The news about Rachel Dolezal reached me by Facebook. “What in the world?” I thought looking at some bizarre title to an article in a box, and then remembered those boxes we had to check when submitting applications to receive information from some university or other, check for other in the mid 1980’s when other was other. Check the box, are you, for instance, African American, Asian, Native American or just (plain) Caucasian?
With my unconventional name one day rehashing the exercise for the umpteenth time, this time bored in the high school career guidance counselor’s office, I remember checking African American, just because of my name. It had been my routine experience that people could not pronounce Persephone at all when placed on a paper in front of them, and white people audibly would routinely reproduce “Stephanie,” whenever I introduced myself. African American folks had a lot less difficulty in this last respect when it came to my name. Generally speaking they got it straight off the bat.
I was and am not delusional about being Caucasian. Up to my grandparents, I can claim to be really white and really white looking. There is one branch of great grandparents, her photo is of a dark haired, dark eyed broad faced woman, and perhaps there, therein those genes lies a pattern come of Native American or African American, but I would say the chance is about .09 percent. As most of my ancestors immigrated to the states in the late 19th century or early 20th century, the option of being able to check a box other than Caucasian based on the great American melting pot theory stop nearby this great grandmother of mine. Still there they were, all those little boxes on the promotional flyer saying go to college, you can be anyone!
I grew up in a mixed community. No one ever told me not to listen to Black American Gospel or not to eat pho or not to watch Shirley Temple movies. I had friends, not many of them looked the same, neither to each other nor to me. They were and are friends. Some of them were discriminated against, and at times I was a witness to this discrimination poured out to them in distain, in vehemence, in petty hatred towards them because of their skin color. Occasionally it happened to me when out of the “white zone.” Despite the promise of change after the Civil Rights Movement, I grew up expecting that my friends would be discriminated against at some point in each and every year, and this last statement is a damn sorry lot.
“What does it mean to you to be Jewish?” The question was asked at a hot tub party for Jewish people I was invited to as a teenager. I am not Jewish, but I answered the question. I grew up in a town like that. A place like that called America. By the by, my ingrown answer began with, “I am not Jewish…” or “Although I am not Jewish….”
I have to hand it to my parents. They were of the generation that said: Enough. Their generation, whatever the racial makeup of the individuals, had the hard won opportunity to protest discrimination, support civil rights. My parents didn’t grow up in a place like the one I grew up in. They had, well let’s say on one hand what might be considered limited friends. Their friends are mainly the types, with a few exceptions, that their own parents would approve of so by this I would say they didn’t stray much from the old mold. But my generation was different. Check all the boxes and then maybe opportunity would swing by, and still you could be white.
See, regardless of who your friends are, it’s this: Race or culture?
Here in Amsterdam I have noted that there is a new concept of a canal boat tour available for visitors. I mentioned it to an American friend passing through town. Her lip curled. Take a boat tour explaining the use of black slave labor that provided the money to build the patrician houses lining the canals of Amsterdam? I could tell she was thinking, “That is not Europe! I don’t want to hear about this issue a la American South.” Personally I think everyone should get their selves on that boat and take such a tour because it’s never stopped this exploitation of riches from the sweat of the an economically repressed population, still “justified,” if you can call it that, by the minds of the oppressors. It’s still happening. When did the idea of claiming oneself to be ethnically of the historically underprivileged class become fashionable? When did it offer clout or protection? When did it become cool to be the slave underdog? When did a Caucasian American woman think it her right to become a person with African American ancestry and then obtain a job position based on this claim?
Not that I don't believe our current President merited the job, I often wonder why Mr. Obama is always called black, when he’s always half white. He could, theoretically based on this precedent, be called white. This angle of the tricky eye mind social perception link is discussed in Mr. Jelani Cobb’s latest article in the New Yorker.
That a woman presenting a fraudulent identity was unwittingly hired by the NAACP to work for their organization is unfortunate. The lunacy of those little boxes and hair weaves can land a person in a minefield. Oh, and those opportunities to apply to Howard University that came in the mail? I found them amusing, I am daring to say this, because what did Howard University know about me besides my name? Which brings me to the following point, and it’s a Dutch point. This representation of a black individual called Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) by white people in black face to play the clown which happens every year in the Netherlands is just as offensive as Ms. Dolezal’s attempt at credibility; representative of the many sided Faustian opportunities of this race we all run.