Excerpted from an Interview with Brian Lamb for his book Colored People: h/t from reader Pioneer Valley Woman for the linkGATES: My mother hated white people.
LAMB: All her life?
GATES: Probably. I didn’t know until — in 1959 we were watching Mike Wallace’s documentary called “The Hate that Hate Produced.” It was about the Nation of Islam and I couldn’t believe — I mean, Malcolm X was talking about the white man was the devil and standing up in white people’s faces and telling them off. It was great. I mean, it’s what black people did behind closed doors, but they would never do it in — I mean, they were too vulnerable to do it, say, where they worked, at the paper mill or downtown, as we would call it. And here was a guy who had the nerve to do that, and I think if I had been a character in a cartoon, my eyes would have gone Doing! — like this. I couldn’t believe it. As I sat cowering in a corner of our living room, I glanced over at Mama and her face was radiant. I mean, this smile — beatific smile started to transform her face. And she said quite quietly, “Amen.” And then she said, “All right now,” and she sat up and she said, “Yes.”
And she loved Malcolm X and she loved what the Muslims were doing. And I couldn’t believe it. It was like — as I write, it was like watching the Wicked Witch of the West emerge out of the transforming features of Dorothy. This person I had thought of as this pioneer of the civil rights movement really had a hard time with white people. And the more I got to know her — and, you know, these weren’t easy anecdotes for her to repeat, but the older I got, she became more willing to share painful experiences of white racism — the way that she was treated when she was a girl and a servant in the house of wealthy white people just a block down the hill from where we lived. My brother and I eventually went back and bought that house for her, and that’s how we found out that she had been so horribly treated by these people. She never trusted white people. She didn’t like white people. She didn’t want to live with white people.
But she wanted us to go to integrated schools. She wanted us to live in an integrated economy. She wanted us even to live in integrated neighborhoods. She wanted us to be able to get the best that American society offered. She wanted us to be articulate, to speak white English, as we would call it, as well as black vernacular English. You know, she wanted us to know how to dress, how to talk, how to act, how to behave. She wanted us to go to private schools, to the Ivy League. I mean, she wanted us to be as successful as it was humanly possible to be in American society. But she always wanted us to remember, first and last, that we were black and that you could never trust white people. And so when I brought my fiancee home, who happened to be a white American, I thought World War III was about to break out between me and my mother, not to mention between my mother and my fiancee.Further down he continues… “Oh, I live in academic environments, and so it’s removed from the world. I mean, what do we do? We go downtown Boston, downtown New York, downtown San Francisco, European countries. We function at a level where certain forms of racism don’t impact upon you so immediately or so obviously.”
Whatever we run away from goes with us. If we are ashamed of ourselves we can’t hide that by mating or marrying someone of another race and not pass that onto future offspring.
When we speak of black male abandonment of black women and children – typically African-American men – we must also not forget the more recent prevalence for them doing this to non-black women as well. If you look at any number of bi-racial celebrities (who still identify with their black heritage) many of them were raised alone by their white/Asian/etc mother including our current President.
Now this may cause a lot of discomfort to discuss but is it better to alleviate the jab to the ego or to heal the damaged psyche of people? Besides, what other group of men in the past 40 years have actively devalued the status of the women in their group of origin while pursuing women from other groups almost exclusively? I might also add that pursuit has mostly not been one on equal footing, not involved alliances between families or involved any strategic relationships but a grabbing for candy while blindfolded after a pinata has been breached.
My first boyfriend was one such product. I remember being happy that I could find a black-identified male who also appreciated my love of new wave music and other “non-black” interests (according to some who wanted a very limited view of blackness) but he had a lot of unresolved anger about a) being left behind by his father b) his mother not really understanding the racial ramifications of the relationship that produced him. Even though she had remarried and his stepfather was “Dad” to him he was subsequently surrounded in a household of white people and he didn’t know who he was. I think his mother thought “love” would be enough but he needed more. Some of it had to do with any child, particularly a male who needed to be socialized around another (black) male. I think a lot of it had to do with his being raised to be “colorblind” when he clearly needed preparation for the real world. It was a disservice to him that left him sullen and confused at times and there was nothing I could do for him.
The interesting thing that has emerged with the arrest of Skip Gates is analyzing his pride in having only 44% African DNA. He discussed this on the African-Americans Lives geneaology series that airs annually on PBS. The other is his decision to marry a white woman. He quite happily lived an “integrated” life where he surrounded himself in whiteness. This was the goal for many of the black men that pushed the agenda of integration instead of equality during Civil Rights. They wanted to be “free” to do whatever they wanted. They wanted to be able to freely mate with white women without the more blatant repercussions (getting lynched or your entire town burned down in retaliation).
They were not seeking equality nor did they think to deploy domination tactics that would have lifted the collective. The lack of values – which included the disintegration of the black family – has led us to where we are now. It was African-American women who did much of the behind-the-scenes-work and put themselves in harm’s way to get Civil Rights on the table. Yet when it came time for media accolades who was hogging the spotlight? Black men. Some women stepped aside in the hopes that the men would “do right” by them. Many were simply pushed aside. These women wanted what they thought was a better life for the children so they swallowed that bitter pill. We know it was never reciprocated by everything that followed. They had the opportunity to support Shirley Chisholm when she ran for President and they did not. She was of course also betrayed by Steinem and the other white female leaders of the so-called feminist movement.
For black women it’s a two-fer: sexism one end and racism on the other, but I digress. I will be discussing the role we played in Civil Rights (carrying it on our backs) this week. I should also mention that due to corrosion of the black family: 30% marriage rate amongst blacks, 80% OOW birth rate, 70% unmarried rate for black women some of the African-American women that also mate out have adopted the same self-loathing qualities I’ve discussed above. Yet the initial collective push in this direction was a decidedly male one and remains so.
I found it very telling that Gates was so dismissive of holding Lucia Whalen (who is white) at all responsible for this mess. For her to say she saw two black men with backpacks breaking into a house to the police could have resulted in Gates’ or his driver’s death. We know how cops shoot first and ask questions later when dealing with black men. Oh wait, there’s the rub. Gates’ thought he’d successfully “transcended” his blackness and was living inn a post-racial world. He could appreciate certain cultural touchstones but he didn’t live the life of a working class or even middle class “black”. He could just be “Skip” and dabble when it was convenient.
It was why he was so quick to be offended and reacted so negatively. If he’d been acting from a position of racial pride in himself he would’ve never confronted a white police officer the way he did. He could have just sought legal remedy after the fact or filed a complaint. Doesn’t he know the Mayor of Cambridge? If you’re going to confront white male patriarchy you had better have some consequences and punishment ready to mete out for any violations, otherwise you will be crushed by the blowback.
Which brings me to the President. He decided to be what the Field Negro blogger referred to as “Black Barry” but now will return to the non-threatening Negro/cross-over politician that got him elected. If you don’t think either of these men are compromised imagine how Malcolm X would have acted. He was unabashedly proud to be African-American. He believed in preserving the black family. Perhaps he would have had a network of other black men who would have gone to the police station to remind them their mission was to protect and serve. Perhaps they would’ve reminded them of the vast financial contributions they’d made to the Police Athletic League and how no more money would be forthcoming until this injury was addressed. Black women wouldn’t have been used to directly confront any racist cops or expend political currency being outraged about this. Not without reciprocity.
An uncompromising man who lived in a predominantly white neighborhood would have ruled it or at the very least would have been one of its prominent residents. Not from novelty but from letting people know (non-verbally) that he belonged there. Perhaps that would have precipitated a visit with the Mayor and the Police Chief of that area to have an introduction or whatever was appropriate. He wouldn’t have tried to “blend into obscurity” the way I believe Gates has. It was also why he was making a public spectacle of himself while being arrested. He wanted sympathy from his neighbors. It just makes him look weak to play victim when discrimination impacts his life while ignoring it across the board for others.
Trying to be the “Only One” when you are a black person in an all-white setting requires certain precautions. You have to know who you are and where you are. You can’t approach this as a refugee escaping from blackness. Other people notice the flaw and though you may walk amongst them you are not one of them. They may be looking for the first opportunity to remind you of that unless you have a powerful incentive in place that would discourage that.