Black Men Trying to Escape Their Blackness Only Get But So Far

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. 
Excerpted from an Interview with Brian Lamb for his book Colored People: h/t from reader Pioneer Valley Woman for the link

GATES: 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.”
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.

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34 Replies to “Black Men Trying to Escape Their Blackness Only Get But So Far”

  1. AOFB:The last thing I wanted to do is derail, and I apologize that this is what has happened (in fact, please feel free not to post this if you feel it's derailing, but I'd like to clarify a few things). I should have introduced a question in the appropriate context, which is that aside from that question, I found the post (and many of the others) quite fascinating. Please understand there was no attempted hijack here. I asked about that one item as it was one that stood out as curious – which is a typical commenting pattern for me and one that isn’t specific to the race, gender or any other characteristic of the blog owner. You were kind enough to offer some thoughts I hadn’t considered.My mention of Feministe, Shakesville, etc. was NOT to make this a white woman pity party – in fact, I’ve long criticized these sites’ approach to intersectionality, and wish there were more posts with your perspective, which I find sorely lacking for the reasons you state (throwing bones, etc., usually without much meat). I find the white-feminist-run sites attempting intersectionality laughable compared to those at Womanist Musings or Racialicious. My point was just that they are asked to make attempts that I don’t see other movements’ media being asked to make. My lack of concrete examples (and yes, Jackson/Sharpton were ill chosen) is probably, in retrospect, based on the point that I was clumsily making was about an omission rather than a commission. I understand the foundation of the womanist movement. My question was specific to Steinem. Having been part of the blogosphere for a few years, I’ve seen many instances which back up the continued need for a womanist movement – and that’s coming from an outsider who doesn’t even experience these things firsthand; I can only imagine what it’s like from the inside. I think the “teachable moment” aspect of this is that we don’t have a history, and I failed to provide a context of coming from a place of great admiration for your blog. I expected you to read my mind, which is always a dangerous thing, and to grasp that the question was one niggly thing I was confused by in the context of feeling that “Whatever we run away from goes with us” was a tougher, more controversial and more honest look at the issue of alliances and motivations than I’ve seen in a long time.

  2. Octogalore: This is going to be the last bit of indulgence I'm going to allow you on this subject. You should have identified yourself to begin with and emailed me privately if you had real questions/concerns. As it is you are pulling the bait and switch tactic that trolls use or others who want to misdirect conversations. Enough!You did NOT provide the concrete examples as I requested.Like numerous black men who are only concerned about their issues to the exclusion of anyone else you have attempted a not very subtle hijack of my space to vent your frustration at not having your whiteness catered to. I allowed you plenty of rope so to speak to see how far you wanted to take this. If you're going to come to my forum where I am discussing serious life & death issues pertaining to black women you need to observe silently OR have some amazing powers of observation to offer something. Which I may or may not publish. You completely ignored that and have made this about a pity party for white woman protectionism. To assume that I'm not aware of Feministe, Shakesville (or Feministing and other sites) is condescending. Those sites certainly have value BUT they are still being run and edited by white women with a few bones thrown to non-white women upon occasion. Like the entire feminist movement which is about white women competing against white men for power in my opinion. There are numerous benefits to dismantling certain oppressions but the bottom line is this is still a patriarchal society and men are required to fulfill the role of provider and protector lest the women be left to fend for themselves. As bad as the struggle for equality gets white women are still put on the pedestal at the top of the heap. Yours is the only beauty per the indoctrination campaign. Compared to the status of the average black woman in this country complaining about these things is somewhat laughable. White women were added to EEO rules on the backs of the black women who fought for Civil Rights. The fact you would even use Jackson & Sharpton in your argument shows how truly clueless you are. They are not anti-racist activists. They are "black males as victim peddlers" amongst other things and they use black women to push their agenda. That has NOTHING to do with your "question". The fact that you listed websites and a few men (and what does Tim Wise have to do with any of this -- he calls out other whites on their racism) shows me this was all a thinly disguised gripe fest on your part. I am not here to educate you on the history of 1st-4th wave feminism (the well-documented and blatant racism displayed by some of these founders) or the womanism movement. They are plenty of resources you can go to for that. As for the blogs you've mentioned they still have not integrated fully because the women starting them only have non-white contributors at their discretion vs. equal representation. They have also run afoul with trans women and men for publishing some rather obviously discriminatory posts. Which if you've studied that history you'd know cisgender LGBs have not supported Ts and have in fact engaged in displays of violence against them. I think this is a teachable moment though so I've allowed this conversation here but I am done after this. Posting is a privilege which is why I moderate comments.I think every individual should be free to make their own lifestyle choices. Aligning yourself with any group is always a precarious venture. One had better make sure their agenda matches the same ones yours do.

  3. AOFB: I like your comment and you make a good point(among many) that this is somewhat of a derail from your main point. I appreciate that.As to concrete examples. If you check out feminist blogs like Feministe or Shakesville, there's an attempt (if often clumsy) to be intersectional. Anti-racist speakers such as Jackson and Sharpton, or professors such as Gates, or blogs such as that of Tim Wise, do not seem to receive pressure to discuss gendered racism. Organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center seem to be (understandably) focused primarily on their objective of looking at class and race, but don't look substantively at gender as it intersects with class and race (as far as I can tell).I agree with you that "the larger argument is about the ultimate exclusion of [non-white women]." And that "the key would be for black women to STOP wasting their efforts where it is NOT returned." I think like everything else, that's on an individual basis rather than a movement basis — some non-white women find meaning in feminism generally, some in various aspects and not many others. At root, feminists are people — associating between feminists of different colors can mean something as basic as my sisters (who are non-white) associating with me (white). I agree with you that non-white women should put their interests first. So generally — I think we are in agreement but I indulged myself in a little defense of the feminist movement vis a vis other movements.RE "These scenarios set up blacks and black women to be put in a weak position that someone else can exploit." That seems analagous to advocation of a capitalist or free market philosophy, as applied to human interaction. Or not?

  4. Octogalore: While you are entitled to your opinion I am looking for concrete examples to back up what you're stating as "fact". If this is indeed as you claim you should be able to reasonably apply some standards to compare and contrast with these movements. I will also remind you that this was not the topic of my post. I will state this though: you seem to be approaching this from the perspective that no-white women came hat in hand as beggars asking for "fairness" from white women and didn't get it. Now that may have applied to some women but the larger argument is about the ultimate exclusion of them. I am not advocating that the automatic forced cooperation is advisable. I only recommend black women spend their time, energy and efforts into alliances that offer equal and greater RECIPROCITY for whatever they endeavor. So the key would be for black women to STOP wasting their efforts where it is NOT returned. But looking at the historic relationships white women absolutely put their own interests above anyone elses -- and why shouldn't they? It's what black women need to do but usually don't. To expect anything less is simply foolish. That's why this "equality" or "diversity" model DOES NOT WORK. Life isn't fair. People don't want to give up power or any advantages they have in place to SHARE. These scenarios set up blacks and black women to be put in a weak position that someone else can exploit. NO! That time is OVER. Hence many black women leaving feminism for womanism. Do for yourself FIRST.

  5. Octogalore: You said -- I don't mean to minimize this, in asking why other movements don't extend the same respect for intersections with gender as the feminist movement is (quite rightly!) asked to extend. What do you mean by this and can you give a specific example?I mean that other progressive movements, such as gay rights, anti-racism, environmentalism, anti-poverty, etc., aren’t faulted for lack of inclusiveness to the extent feminism is. For example, women within these movements have claimed that they’re treated as second class (if that) citizens within them, but the verdict is usually that the movements are imperfect but worthy, whereas feminism is often rejected as unreformable despite efforts (albeit flawed) being made to address the issues.

  6. @ FaithYes, it's funny (or sad or strange). @PVWI am still trying to remember what cable channel it was shown on. I want to say BBC, because the people were British, but that might be wrong. It seems to me the documentary was on more than once too…..arrghh!!! I hate it when that happens. Should I recall what the title was, I'll let you know.Peace

  7. (Sorry, I commented in the wrong post just now.)Thank you for this. When I was at university in the Caribbean I distinctly remember that many of the white professors and lecturers who taught me really loved Henry Gates. I mean they just LOVED him! Even though I was not as critical a thinker back then as I am now, it always seemed off to me. I always wondered why they sang his praises so much. Of course, now I know why. I also remember in the PBS documentary he emphasized the fact that Africans had slaves too and sold their own into slavery. I am not sure why this should come as any surprise to anyone because every group, including Europeans, has had slaves and sold their own into slavery at some point in history. But I think some loved the emphasis because it allowed them to feel less guilty about how their own groups have profited from slavery.Re: Southland's comments, yes it is very common for folks here in the Caribbean to go on about their European heritage, about how their great-great-great grandfather was a Portuguese, Scot or whoever. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging your various racial components if you so desire. But I find that very often it is done in an imbalanced way, and with no real understanding as to how relationships were played out back then.

  8. Octogalore: You said -- I don't mean to minimize this, in asking why other movements don't extend the same respect for intersections with gender as the feminist movement is (quite rightly!) asked to extend. What do you mean by this and can you give a specific example?

  9. AOFB: my disagreement was confined to the more narrow issue of whether Steinem was arguing that sexism was more important or simply more socially acceptable. I think one can argue that they're equally critical and also argue that the kind of music you discuss in your top post, or the kinds of jokes that colleagues send out over email, are publicly OK about talking about degradation or violence to women. But this doesn't mean racism doesn't exist to the same degree.But beyond this, I do agree with you about the feminist movement's difficulty with inclusion and the history of the womanist movement. I don't mean to minimize this, in asking why other movements don't extend the same respect for intersections with gender as the feminist movement is (quite rightly!) asked to extend.

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