British versus American

Unlike most Britons (male and female) that I know, I am unreserved about enjoying a British series called Made In Chelsea (MiC). I debriefed the series in a previous post here, which you can read up on here. Liking the series (and Britons who also like it, but are embarrassed to admit it in British public) may say a great deal about me as a person, and the people I attract. Let’s face it, black-identified Americans have called me “bourgie” since I was a child. It’s pretty hilarious to think about the cultural connection, too, as Anglophones typically view Francophone people as “refined” ( Ou Lah Lah! ) but “arrogant.” We all bathe in parfum and are serial epicureans. “If the shoe fits?” Continue reading

Guarding Representations of Culture

Good lord.

Why did 20 year old Miley, viewed and identified as white, had to use black-identified women with big butts in her Video Music Award (VMA) performance last night? You know that is a no-no in the U.S. and is sure to provoke a race war; which it has.

Black-identified American women are at the forefront of the outrage. I’ve read some pretty insightful articles and blog entries on the sexualization of black-identified women (historically), devalue of the black body, myopic views of black-identified people as entertainers, rather than people.

And you know, I’ve got to say that I mostly agree with them. I can definitely see many persons in the world seeing “black” people as sexual, musical or athletic entertainers. But the more I consider it, the more I believe that this is linked to TV and to how black-identified persons make their livelihood, which itself is celebrated on TV. Black Americans have hangups with playing soccer or cricket, which they view as a “white sport,” but Nigerians, Jamaicans and Indians play soccer in the streets and Jamaicans and Indians have the world’s best cricket teams. They’re not usually identified as white.

I was just mentioning how here in the UK folks are quite willing to have a sexual relationship with me, and to solicit me for sex copiously, but are less willing to court me.  I see this more in the UK than I did in the U.S., Norway or France, but I think it may be a global trend. It’s the whole idea that tall, tan, men, are monstrously hung and excessively masculine. It’s that fantasy of being in a violent sex session, even if in reality it isn’t violent, it’s the fantasy of being with someone who could be violent simply because of his virility and that idea of virility is based on how people racially place him. White men, for instance, are not usually associated with excessive masculinity. Orientals definitely aren’t; in fact, they’re usually expected to be quite effeminate. So, I entirely see the argument of the body of colored folks being divorced from their entire self. Gays often complain of the same. Hmmm Maybe it’s that men (no matter their culture or orientation), when we want sex, we want sex, not love. Maybe it’s an animalistic carryover. We are still beasts, anyways.

But what I disagree with in all of this “black” feminist fury, is that while it is true that many women have been raped throughout time, it is not universally true that slave women unwillingly opened their legs for white men. Some white men, indeed many, formed loving relationships with slave women, emancipating them, providing for the safety, education and security of their natural (and sometimes legitimate) children. And they weren’t always mulatto women, either. I can name about 50 of these “success” stories off the top of my hand; then again, as a genealogist, I may know more about the documented past than the average Janet on the street in Charlotte, North Carolina. In any case, as far as I can see, black Americans (women in particular) want to believe the contrary is universally true, so that investment in fallacy to fill the void of their unknown individual family histories, is what has become the norm.

The Miley fury isn’t really only about a white girl being racist; it’s about black Americans being upset when others, especially white-identified, learn cultural attributes viewed by both racial groups as “black culture.” This is what it’s all about. It’s about white people becoming black (and black people becoming white). And in the United States, apparently, this is not supposed to happen. It’s not supposed to be legal. It’s not meant to be tolerated. No! Stay in your white world, honky! Don’t forget where you came from, nigger! White people can’t dance and ain’t got junk in their trunk. It’s a sick, perverse, sort of guardianship of “things” that black-identified Americans hate being observed and remarked by whites (as stereotypes). But if whites observe it, then it must be more than a stereotype; something about it must be true. Right? If you watched P-Diddy videos, Miley’s video isn’t that far different. He can do it because he’s black. It’s expected of him and mostly tolerated by other black-identified Americans; right? But when the white girl or boy does, unless it’s sappy RnB by Justin Timberlake or Robin Thicke, it’s racist.

If you do not want people associating you with “racist” observations, or by learning things that only certain “races” do, then stop investing in racialization. This is what is (and has always been) about. These ideas that people from diverse cultural and geographic experiences all do the same things, think the same because they’re “members” of one “race.” If you do not like what others observe for your race, then what is your alternative? In America, for blacks, the only alternative is whiteness. For whites, the only alternative is blackness.

Pick one.
And then stay on your own side of the tracks!

Ahhhh … America and race.

Crabs in a barrel

Image

Poverty is the worst form of violence.
Mahatma Ghandi

I was just reading a study conducted in 1956 on integration in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. The study, sanctioned by the Louisiana Catholic Church, was an attitudinal study on integration of local institutions. A single Jesuit priest conducted all interviews, going from town to town, faubourg to faubourg; mostly in the Attakapas District civil parishes.[1]

In 2 of the interviews, in small towns in Vermilion parish, a lay teacher and a priest, both rather liberal in their views regarding bigotry and discrimination, continuously referred to “the poor French,” sometimes they’d say “Cajun” (indicating either a new identity or their disapproval of its usage), as being the most ardent bigot and potentially violent citizen towards the “Negro” and “Red-bones.”[2] But over and over, throughout the study, some of those same middle-class and elite members of their communities acknowledged that while those poor “white” Catholic Creoles were against the possibility of their poor “negro” Catholic Creole relatives and homologues being granted favorable sociolegal conditions to do well for themselves, they [poor “white” Creoles] could be easily convinced to support the plight of the poor “Negro” if sensitized by a local leader.

I read through these with great interest, as I personally know the towns in the study and know some of the people interviewed, as well. It’s always interesting to walk in other people’s shoes, even at the risk of being alienated, ridiculed or frightened. I walk in other people’s shoes often, actually. All with the objective of enlightening the misled or misinformed, of course.

But I thought to myself: good lord I’m relieved to not have to think twice about all of the bigoted antagonizing that goes on in inhumane ways in the United States; no matter how distant or how recent in the past. At least here in England, folks squeal if one speaks too loudly and freak out if a stranger chats to them; imagine overt forms of discrimination practiced in front of them. They’d experience an extreme crisis of dissociative disorder, and act like they don’t see, hear or smell anything and would walk away reassuring themselves that nothing ever happened. So, folks here tend to mind their own business and stay in their own bubbles. No fussing. No pushing. No murdering.

Just as soon as I had given myself peace of mind over being here in Jolly Old England, I logged onto Facebook to send an e-mail to a colleague, and my newsfeed was saturated with commentary on the decision in the Trayvon Martin case. I knew that George Zimmerman had been found innocent of the crime for which he was being tried (I have no opinions on the case as I lack sufficient details). One of my cousins posted a link to an interview with Anderson COOPER and the MARTINs, the decedent’s parents, on “what is the pace at which an African American man can walk [in the United States].” My heart goes out to the MARTINs, not because they are black-identified, but because they lost a child. People always say that the worse lost is to lose one’s child. Heart wrenching.

I could not help noticing obvious parallels in his story and those of the study I read. Neither ZIMMERMAN nor MARTIN were middle class nor elite. Yes, I’m aware that ZIMMERMAN’s father was a judge and his mother a college graduate, but that does not mean that George is all of that. For god’s sake, he was a neighborhood watchman. Nor does it mean that he was immune to the antagonisms common to poor people or people with certain attitudes prevalent among the poor. Professional ascension and education do not guarantee an evolution of thought. So, for me, George is trapped in a poor boy’s mind. A kind of dissonance, if you wish.

The study above demonstrated antagonisms between poor “white” Creoles and impoverished “Negro” Creoles. When I think about gang violence prevalent throughout the United States, 100% of gang members, across the racial spectrum, come from multigenerationally poor families. In fact, with few exceptions, most U.S. domestic civil unrest is the poor fighting the poor; but rare are conflicts across class lines.

I only wonder if one day some gifted leader will appear and unite the impoverished masses to fight for one another, instead of against one another. It is fairly clear to me: there are structural and cultural impediments to socioeconomic mobility in the United States. The nation has been run by Ivy Leaguers since forever. Some of them are black-, Indian-, Asian-identified. Some get through the cracks. But usually they are themselves from multigenerationally elite families, American or foreign. Few, very, very few Leaguers come from poor American families.

Part of the disconnect lies in culture. The poor often cling to the cultural habits and attitudes they’ve only ever known. There is visceral resentment of the kind of educational programs, mindsets and institutions that offer access to mobility in the United States. God forbid a brown-skinned American has an excellent command of the English language, no regional accent, a “normal” name, and dresses “preppy.” All kinds of racial epithets are sure to head his way … from poor, black-identified Americans. Follks among them are quick to remind that “brother” that he “musta forgot where he came from.” Likewise, Hillbillies cannot stand “big timing so-and-so’s” telling them how to dress, speak and live. I used to hear similar criticisms among Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans in New York City.

Meanwhile, only symbolic changes occur to the working and living conditions of the poor. The least gesture is enough to satisfy the poor masses for about 50-70 years, until an inspired member among them rises and articulates what many have observed: other poor people are not the enemy.

When shit does blow over stateside, I know that I do not want to be there … it will not be pretty. I’m delighted to be in Northern, Western Europe, where the poor are well-educated, politically-engaged, well-informed, and figured out many moons ago that together they could effect change, without regard to their religion, language preferences, sexual preferences and so on. And because of that investment in the solidarity of the working class, many poor people in Europe (not everywhere, of course), live in dignity, with the option to traverse classes if they want to. Go to Essex County, England or Whitehawk in Brighton, and you’ll see for yourself. 🙂

I don’t foresee poor Americans relinquishing their obstinacy, resentment nor gestural changes. As long as poor Americans reject rigor, structure, and education, nothing will change there in the near future. But, as always, I could be wrong. Hopefully, I am. Until then, poverty remains the worse form of violence.

Footnotes

1. Attakapas District: St. Martin, Iberia, St. Mary, Vermilion, Lafayette, Cameron and part of Acadia civil parishes.

2. Red-bone is a term that became widely popular in Southwest Louisiana from early to mid 20th century. The term, as it is employed there, anyways, was used as a synonym for folks formally known as Mulattoes; that is, folks neither white nor black in racial parlance, but somewhere in between. “Morani” or “meranee” and “red” are adjectives serving as synonyms for Red-bone. Some Southerners also use “yella-bone” for racially-inbetweeners with relatively fair skin.