The culmination of mind, matter, and souls

I give thanks everyday for people who have walked into my life, and help shape who I am today.

Like everyone, I am the accumulation of my foremothers and forefathers both genealogically and experientially. Their choices made through time and space have directly impacted my very existence.

When I leaf through old newspapers, civil and parochial documents, census enumerations, or military personnel material, I am immediately transformed and taken on a journey that I do not always expect. Thus when I read recently that my 5’6″, stout, 3rd great-grandfather, Fulgence ROMERO, suffered from postraumatic stress syndrome and a whole host of health issues like liver and rectal disease as a result of military service, but was a sober and hardworking man, I have no choice but to imagine myself in his shoes and to think: that was 5 generations before me, but his persistence and hope characterize everyone in my direct lineage since him.

I was the lucky one. I was reared in my grandparents’ house, which was my grandfather’s own grandparents’ house. Both my grandfather and grandmother were reared by their grandparents. Six generations of experiences and people in one house! I had no choice to know about Étienne-Pierre, aka Bébé, Fulgence’s son. In fact, Bébé lived on our same street and I vividly remember his old house, where my grandmother used to send me to go pick pecans in the yard.

I would not have ever known who Bébé was, nor anything about his temperament or physique, had I not grown up in that house. Similarly, I would have no idea about my many other ancestors all of whose DNA has crystallized in my bones, teeth, hair, and elsewhere.

Had it not been for growing up there, I would never have known about those in my family before me who worked indefatiguably to make their communities a better and more just place. How could I have known about my great-uncle Victor whose political platform was for the education of all children without respect to previous condition or social class? God knows I’d never have been able to learn about Raoul, who was subject to a great many controversies because he believed in the civil union of power brokers and the powerless, equal rights to immigrants and people of color, and to protection of his, our, their beautiful and lyrical language.

These are the people whose blood flows equally through my veins, and whose legacy I had no choice in knowing or even cherishing. And yet the selectively feeble-minded tell me: pick one Christophe! Pick one out of a sea of memories and shared mindset, autosomal, nuclear, and mitochondrial DNA!

In any case, I don’t do anything I do for recognition. It is my duty I had no choice in designing or choosing. It was all determined by forces beyond my control. When I cook dishes instinctively in a certain way, day, or season, I don’t think to do so (it just happens), and it also happens that I am walking in my family’s footsteps, and reconnecting with them through the aroma of fragrant feuilles des Lauriers in my beans, among other things. I don’t use a recipe, but through senses developed over the years, cultivated in that ancient dwelling, I can inhale then exhale and say: alon manjé. And suddenly I realize that all of those brave, dutiful, protective, and generous souls are speaking to the world through me.

Not a bad way to process this thing called life. There’s always room for improvement, but for now, I am quite content with this journey I’ve been on and can share with all you fine folks. Knowing thyself is half the battle. The rest happens naturally.


Re-thinking One Dropism

One dropism is an American mentality which categorizes American
citzens along now ‘antiquated’ Jim Crow legal and customary
practices based on ‘biological’ rules of hypodescent.

I naïvely came into adulthood, like so many others, believing everything I had learned in grade school and/or at home. Well, to be honest, I rejected some things, but accepted other things as gospel. 

One of those things I accepted was that the U.S. census was a federal tool for the population of the United States. I also believed that the U.S. government really wanted to know how Americans saw themselves, in terms of identity.

But at the same time, I could never quite wrap my mind around the racial category on the census.  I had entirely rejected racial categorization from very young when in kindergarten I was informed that I was black. That troubled me, as a toddler, not because I had retroactively dug into American history and discovered the narratives about slavery with which most earthlings are now familiar. Instead, calling someone black perplexed me, as a 6 year old, in that I had never seen someone literally the color black. So upon learning the ‘place’ in the category assigned to me, I recall very well vehemently responding: I’m not black! I’m yellow! Still to this day, when folks blacken me, I look at my arm attempting to locate a mole or anything black. Light tan in winter. The color of wet sand in spring. Burnt umber in summer. But, not a sign of black. The usual reaction is: well, you’re actually quite light skinned. 

Along the years, pieces to the puzzle have finally come together and I now understand identities better. I once believed that they were, in fact, true choices of personal liberty. Boy was I naïve. But as a starting point, at least in the United States, we can always rely on one source: government. 

It used to be that ‘color’ was a tool for exclusionary practices within federal agencies, which itself influenced state politics. But after the Lovings sued the state of Virginia in 1967, their judiciary success overturned the legal practice of hypodescent in the 15 states where this remained de rigueur. It was a kind of cause célèbre for folks wishing to liberate themselves from the shackles of laws that prevented Americans of different castes or races from marrying one another. But the Lovings were only desirous of nuptials; the bottomline was that hypodescent could no longer prevent Americans from intermarrying, but hypodescent, as a customary idea and governmental practice, perservered; and for very interesting reasons.

Hypodescent practice in government became particularly important when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA1964) was decided on Capitol Hill. Persons socially and “scientifically” viewed as nonwhite had been barred from the fruits of their labor for decades and, moreover, citizenship was only granted to individuals or groups viewed as white (which the U.S. government defined as a kind of Caucasian, implying that all whites are Caucasians, but not all Caucasians are white). This legally defined measures of exclusion for citizenship and the franchise, based on social beliefs, was not repealed until 1965. The Act of 1964 pushed the feds to not only recognize widespread forms of racial discrimination towards Negroes, Mulattoes and other persons “with a touch of the tar brush,” but it also legally bound the feds to monitor and track discriminatory practices of the nation’s “black” citizens. But how?

Here’s where decennial census categories and one dropism took on a new turn. Federal agencies decided that the best way to track discrimination would be in numbers. “There is truth in numbers.” So racial categorization found new usage on federal forms; this time not to exclude citizens from socioeconomic mobility and self improvement, but to use the numbers to help diversify racially homogenous places of employment and education primarily, in efforts to “empower” nonwhite Americans (who 50 years later, are still mostly poor, despite degrees). Blackening Americans, as many as possible, became extremely important to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights arm: anything below the 10% mark of the national population may imperil the arm’s ability to enforce compliance with the Civil Rights Act. 

It was not until lobbying groups for multiraciality in the U.S. appeared that we all learned that racial categories on forms at both the state and federal levels (including the census) were specifically for civil rights compliance. Who would’ve thought? I think we all may have thought–in a weird kind of way–that it was simply to have accurate counts on who identified as what. But when Americans began demanding a box on all of these forms for multiracial Americans, all hell broke loose, chiefly by black lobbying groups like the National Urban League, the NAACP and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (CRDDJ). Not without a fight, though.

Congressional hearings in 1993 and 1997 took place to understand both the concerns of multiracial activists as well as their goal for a multiracial box. Black activists urged congressional officials that the addition of new categories to race on federal and state forms would undermine the CRDDJ’s ability to enforce compliance of the CRA1964 by complicating the numbers: the fear for black lobbyists, even though demonstrated to be false, was that the black count would fall below the 10% mark which would make civil rights compliance null and void. 

So, a symbolic gesture, largely thanks to Newt Gingrich and others, was bestowed upon the multiracial “community” of the U.S. by adding, from decennial year 2000, “mark one or more” (MOMA). Now, here’s the one drop of catch: it is symbolic in that federal agencies were able to hush multiracials on the issue for a little while, but the bottomline is that when Americans mark more than one race on the census, they are ultimately one dropped behind respondents’ backs. Yes, when Americans fill out a decennial census (as of 2000) and mark more than one race, in order to comply with the CRA1964, the U.S. Census Bureau has a duty to choose only one of those races (usually the minority with the highest count among the selected races), and does so without the respondent’s knowledge. A bit fraudulent; no?

It all starts to make sense, then, why black-identified Americans are so unbending with hypodescentism and why they, more than any other racial group, one drops with a vengeance. When Tiger Woods rejected black identity, hell broke lose among black-identified Americans with all of the typical epithets: he thinks he’s better than us, he thinks his shit don’t stink, he forgot where he came from. And more recently, Barack Obama had to “prove” his “blackness” (that is, solidarity) to black-identified Americans in order to get their vote; initially, he was distrusted by the black-identified masses as foreign, biracial and by all intents and purposes, unamerican. 

It is really interesting to see one dropism, then, practiced in reverse. Before 1964, hypodescent was imposed on the American population by white-identified politicians and citizens. Purely a question of not wanting to share the wealth with the folks who, in part, made the wealth possible. Now, the once victims of discrimination because of one dropism, are employing the same tool to enforce CRA1964 compliance with the U.S. decennial census as its guiding force. One dropism in legal practical, as it turns out, isn’t so antiquated afterall. 

Ahh, America, you never cease to amaze me.  
Any country that willfully espouses reverse-discrimination (affirmative action), reverse-bigotry/prejudice (calling people “white honky” and “white ass cracker”) and reverse-hypodescent (enforced by blacks), is one that is bound to keep more distance than proximity, more venom than reconciliation. Ghandi, MLK, and Madeba, must be rolling over in their graves. Perhaps difference is so deeply entrenched in the American psyche that full change will never occur; the truly American way is the quick way to shut people up with symbolic gestures/favors.

I have a feeling that the next domestic conflict won’t be a pretty one.

Al Nakhl


I’m back in Brighton.
It’s been mild here, surprisingly. 

After my generous dose of warmth, humidity, magnolias and spanish moss, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I returned, but here I am.

Háruki, a friend who is a doctoral candidate at Rutgers, came to Sussex Uni for a conference, and spent the weekend at my flat. 

I’m the worse tourist guide, only because I never, really, frequent tourist spots. 
So, we went to Al Nakhl, my old shisha-smoking stomping ground. 
I decided months ago to boycott Al Nakhl, due to its awful customer service and attention to detail–you feel like another number, rather than a loyal customer. 
But we went there out of time convenience: it’s the only shisha lounge open during the day, here.

And there we were, catching up and discussing his work and the conference. 
We were the only customers there.

Then came in a guy, alone, who sat at the table adjacent to ours.
Ever met, or saw, someone who just had one of those “I’m open; talk to me” faces?
Well, that was his case.

He just stood towards our table, looking at the massive plasma TV behind us.
Té dí mo-mèmm: boug-ça olé sharé ak nouzòt.
So, I said to him: not much on TV today, hey?
The guy didn’t stop talking to us from that moment on.

Turns out, he was born in England, but his parents and entire immediate family are from Kaboul, the Afghan capital.
He’s 21 years old, and just got married back in Kaboul.
Twenty-one and just married? Jeeeeezus! 
Note that the sound of this only strikes me as “odd” here in the UK; probably because non-Middle Eastern-identified/cultured Brits marry much later, if ever.
But it’s fairly common in the Attakapas, where I’m from.

It was good talking to him.
It’s what I love about shisha lounges here: it’s the only place where one can have a decent conversation with complete strangers, strangers from all over the world, without a beer in hand. 
To be honest, I don’t even really love shisha itself: okay, it’s alright, but not orgasmic. 
But it’s more so to meet new/old people and talk about life.

I suppose the name of the joint in English, Palm Tree, is quite à-propos in that regard … conversations do tend to blossom, like palm trees, in all directions. 

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to workout what “artistic” endeavors Brightonians have embarked on, by placing rags around the Clocktower but mindfully leaving the actual clock uncovered. Ahhh, the Brits can be so … accentric.