Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Okay. Biracial has replaced the pejorative "mulatto." Both terms indicate, in this blog, that a person has one black parent and one white parent. Multiracial needs its own blog. Over the years, increasing numbers of students with various shades of brown skin have loudly proclaimed: "I'm not black; I'm biracial." I usually ask them to explain what they mean. The explanations are as varied as the humans. Most say something like: "I can't choose between my (usually) black father and my (usually) white mother," or I'm "honoring both my heritages." Okay, I get that. Kinda. Well, I actually don't. Let me just give you my initial reaction when I hear someone tell me this: Okay, you're obviously not white. We see that. So you need to tell us that you're not black? Isn't an "American Negr0" multiracial by definition? So why does your need to tell me that you're not black feel like a rejection of me? If we can see that you're not white, what drives you to tell us that you're not black?

I've heard all of the possible responses, but I need to hear them over and over again cause every, single time some brown person tells me that he's biracial, it causes me pain and I feel resentful. Okay, so this is old stuff, southern stuff, the stuff of black folks who rejected their families, escaped Jim Crow, and faded into whiteness cause they could. It's about my father, whose mother was whiter than white, and neither he nor any of his siblings wanted to claim that whiteness. They knew what whiteness and white folks had done to their mother when she married their father, and none of them wanted any part of that whiteness. It wasn't a reason to feel proud.

One of the explanations I usually hear is that the rigid racial categories were designed by white folks. Rejecting those categories, in the minds of many, represents some kind of resistance or progress. Okay, got it, but here's my problem: I don't see a whole lotta white folks rejecting whiteness. Most of my white students, friends, colleagues identify as white, so if whiteness ain't going nowhere, why must blackness? Why must black folks fade into some vague racial otherness that STILL represents "not white"? As long as white is white and privilege and power and dominance, I'm black. Period. Neither my grandma nor those white ancestors change that identity. None of those white ancestors saved me from the back of the bus. My "high yellow shit color," as my friends and family often observe, ain't saved me from one indignity associated with being black in this country. So no, I need not claim that whiteness that obviously resides in me. Old wounds and realities? Of course, but I, like you, am the sum total of my life experiences.

Each day, I continue to learn about generational divides, and perhaps this is one. I suspect geography comes to bear on this issue as well. Having said this, however, one of my friends, a young man who is also a southerner, is a biracial black man. In other words, he has one black parent and one white, but he identifies himself and seems to take pride in the fact of his blackness. So what makes him different? Why is it important for him to embrace blackness?

I grew up in a culture and a world where being black for so many people was reason for shame and despair. I think this is still true. For example, many black folks loathe dark skin and very kinky hair. Straight versus "nappy" hair remains an issue among black women; many of whom believe that straight hair, permed hair is "good" hair. The 70s cured many of us of that need to straighten, to claim white ancestry, to be white like. Once Debbie Begab (a Jewish classmate from Silver Spring, bless her heart) washed and cut my hair (it looked a mess), my days with the straightening comb and perms were over. And even now, I fight with younger black women about "doing something about my hair."

I have encountered first, second and even third generation black students who refuse to call themselves African Americans or black Americans. Some even refuse to acknowledge that they are black. Those with African parents refer to themselves as African. What the hell is that all about? Those black Americans of Caribbean ancestry often still refer to themselves as Caribbean or West Indian. Often, they refer to nationality rather than ethnicity. Black Puerto Ricans and Dominicans are notorious for identifying solely by nationality. On several occasions, I've pointed out this reality. If you are born in the United States, you're likely an American. If you're born black in the U.S., you're likely black or African American--not African or Caribbean. So here's the point, and this explains the title of this blog. To be an African American or Black American or American Negro is, among folks of African descent, the worst kinda black you can be, and this isn't conjecture. I've done enough informal interviewing on the topic to be absolutely certain of this. The reasons are both simple and complex. The simple reason is the pervasive perceptions of black Americans with which we are all familiar: shiftless, lazy, welfare,dumb, unemployed, babymakers, criminals, drug addicts. Black folks round the world absorb these images and perceptions and often believe them. Many live in or near urban communities and "witness" the "truth" of these descriptions. Who the hell would want to be associated with all that negative stuff? The more complex reasons pertain to the ways of white folks. They reinforce that desire to distance by their own categories. There are good black folks (who usually aren't American) and then there are "the blacks." For example, here's how it plays out on campus--mine and others. We have, for example, African students, Caribbean students and "the blacks." Though all of us are indeed, black, "the blacks" are the least "academically oriented." Meaning black folks from the U.S. are either not as smart as the other black folks or don't take academic work as seriously. The most recent descriptors of black Americans are: victims, whiners, stuck in time, underachievers, overly concerned about fashion, rappers, ignorant, crude, low class and GHETTO.

So, I suppose my fierce allegiance to my American blackness, is also a defense against the persistent ways in which my folks, black Americans, are dissed and dumped on by other black folks and white folks and even ourselves. I'm comfortable in my skin. Proud of its heritage, and though I, too, understand the reasons and sometimes feel the desire to distance, I feel strongly that black people, my folks, need to survive in this ever growing murky pool of bi, multi, not whiteness. I'm acutely aware of my history, and I simply can't and won't reject that by honoring whiteness, no matter what part of me is that, particularly if any part of that whiteness is a result of the rape of my great grandmothers.

I have so much more to say on this issue, and it inevitably leads to President Obama, of course, and one long blog on how he came to be where he is today. An admission of my ambivalence about him and why is a blog or two away. Suffice it to say that only two black men EVER had any chance of being POTUS: Obama is one; Colin Powell is the other, and this ain't no coincidence. No way. No how. Later.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


The telephone is not my friend. There are few things that I dislike more than talking on the telephone. This fact represents a radical shift in behavior. I spent my early adulthood attached to a telephone receiver. I enjoyed conversations and could talk for hours. Now, more often than not, I want to ignore a ringing phone, and that includes a cell phone. Yes, I own a cell phone, but I rarely use it for talking, and, for the most part, I don't know where it is. A cell phone is for travel-- a way to always be in touch. A cell phone allows me to travel freely without having to call family to give city, hotel, etc. I can always be reached. A cell phone is for email, Facebook and texting.

My telephobia has caused no small amount of concern among some of my friends who love to "reach out and touch." I hear "you never call me" from those who are fond of phoning. I'm great with email, but some friends determine that email is "impersonal." That makes no sense to me. I enjoy writing (note, the blog) and expressing myself in the way that email or writing letters encourages. Email, and the newer texting, make communication almost as immediate as speaking by phone.

One friend declares that it's impossible to maintain a long distance relationship without phoning. She's furious with me--unaccepting of my reluctance or refusal to call. Mind you, she's long winded, and that means I'll be on the phone for at least an hour. Many of my friends have similar inclinations for talking long and often.

There are too many opportunities for instant conversation to be tied to a telephone, and that's not necessarily a good thing. I miss the old long distance call. These are the calls to which I looked forward. They would be few and far between. Why? Cause they cost money. The cost prohibited the frequency and the conversation time, but I remember the joy of hearing from that loved one who lived in a different city or state. "It's a long distance call!" The household would come running to speak a minute or two with Grandma or Cousin Joe. That was fun. This constant, instant is not. It makes "reaching out and touching" routine and sometimes boring. I can talk to anyone almost anywhere in the world at any time. I've seen computer centers in tiny towns and rural villages all over the world.

I see the phone, more often than not, as a device for emergencies. While I can bear a pleasant chat for 5-10 minutes, anything longer drives me nuts. I'll find some good reason to stop talking. If I saw you yesterday, what could I possibly have to discuss by phone 24 hours later?

For those who use telephone time as a measure of love, well, I'm sorry about that. I would hope that other aspects of our relationship would assure you of my love for you. If not, just tell me what I can do--just don't let it be calling you on the telephone please.

My mother, of course, was an exception to this telephobia. I would talk as long as she wanted to talk. My mom, however, loved the computer, and she became a great and avid emailer. When she came to Canton to die, she was the only resident in United Helpers who insisted upon having a computer in her room. The computers in the community rooms just wouldn't do. She needed her email and her internet in her own space. Hers is a number I'd love to dial--a voice I'd give all worldly goods to hear just once more.

My "chosen mother," who gratefully still survives, is another exception. I'll talk to my Vera as long as she wants to talk. Though even she complains that I don't call her enough, I continue to try. She's actually one of my best friends, and she's 82. I can make all kinds of concessions for her. She also makes me laugh a lot.

Mary and I share similar dispositions on this issue. She's worse than I. Yes, it's possible. In the early stages of our relationship, I would call her. Not a good idea. I don't think we've talked 3 hours by phone in 14 years, and that includes all the times we've been separated. Our phone conversations are usually limited to basics: "You okay? Good day today? Do anything special? How are the animals? I miss you. I love you. Come home soon."

So, phone loving friends, please don't equate love with phoning. There are those most dear to me with whom I rarely have a telephone conversation. We are, however, always in touch--just a letter, email or text away. And Facebook has opened yet another world of communication to us.
Enough already. Gotta go. My phone is ringing! Later.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I used to wonder why I'd often heard the idea that weddings and funerals evoke similar emotions and family drama. Now I understand what they meant. I've just spent five days engaged in the wedding festivities of one of two of my "adopted" daughters. She was beautiful, all smiles, clearly riding the crest of a wave. The ceremony was also beautiful, tasteful and ever so sweet. So why do I feel such a sense of melancholy? What's the problem? Nothing much has changed. The couple has lived together for years. I love them both. I feel a sense of loss, but I can't figure what I've lost. Anyway, there remains a deep sense of unrest in me. Something's gnawing at my gut, and I'm not sure what it is. Perhaps I'm jealous, or maybe I feel that she's moving away from me and toward a new family. I just don't know, but what I do know is that I don't like what I feel. No way. No how. And if anyone out there gets it, give me a shout. I'd like to lose this feeling as soon as possible. Perhaps it's just that change is hard, even tiny change. I just don't know.