DECEMBER 2, 2009 8:17AM

Blackness - Whiteness

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An age ago when I had to keep closer track of what currently bubbled up to the top of popular culture and remained there as a sort of curdled froth, suitable for generating one-liners for whatever radio show I was doing for Armed Forces Radio, I read a long interview with Spike Lee. This would have been about the time that he floated into everyone’s cultural consciousness as a specifically black filmmaker, with “She’s Gotta Have It” and “Do The Right Thing”; a new fresh voice with a quirky and nuanced take on being black in America. It was a revealing interview which left me shaking my head, because it seemed to me that Mr. Lee was animated by a deeply held conviction that the American establishment and white people everywhere were coldly, malevolently and persistently dedicated with every fiber of their being and every hour of every day, to the sole objective of ‘keeping the black man down’. It was the top item on the agenda at every business meeting, every political gathering, and the topic of fevered discussion at every dinner table and whispered in every cloakroom, yea verily, wherever where white Americans gathered – there was the grand conspiracy to ruin the black American community. Or at least make them have a crappy day.

I couldn’t at that time say much about what went on at political and business meetings – unless it was anything like commanders’ calls or unit staff meetings. But I could speak rather frankly about what went around the dinner tables of white folk in America; being, to the best of my knowledge (and a look at my OS avatar should confirm this) a person of decided pallor. Yep – as far as I can tell, even onto Granny Jessie’s farthest ancestral generation in this United States (which dated to 1670 something – all the other ancestors were comparatively recent arrivals) they were all white. Anglo. WASP. Whatever. Family was white, neighborhood mostly white working class, schools integrated but mostly white, churches mostly the same. Until I joined the Air Force, I swam in a pool of whiteness. After that point, I had quantities of friends, fellow barracks rats, NCOs, commanders, neighbors with, as one of them put it, a year-round very dark tan. But I could confidently say that among all the people that I knew,  white malevolence toward blacks – which Mr. Lee took as a given as being ubiquitous as  Jello salads with crushed pineapple in them at Lutheran church pot-luck suppers – was an issue so far off the table that it wasn’t even in the same room.

It just never came up… well, except maybe at school, and in discussions of the civil rights movement; and in that venue I recall those others present rather mildly wished those black protestors well. Of course, segregation was not a good thing, racially-based poll taxes and tests, siccing police dogs on perfectly legitimate protest marches, or midnight lynchings; none of those things were approved of among those people I knew growing up. Separate drinking fountains, or separate but equal anything else were seen as pretty ridiculous. People ought to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin; an eminently reasonable proposition, then and now. I was left shaking my head over Mr. Lee’s convictions, and thinking that he would be terribly distressed to know that there wasn’t any grand, overarching institutional malevolence towards blacks on the part of whites.

 How deflating it would be for him to know that there were only varying degrees of disinterest. But if it filled something in his life to believe so, to paint up his fellow citizens as unrelenting and tireless persecutors; it’s a free country. You’re free to believe whatever idiocy you choose… knowing that such beliefs say more about the believer than it does about those he believes it of. If Spike Lee and other movie people want to go wandering in their own fantasy-land, god knows they have enough company. It’s not called Hollywierd for nothing. The political realm is another matter. In that realm, black racism ought to be just as much the political kiss of death as white racism - or any other kind.

 And perhaps it is – since well-meaning people of pallor seem presently to be fed to their back teeth with having ‘you racist!’ screamed at them, every time they voice a mild criticism of such loudly and notoriously controversial mayors like Ray Nagin and  Marion Barry, or a buffoon like Al  Sharpton -  or any other race-card playing luminaries, who seem to have no more qualifications for the minor office or position they hold other than their facility and whip-lash inducing swiftness  for accusing their critics of racism.

Here we are, near to the end of 2009; at least forty years since casual social racism was acceptable in most circles, more than that since racial segregation was the law of the land, sixty years since it was the common practice of the military, a hundred and forty since chattel slavery was outlawed utterly ... and for the last year we have had a president who is black … well, really,  sometimes it seems as if all of what needs to be said about race and racism in American society has already been said, and said over and over and over. At this point, the whole thing  is a rather academic discussion; most of the people who are not paid to care about racial relations simply don’t care all that much. They just get on with living and working.


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I don't know where Spike Lee was raised, but here in my neck of the woods there's more than a grain of truth to his ranting. "Respectable" white folks have learned how to sound like they aren't racist, but most - deep down - still look at people of color as inferior. They say things like "she's done okay, considering." However, it does seem to me that anybody -- no matter what your color -- who isn't "connected" -- faces an uphill battle to rise above their current circumstances. There's no doubt the American people have a great respect for money.
I didn't really appreciate my home town until I started traveling in the Southern US for business. Yes, there are white people whose identity is tied into the color of their skin, and who take pleasure in being "superior" to the darker-skinned folks. Stupid, but true.
Not really as many of them as everyone assumes - and seemingly less and less expressed openly among those under 50.
Great piece, Sarge. What gets me is this -- about the time I was born, Harry Truman integrated the Armed Forces. Today our Commander in Chief is a black man. That's some serious progress.
You write extraordinarily well.
You are so off point here that I'm a little baffled.

So, Spike Lee said some things in an interview (that you failed to quote) that made you believe that Lee was "animated by a deeply held conviction that the American establishment and white people everywhere were coldly, malevolently and persistently dedicated with every fiber of their being and every hour of every day, to the sole objective of ‘keeping the black man down’."

First off, I'd like to see the actual interview. Secondly, if a white man builds a machine and that machine conspires with a different machine built by another white man, are those two men conspiring?

America was built on a culture of usury and enslavement. The whole country, not just the south. Take a look at prison populations, mortality rates, average income, education levels, crime statistics, poverty levels, rates of AIDS, rates of diabetes, subprime lending statistics, test scores, private school enrollment, rate of single parent homes, rate of children with an incarcerated parent, rate of orphans in foster care, etc. etc.

Blacks lag far behind whites in all those indicators. White America constructed the system that makes life so much tougher for blacks in America. White America created ghettos like Watts and southwest Atlanta. Whites put crack on the street in Harlem.

I know you're right about one thing: There probably aren't too many white folks sitting around their suburban homes thinking about how to keep the blacks down... (but there are plenty of white people who decide it's time to put the house up for sale when most of the neighbors have already sold to black families.)

Still, you miss the point. Lee's comments were surely meant to make people think about the shocking inequality among the races -- as far as socioeconomic factors such as those listed above are concerned. The machine that's in place sure makes it feel like whites are actively conspiring, even if the system is on autopilot.

And whites do passively conspire everyday by failing to break down the machine. The schools are more segregated now in this country than they were at any time since the Dr. King's assassination. Whites who actively conspire do things like take their kids out of minority-majority school districts to place them in private schools.

Open your eyes Sgt. Mom. You're better than this.
No, Edgar - I do not think I missed the point. And my eyes have been opened for years. The interview was something I read in a print magazine fifteen years ago - I no longer remember where I read it, only that I did, and that I was a bit non-plussed at his convictions on the matter, since it did not track in the least with my own personal experience, WTR racial relations, any of my experience in the military - or anything I have experienced since then. (And I currently live and work in a very working-class suburb in San Antonio.)

I find your comment about schools to be especially risible - since I did indeed place my daughter in a private high school, when she was 16 and floundering in public schools. She wound up in a Catholic girls school on the South side of San Antonio, where the student body was about %95 Hispanic. In her graduating class, there was one other white kid, one black kid, a Filipina, and an Indian. As in Indian-Indian. If the schools are more segregated today, it's because many of the public ones are failing to actually educate students - and any parent (black or white) who gives a #%t about their children is going to any alternative available, from home-schooling to parochial-school. It's not a color-thing, it's a competence-thing. (If she had gone to the local public high school, around the corner, I think the ratio would have been about 50% Anglo, %30 Hispanic, %20 Black and other. Just a rough guess, though, judging by the kids that I see along Stahl Road.)

OMG - there is a white machine?! My next-door neighbor is black! And you should hear her go on about the trashy folk from New Orleans that she and her church worked with, after Katrina.
No, it's not color, Edgar - it's economics, and culture. I've personally known too many persons of non-pallor who have refused to let other people (of whatever color) define who they are, and what they should be, and who refused to buy into the sort of black culture which glorifies certain pathologies.
Frankly, sometimes when contemplating the typical representative of the 'black thug-culture' -proudly amoral, improvident, violent, bone-ignorant, and ostentatiously anti-white, I wonder who really is pushing this version of 'blackness' - I'd think it was the modern version of the KKK. I'd also wonder about where blaming 'whitey' leaves off, and where self-inflicted pathologies begin.
Thank you for this brilliant and eloquent post Sgt. Mom. I enjoyed your reply as well.
My knowledge of American politics is not deep; however, I agree that education, motivation and prosperity bring people closer just as their lack can create chasms of misconceptions.
Until the United States FULLY honors the treaties with the Indigenous People... until there are no more concentration camps within the boundaries of the US... *both* blacks and whites will continue to be guilty of racism.

What makes it even more sickening is that Native Americans, according to the United States Supreme Court do NOT have ANY First Amendment Rights under the Constitution. Purely and simply because of their RACE. THAT boys and girls IS "racism" and blatant racism at that...
Take a look at this article from Tuesday's New York Times and then tell me there isn't a "white machine."

Perhaps 'Machine' isn't the best word to use. Substitute 'system' or 'status-quo' and the point remains the same.

You can justify your sending your kids to private school all you want, but the fact remains, in America, your skin color made you much more likely to be able provide your child with a better education.

And while we're talking military (I'm a vet too), take a look at the percentage of enlisted members who are black compared to the percentage of commissioned officers who are. There is a huge, glaring discrepancy across all service branches.

Demographics don't lie. Spike Lee is a smart man. He knows a lot of white people and he surely knows whites aren't secretly conspiring behind closed doors all over the country to keep the black man down. But when you look at the jaw-dropping inequality across race lines, one could make such statements to get a point across.

You really need to examine what you're saying here. Your "My next door neighbor is black and she talks down on black people" argument is the classic "but some of my friends are black" non-starter that not only comes across as unconvincing when it comes to disclaiming bias but is also as a stereotypical response by someone who is biased.

Your last paragraph of your comment (the one that starts with 'Frankly') is at best completely ignorant and at worst outright racist.

Explain to me how ghettoized black youth in the criminal justice system has any relation whatsoever to a white middle class man who dons a hood, terrorizes the poor, lynches people and prevents blacks from establishing status, equality or progress.

You've shown your true colors here.
Yeah, Edgar - my true color is white. And Spike Lee is not a smart man. And people of all colors abandon the public schools because in a lot of places they do not provide any kind of education. And in my own experience - which seems to have differed from yours, there are a hell of a lot more nuance to black and white relations these days.
Frankly, I see that you are playing the old "You Racist!" card, because I have the temerity to differ from conventional wisdom as you define it, and to say so clearly, instead of meekly shutting up.
My experiences and the conclusions I draw from it clearly differ from yours. We disagree. Deal with it.