with your macro definition of racism. I think racism is a term that may be applied to both racial dichotomies (white and black). Racism is micro. The same people who accuse the white population of racism often do not practice tolerance, fairness and open-mindedness on a micro level. They should take some responsibility for the intolerance that exist on a macro level.

Dude said that he is not white. That is huge. When other white people can say that - when black people can say that they are not black, then we would have come closer to a "post-racial" society.

For him to say that he is not white is to say that he recognizes that he is part of the human family, not some artificial racial construct designed to oppressed a marginalized group of people.
Excellent. You've articulated beautifully what I have felt myself about this whole business. I am glad you said it and said it so well. I have a similar sort of deal with being a Jewish-American--I hate the hyphen and I don't really practice or believe in the Jewish religion anymore and haven't for a long time, but my religious-ethnic "roots" are Jewish and so many people want to shove me into that category. I see myself as maybe somewhat, slightly "culturally Jewish" but I am also a practicing Buddhist and culturally diverse as I've been heavily involved in Native American affairs and practices for many, many years. So what am I? Well, according to all the forms I have to fill out these days I am anglo-American--white, non-hispanic. This about all that people will see. They will not see that I was raised by a black woman and her husband because my own parents were too busy to do it themselves. I went to church with them, played gospel piano in the church, looked out at the world from the black POV. By the time I was 15 I was already a militant for racial equality--something my Jewish parents didn't count on! They may have raised money for the state of Israel and deplored (as we all do and did) the Holocaust, but they were practicing racism in their own back yard. So--this I need to save for my own essay. Meanwhile, thank you for yours.
"These thoughts lead to a possible answer for those who ask why Obama didn’t tell his Reverend Wright to cool it with his passionate denunciations of mainstream “white” American culture. Maybe, like our French/Congolese friend, Obama simply had the decency and intelligence to recognize that it really wasn’t any of his business. His ancestors hadn’t toiled in Mississippi cotton fields. Who is he to tell an African-American leader what to say or not to say to other African-Americans about the black struggle in the United States?"

This gave my brain little goosebumps of joy. Good work.

Growing up white in the American South, I've seen the ugly shadow of racism all of my life. I had to learn to reconcile the sweet, loving generosity of my grandmother with some of the ugly things that came out of her mouth about black folks. I heard stories of how local politicians threatened to block segregation with force -- local politicians, mind you, who are still revered in some parts of my community.

Certainly, I've seen the shadow clear a bit but certain attitudes are hard-wired and aren't likely to change until -- as a sociology professor of mine once said -- "a bunch of old bigots finally die."

The slavery discussion is always an interesting one. Half of my ancestors -- German and Dutch settlers in Louisiana -- were indentured servants. Another part of by ancestry was native American, and we all know how that turned out. I, for one, w0uld like to see us all learn from our mistakes and move forward -- and not wallow in the victimhood of past atrocities.
You make some interesting points, as do you commenters below.

RonP01 and I are trying to start what we're calling "An Open Dialogue on Race" on OS, starting with Ron's latest post and mine. We'd love to have you and your commenters join in. If you'd like to participate, please check out my post at:

http://open.salon.com/blog/faith_paulsen/2009/05/12/open_dialogue_on_race_ii

In it, you'll find a link to Ron's as well as ground rules and format we are setting up for this discussion.
I, REPUBLICAN Live as such:

ME, Me, me – NONE for YOU, You, you

My MYTH is LORD; Lording over is my nature

I, REPUBLICAN choose to follow Rome of Antiquity’s sulfur scent, actively praying to its carcass in hopes for RESURRECTION of the one TRUTH dressed in Purple again and stylish indeed will we be side by side our regaled Pope and like him sans crown but with imposing headgear.

I, REPUBLICAN care not for others woe, for such is life for the peas-a, I mean, pedestri…, that is, prole … well, you know, THOSE people.

I, REPUBLICAN to full effect and willfully leverage 1,500 years of Church-based censorship and scientific suppression of both the Harlot and her ecclesial Daughters of Sheep Sheparding and use these honed skills without regret on the Sheep of current times. It works. As long as we keep killing the education bills in congress.

I, REPUBLICAN have to take my crown off to those 4th and 5th Century Church Fathers … thanks for Machiavelli, Cosa Nostra and all the other fine examples to live by … only in your Nueva Roma could these traditions truly develop in all their finery.

I, REPUBLICAN really wish I was CHARLEMAGNE, Holy Roman Emperor

I, REPUBLICAN can dream can’t I?

I, REPUBLICAN just flat out do not care about you. You are supposed to bootstrap your own damn self – never mind I inherited mine and you live in the hood. Bitches never prosper.

I, REPUBLICAN sure do love the USA! But, I, REPUBLICAN Live as such:

ME, Me, me – NONE for YOU, You, you

My MYTH is LORD; Lording over is my nature

I, REPUBLICAN choose to follow Rome of Antiquity’s sulfur scent, actively praying to its carcass in hopes for RESURRECTION of the one TRUTH dressed in Purple again and stylish indeed will we be side by side our regaled Pope and like him sans crown but with imposing headgear.

I, REPUBLICAN care not for others woe, for such is life for the peas-a, I mean, pedestri…, that is, prole … well, you know, THOSE people.

I, REPUBLICAN to full effect and willfully leverage 1,500 years of Church-based censorship and scientific suppression of both the Harlot and her ecclesial Daughters of Sheep Sheparding and use these honed skills without regret on the Sheep of current times. It works. As long as we keep killing the education bills in congress.

I, REPUBLICAN have to take my crown off to those 4th and 5th Century Church Fathers … thanks for Machiavelli, Cosa Nostra and all the other fine examples to live by … only in your Nueva Roma could these traditions truly develop in all their finery.

I, REPUBLICAN really wish I was CHARLEMAGNE, Holy Roman Emperor

I, REPUBLICAN can dream can’t I?

I, REPUBLICAN just flat out do not care about you. You are supposed to bootstrap your own damn self – never mind I inherited mine and you live in the hood. Bitches never prosper.

I, REPUBLICAN sure do love the USA! But, I, REPUBLICAN is very scared about all this. Not looking forward to getting to know these people. Hey, what about that Repub Guv from Tejas' idea!
Obama could be the first president to render the question of racial identity too damned confusing to bother with.

He's the first president to present a question of racial identity period. All the others have been unequivocally white.
Agreed. We are slowly homogenizing. Every nation that is "homogenous" at some time in its existence, was once hetergeneous. Its all relative. Many different things come together, and there is difference. Over time, they blend and there is one-ness. Then new things come into the fold again, and heterogeneity re-emerges. Its dialectical. This is the nature of things.
Race may become too confusing, but what about CLASS?