L in the Southeast

L in the Southeast
Location
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Birthday
November 04
Title
Retired PR Director
Bio
I am a retired Public Relations professional who now writes purely for fun and catharsis. I covered most of my memoir-type pieces in the first three years here. Lately I have dabbled in politics, current affairs, pop culture and movie reviews. Life is my muse.

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APRIL 11, 2011 7:28AM

Kunta Kinte Saved My Self-Image

Rate: 36 Flag

 

Amanda Emma Croucher (maternal great grandmoher)
 
Amanda Emma Croucher Hurst, my maternal great grandmother

 

Roots Book Cover

 

Kunta Kinte, Alex Haley’s fourth great-  grandfather and the central character of his novel and subsequent TV series Roots, couldn’t possibly have predicted the effect his life would have on a non-African nation some 227 years after his birth in 1750.  Even when he died a half-footed, spirit-broken slave on a plantation in America’s Old South, there was no reason for his heirs to believe his life’s story would change the lives of so many in the late 20th century.

When Haley’s novel was published in 1977, I was a divorced mother of an 8-year-old African American child.  I had experienced a non-typical pathway to understanding my racial identity, because of my mixed heritage, to be sure; but it was far more complicated than that.

I always describe my mother as white, primarily because that’s what her head tells her she is.  In truth, though, her paternal grandfather was originally from someplace in Great Britain and was a Moor.  He married a white Englishwoman, probably from Sussex or Surrey.  The seven children they eventually had together ranged in hue from café au lait to paper white. 

My great-grandfather was always described to me by my mother as being “as black as the ace of spades.”  It was of utmost importance for all of us to understand, however, he was not and never had been related to anyone who was enslaved.  Not our people.

Be that as it may, as far as the United States of America was concerned, she was an octoroon and her father was a mulatto.  My grandfather looked a lot like some of the Jewish insurance salesman that regularly visited our house – white skin, wavy dark hair, prominent nose.  My mother passed for white, easily, thanks to her white mother’s genetic contributions.  She gave birth to me in a whites-only hospital in Melrose Park, Illinois.

 I was raised only in proximity to my maternal grandparents and their families.  I had very limited exposure to my paternal relatives, who were most definitely descendants of American slaves from Georgia and Tennessee. It was probably predictable I would grow up conflicted about the black parts of myself.  I wouldn’t dream of trying to pass for anything I’m not, but I didn’t have the option anyway.  There are some people who mistake me for other ethnicities, but I am never taken for white.  I had to negotiate my world as a Negro/Afro-American/African American.

I had a view of slaves that was not grounds for racial pride.  With no formal instruction, in school or otherwise, about the history of the slaves before they were snatched from Africa’s “jungles,” I developed the belief that those who were captured and brought to these shores had to have been uneducated, godless and savage cannibals.  I did understand the horror of their enslavement, but I never gave a moment’s thought to what they had left behind.

My total focus as a young adult was assimilation.  I believed with all my heart in the Civil Rights Movement, but the Black Power movement was something a little different.  I was busy trying to prove how much the races had in common.  I was uncomfortable with conversations that emphasized how black culture was unique.  I preferred Martin Luther King’s approach to change over Malcolm X’s angry rhetoric.  

When Alex Haley decided to share the story of his ancestors with the world in 1977, he single-handedly changed my life.  I devoured that book.  TwoRoots The Movie (Flkr years later, when the much-decorated mini-series hit the small screen, I did not miss one nanosecond of it.  Page by page, and broadcast by broadcast, my sense of pride in my African heritage, however limited it might be, grew exponentially. I cheered the recalcitrant Kunta for his pluck and power.

Kunta Kinte’s father was a Mandinko warrior in The Gambia, West Africa.  Fifteen-year-old Kunta was out with other adolescent males gathering wood to make a ceremonial drum for their Manhood Ceremony when they were captured, most likely by black African middle men securing their own safety, and thrown aboard a slave ship bound for the United States.  He was probably a Muslim, based on what I have read.  Had he not been captured, he would have become an official warrior himself shortly after his Manhood Ceremony.

Kunta Kinte lost half his foot because he was not willing to be enslaved without a fight.  He was hobbled because he kept trying to escape.  He carried himself with great dignity and was not about to docilely comply with these strange white men’s animalistic treatment.

Many of the assertions in Haley’s book have been challenged for accuracy as it pertains to the societal workings of The Gambia and the location of the town or village from which Kinte was snatched. That doesn’t matter to me at all.  What mattered was that at the age of 32 I was finally exposed to the notion that at least some of the people who were hunted down like animals and subsequently subjected to treatment even livestock didn’t have to endure were civilized, learned and productive citizens of their respective countries.

Finally, when it comes to my complete genealogy – what I knew then and what I have learned since – I have my head on straight.  I am proud of every single aspect of my DNA.

 

 Images courtesy of Flickr.com

 

 

 

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And you should be proud. Very well done!
Lezlie, I have a hard time imagining what it must be like for someone with African-American roots seeking genealogical identity in this country's miasmic societal bell jar. But you express so effectively the joy Haley's story brought you when he poked a hole in that jar, my spirits are lifted as well. Congrats on the EP, my friend.
Loved this piece. Thank you for reminding us all how powerful self love and image are. Rated.
Lezlie, you wrote, “I am proud of every single aspect of my DNA.” And well you should be. You are probably the perfect example, albeit more recent, of the dichotomy we all are, rooted in the very land that ultimately gave us the Kunta Kintes in our world.
My history is English, French and Scottish … Europeans … who for the most part were a bunch of blithering idiots until the Romans got there. And the Romans: Influenced on their path by the Egyptians and Greeks … and Jews … and Arabs. Then my heritage lands on this soil to be greeted by a social group who either got here via the Bering straits when it was frozen, or sailed here from northern Europe via Greenland and Iceland, and who in either event emerged form that same place … Africa.
Or in other words, we’re cousins … and therefore can never date! But I loved your reflection. I too was moved by Haley’s story. And to whatever extent it may not be accurate re. Kunta, it was true for someone … and the only salvation in any of it is that our nation is far richer as a result of our African-American heritage.
Thanks for sharing this and for more of your fine writing. {{{R}}}
This made me cry.. I loved this.
Rated with hugs
Beautiful piece, Lezlie. I remember watching ROOTS with fascination, but now it takes on a more special meaning to me after reading how it affected someone I esteem higly.
♥R
Thank you for this L, and congrats on the EP..It needs to be read widely!!
Literature is transforming, isn't it? What a beautiful story you told us. I have learned secrets about my family, too. They were proud Spaniards who were ashamed of their Jewish roots and intermarriage with the natives. Not me, I am ready to claim my tribe!
An awesome job. Thanks for sharing. and Congrats on the well-deserved EP.
Hey, Rod, I beg to disagree that our Euro ancestors "were a bunch of blithering idiots until the Romans got there". That's what we were taught in school - or, rather, Euro history was taught as starting with the Roman conquest. In bloody fact, there were widespread, long-standing cultures in Europe before the Romans that were systematically wiped out and discredited by the victors. I won't venture to compare the conquest of Europe to the slave trade, god knows, but there is this in common: we were inculcated with the idea that pre-conquest we were a bunch of gormless savages...

Oops, sorry Lezlie, didn't mean to get away from your topic. I think Roots did wonders for white awareness. It was also (not to be too flippant) it was also helpful for white awareness to see Kunta Kinte then go on to assume an important post on the Enterprise...
Linnnn: Thanks!

Matt: “…miasmic societal bell jar”…how musical and true!

Christine: Hi, there. Welcome to my page and thank you.

Jon: Thanks!

Rod: I wouldn’t let a little kinship stop me from dating you, my dear. :D I’m delighted to see you here this morning.

Linda: It was a happy time for me.

Fusun: That must have been a perplexing revelation to you back then!

Satori1: Thanks. I hope it is widely read.

Maryway: Yes, it is. Ultimately, we are all members of the same tribe anyway, right?

Jaime: Thanks so much.

Myriad: “ … gormless savages.” My friend Myriad waxing poetic. :D
To the best of my knowledge Alex Haley did not claim to be writing a definitive history but rather a 'historical novel'. He conveyed his concepts very well and did not, I think, play any faster and looser with historical fact than authors such as Michener did. Much has to be "filled in" in such novels.

I am so pleased that you have become a well centered person. There is great beauty in that as there is in your writing here today. You enrich us all. Thank you.

.
It takes more than DNA to write a piece like this. It takes compassion, dedication, and practice. Well done!
Great Job my friend. I leaned so much from Alex Haley that I was determined to find out the "real" history, not the crap our ancestors wrote about and spoon feed generations to cover up their thievery and rape and murder. You made my day and Congrats of a well deserved EP!
Skypixie0: I don’t think it’s possible in this world to write anything that no one can find fault with, is there? The point you make here is exactly why I couldn’t care less about Haley’s critics. Thank you for bringing a blush to my face with your very kind words.

Geezerchick: Thank you very much!

Scanner: The truth really does set us free, doesn’t it? Thanks!
A great piece.

Slave ancestry can make a difference, not genetically but culturally. When you grow up walking into places where a lot of people around you assume you're some combination of lazy, dangerous, and stupid based on your race and it happens with enough regularity over enough years, particularly if the same thing happened to your parents and grandparents, there are going to be consequences, including a whole lot of cynicism and a hunger for respect that can be intense enough to be disfunctional, not to mention an unhealthy amount of internalized self-doubt. That's one Hell of a burden. My guess is that this burden accounts for a lot of statistical differences between ancestrally American Blacks and West Indian Blacks, who don't carry the same burden and whose demographics play out very differently in terms of median education levels, incomes, crime rates, etc. I'm afraid it isn't an accident that our first Black President was spared that particular burden; his climb was somewhat less uphill than it would have been otherwise.

One of the many things I loved about Roots was how thoroughly it educated people (emphatically including me) about how heavy a burden we're talking about. You can't get a complete education in that from a book and a miniseries but you can learn a lot about obstacles and dump a few assumptions.
As always, your ponderings on your heritage are exemplary and honest. My memory is that "Roots" was one of those rare shows that really did change some minds.
As usual, your comments reveal the depth of understanding you have about the human condition in general and oppressed people in particular. The problem with the U.S.? If young Barry Obama walked into that "place" you mentioned, he would be assumed to be lazy, dangerous and stupid anyway, even if he had his Harvard diploma hanging from a chain around his neck!
The comment above is directed to Koshersalaami. Sorry.

Cranky: I think you are absolutely right about that.
Awesome!! Congratulations on the EP!
rated
Oh, so I DON'T have a depth of understanding about the human condition?
Quite something to be of a mixed lineage, isn't it my dear?

Many times over these last 6 decades when I have found myself in the America South, and a few other places where darkness reigns the psyche, I decide to "PASS" as a Hungarian. Worked every time, and got me through the sundown towns back in the 60s and into the 70s- it was suggested to me by a former not-so roll model, that late, great Hungarian surf legend, Miki Dora.

But, and I have lately been perturbed enough by Trump to make the case with gusto, and also notice they are not commenting on this excellent post of yours, when I make the case to OSers that this great Country of our'n is, quite literally, built on the back of institutionalized racism, well, I hear the usual, frankly, Sean Hannity-esque type comments- "I am so sick of hearing about racism!", "Get over it- we are post racial now!", or, the worst, "Slavery wasn't so bad, many owners were good to their, (well, human property) ..."

Trump's jump on the Birther wagon, and Snow Snooki's Fox comments as she takes the Hay Ride as well, are just one of the billions of ways institutional racism remains prevalent in nearly every aspect of US society.

I say again, as always- SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY is West African Culture, plain as day to anyone in the sunlight. No one can legitimately deny early stage child development, and, so, it was quite unsurprising de Toqueville was shockingly fascinated that the Grand Dames and Scarlet O'Haras of the South all spoke, and acted like, well, their Mamies ... (this should be a real wake up call to all those yuppies in NYC and SF who are working for big banks while Caribbean and Hispanic nannies raise their kids for them ...)

In closing, you can't imagine how offensive it is to a Hawaiian whose own relatives were, like our BLACK HAWAIIAN FEARLESS LEADER, born in the Hospital built by our great Queen Kapiolani to save our Hawaiian women and children from the diseases brought by western contact (which we now know came from Asia- just like us, and Africa before that- yes we are all cousins, one race, the Human Race), to see the majority of Republicans in this great land believe our system is involved in a Manchurian conspiracy- well, folks, that is how they process their institutionalized racist hate, and I won't candy coat it.

rated as excellent work
Susie: Thanks, girlfriend!

Cranky: LOL! Open mouth, insert foot, L!!!!!! Of course you do, sweetie. How else could you write such hilarious spoofs about all of us?

Oahusurfer: Hear, hear! Don't get me started on The Donald, whom I invited two weeks ago to Kiss My Black (okay--beige) Ass on this blog. I knew he was an ego-maniacal dirt bag all along, but this recent pandering to the mentally vacant is infuriating. Another thing: I don't think enough mainlanders are aware of the shameful treatment of the Hawaiian people by haoles, even to this day. It is a story that needs re-telling.
I may just change my OS name to whateverkoshersalaamisaid. That way I can comment without typing.

Except, I would like to tell you about the family, parents both big time lawyers, mom VP of a large state university, couple of nice boys. They were still followed around suspiciously in stores, in the late 20th century, by the workers. I believe there is a difference, though, in the sense of oppression that is imposed on one externally and the one a person carries around inside.

Roots was amazing, I, too, sat stunned in front of my TV the whole time, to see it portrayed, visualized - because the nuns, really, had done a fairly decent job of teaching us about the realities of slavery and racism. It is completely different to see it from the other perspective which is also what Roots gave us.
nerdcred: Is that YOUR family or "a" family? Because, I hate to break it to you, but that happened to me in Parisian (a department store on the order of Marshall Field) here in Atlanta about 10 years ago. The only reason it hasn't happened since then is because I never go to malls anymore. Of course, me being me, I turned around and shouted "What can I do for you? Are you following me because you are afraid I'll steal something?" LOL
I am so thankful you found a model to bring all the parts of you together into the proud, beautiful woman you are today. It is amazing how pop-culture can be healing.
Sound a lot like me. Grew up Catholic -integrated the all-White Catholic schools and parish where I grew up. Father, a Black man from Virginia, Mom, White lady from Germany. When they were married it was illegal. Anyway, power to the zebras :) Rated.
Sparking: Thanks, lovely lady.

Ron: Hi, my zebra-bro!
I was struck by the thought that you were born in a whites-only hospital....because of the fact there were whites-only hospitals...in Illinois? I wasn't expecting Illinois for that. whew.
Roots was such a culture changer! It's hard to remember that in today's world, how much (to me anyway) Roots seemed to bring a whole world into focus for so many that just wasn't there before...how cool to read that it brought you understanding and pride. It never occurred to me anyone would be embarrassed by a slave ancestor, I appreciate your addressing that aspect.

And Rod? I'm with Myriad here...blithering idiots!!??? Hmmmph. Hardly.
The Celtic world was beyond accomplished-- Celtic understood to be an umbrella term for native northern Euro tribes then, they weren't one people-- the archaeological evidence shows that unlike that "winner's" historical story passed down to us of barbaric, hapless Celts, it was the Romans and Greeks who wanted trade relations with the Celts for some of that fantastic Celtic metal workmanship, not the hapless Celts wishing to trade for...Roman and Greek ceramics.
The Celts were fearsome and victorious for eons...but when the Roman world finally won out, the Celtic accomplishments were obliviated and obscured and repressed.
JT: LOL! I don't know why I didn't anticipate a mini-dust-flurry over Rod's "blithering idiots" comment, but of course I should have.
Yes indeed L! I remember how the image of Kunta Kinte and everything that he represented affected me and every black person I knew as a child. I was 7-ish and living in the Pacific Northwest which is not exactly known for it's diversity. I actually think it made some of my white friends uncomfortable, but I never really talked with them about it. It was just more of an "in the family" kind of thing. Yep, that's it, Roots was something we all watched together as a family which was unusual in my house. I still get a special warm feeling when I see Lavar Burton.

About a year ago, I rented the entire mini-series on netflix and watched it again for the first time in maybe 20 years. It meant even more to me at this stage in my life. I could go on forever about Roots, but since you've already expressed our shared feelings so well, there is no need.

Thank you for this.
bb: That was the thing about the series; it could be appreciated by everyone who watched. I remember going to work and everybody around me forgetting to work because they wanted to talk about Roots.
What a great piece, Lezlie! Really well done.
I honor my daughter's bloodline.~r
I agree with all -- excellent piece and perspective. It would be great to sit with you and have a long conversation about your experiences.
Joanie: Julia is a lucky young woman. :)

Marty's Husband: What a nice thing to say! I think that would be fantastic.
You do realize that Alex Haley copied much of "Roots" from Harold Courlander's novel, "The African"?

http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F00613FC3E580C708CDDAA0894DB494D81

I see nothing progressive in identifying with Africans when your culture and most of your ancestors come from Europe. It's like validating the racist myth that racial mixture "improves" the allegedly "inferior race" and degenerates the "superior" one.

I take a totally different perspective.

http://www.melungeon.org/node/68

http://open.salon.com/blog/mischling/2010/07/18/pissing_on_the_graves_of_heroes

http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A281OV0SU2M0IL
AD Powell: Yes, I am aware of all the accusation leveled against Haley. The book was a novel, so minute accuracy was, for me, beside the point. As for the rest of your comment: I guess we DO just have a different perspective. Thanks for reading and commenting!
This is so good. What we do to all of our children, passing on the wrong information. R
hugs, me: It's all just part of my journey through. Thanks!

John: Thank you, sir!
Very nicely written, but somewhat confusing for me, other than the fact that you obviously have a different perspective than mine. Your perspective, one of which, I am not totally unfamiliar with, but often times disagree with because it is so baffling.

I have a similar ancestry on my maternal side. People who are of more European descend, but because of distant slave ancestors, (who may have been very European themselves), were taught to identify as colored, then later black. This goes on still, long after slavery, long after Jim Crow, and the racist 'one drop myth' have been banned. We don't want to overlook the fact of white slavery as well, although many are not aware of how prevalent it was.

Your comment about being born in an all white hospital sounds like mother and child were both very white. I have a similar birth story. My mother was born to black parents, which would make her black, right? No, her parents were actually both white, but had a 'one drop' stigma tied to their slave ancestry, surname and the geographical area in which they lived. I was born in close proximity of this stigmatized area, but Mom looked white, simply because she was, my father a Slovak on both sides. I guess they just couldn't do it to Mom, they couldn't label her black, so therefore my birth certificate states we are all white. Thank goodness as I wouldn't know how to explain 'not looking black' for the rest of my life.

I find it hard to condone the ancient, racist term of 'passing for white'. I could specifically identify myself as a mixed-white or a multiracial/cultural white, which may be true, I mean so many whites are and don't even know it. No, instead I opt for simplifying it by passing for who I really am. There are just too many European genes running through my being for me to identify myself as anything other than white, while embracing my other one drops of African, Asian and American Indian. I just can't see identifying with African ancestors of whom, in my extensive family document and pictorial research, I've never really found proof of their 'very blackness'. If you are interested in a different perspective feel free to visit my personal experience website: http://speakingmymind.webs.com
It might help if we add the www:
http://www.speakingmymind.webs.com
speakingmymind: Thanks for your interesting comment. I have visited your web site to see if I could get an understanding of why it is important for you to classify yourself as white. Based on what I read in the Kilvert article, I would fit easily into the WIN category. Unfortunately, for reasons I have discussed in many of my blog posts, I do not know much at all about the paternal side of my genealogy. In my recent search I have only determined that my paternal grandparents were from the South. Based on their appearance from what I can remember ( I was 4 years old when I last saw them; I am 66 now.) they were also racially mixed, probably more African and Native American than European ancestry.

I don't have any argument with the logic you use. We would be hard-pressed to find somebody on this continent whose DNA would prove them 100% black. I, too, think the 1-drop "rule" is beyond ridiculous. It's only a rule when a racist wants to exclude someone from being considered white, so it's not even my rule. If I were so inclined, I could decide to be white from this moment on. Then what? Nothing would change except the way I check boxes on forms. I would still look the way I look, which is racially mixed. But I would also still be perceived by others in this American society as "not white."

So help me understand, if you would, why this is such a compelling issue for you?
I remember what a profound impact Roots had on me growing up. This is a terrific accounting of its impact on you. I'm toying with getting one of those tribal DNA tests. Would you ever do that?

Rated
Helvetica: I would if I could afford it. It sounds expensive.
L in the Southeast: I never felt the Roots sequel was a true depiction, although slavery was an injustice for anyone entrapped in it. If you look mixed then by all means I can understand that you would want to identify as multiracial, or even black if you so choose. There's a big mutiracial movement now that seems to be important to many, mixed in appearance, individuals. Especially those with parents of two different races. Understandable. It sounded to me as if your African ancestry was somewhat remote and that your appearance is more European. I have known people who think they look mixed, when actually they really don't. It's in their head. That may not be the case with you, I don't know since I haven't seen you. It's a compelling issue for me because of the illogical thinking of some in my family, especially the extended branches. My website gives much detail and instances of ugly attacks by a few individuals, who themselves appear white (not mixed), yet have no tolerance for their own white ancestors. This is ludicrous, prejudice, and hyprocritical. I don't take kindly to my ancestors being referred to as passers either. You seem to be innocent of the kind of malice I have witnessed. I am not a direct descendant of the man in the Kilvert article. He is the poster child for all with the surname. It's a complicated history that I couldn't begin to explain here. That's about it. Thanks for asking.
Beautifully and powerfully conveyed. I've sometimes wanted to throw out the TV, but there are good things. The first good thing I remember was Roots. I was working in an elementary school at the time that was 40% African American. The talk in the teacher's lounge and on the playground was encouraging and sad. Too long to go into in a comment. I'm sure you can imagine.
We are ALWAYS on the same wavelength--and I love it that my piece and yours are right together on the front page right now! They fit together beautifully. Two very American stories, though not the sort you read in texts. You've got white folks with black roots, I've got black folks with white roots--I had a cousin who looked like James Dean, but always told people he was black. We loved watching people try to deal with that. There were us brown ones...and then...Kenneth, the surfer dude. GOD...it used to make me laugh. But there was nothing funny about it, was there? And he was incredibly brave to do that back in the 50s and 60s...
speakingmymind: Didn't mean to mislead anyone. My mother did literally "pass for white." She knew the hospital didn't "take" Negroes. When the hospital became aware that my father was black, we were sent home early! She also "passed" in order to work as a secretary in a Jewish law firm. My sister and I were never allowed to visit her office and she kept no pictures of us on her desk.
She was certain she would lose her job if it became known we were some parts black. The hurt that fact has caused me might help you understand the blow-back you get from some of the people you mention.
Mime: Yes, I surely can imagine. :D

Keka: that sounds much like some of our annual family picnics in the forest preserves. I think there IS something funny about it though. In the end, family is family and we are probably ALL related to each other anyway.

Divorcedpauline: Thanks!
I read the book, "Roots," and watched the mini-series every night. Along with "Kunta Kinte," the character of "Chicken George" stands out in my mind.
R
littlewillie: Yes, there were several characters who made a lasting contribution.
Hey Lezlie: I came back to read comments, and am struck again by your mother's path. How painful that must've been for her to not only not feel comfortable with photos of loved ones on her desk, but to be fearful of losing her job because of those same loved ones....
God, what a unfair and horrible burden. I'd like to hug her.
JT: I hope you read all the comments because they show you just how complicated it can all get. It has been hard for me to battle my residual resentment for being kept a secret like that, because I know my mother was simply trying to earn a decent living for us.
Of course you'd feel resentful. That would be a tough addition to the always complex mother-daughter relationship....and I did read all the comments.
"Oh, what a tangled web we weave." comes to mind.
Another excellent source of thoughtfulness today. Thanks for that.
Stupendous. As a Jew growing up during times of anti-Semitism and assimilation, I learned --and was hurt-- from the outside world, but only taught complete solidarity within our family. I can't imagine what you went through. But you clearly emerged with amazing courage and dignity.
I remember being fascinated by the Roots miniseries. It was really the first time I had seen a serious drama featuring African American actors -- not that there's a surplus of them now -- but at the time it was revolutionary. I'm not surprised that you found particular meaning in it, and that it helped to bring the pieces of yourself to whole.
L in the Southeast: I very much understand that kind of hurt, if that were always the case, but the few people who have given me blow back aren't related or only distantly so. Most do not have situations as the one you write of. Their ancestors had those situations, or they had cousins, or distant cousins who had those situations. They were taught to be something out of loyalty or sympathy. They still use the word colored. The era we grew up in, you and I, still had a way to go in dealing with these issues. Thank goodness, the problem isn't near as prevalent in the mainstrem as it was in the past, although it amazes me that within the black or mixed culture people still accuse those who are so removed from blackness as passing for white. That is what caught my attenton here. It's a complicated issue. Your story is a wonderful realization for you. You've expressed it sincerely and it's very well written. I appreciate your open and intelligent replies.
L, sorry it's taken me so long to check back. It was "a" family (oh, my, my, my, some of "my" family would have such trouble with the suggestion we are not purely white ... though there are some who appear ... well, I do have a sister who has "passed" for black but goodness, don't tell my mother ... especially since she did that because she was dating a black man ... I'm being snarky but race is both a complex and a fucking stupid concept that has too often distressed me.)

So it was "a" family, around 10 years ago, in a Polish deli/butcher shop in Minneapolis. No one in my own personal, purely white family is quite as cultured, educated or successful as that couple which is part of what weirds me out so thoroughly about that kind of thing.

Like that mother of mine who used to assert emphatically that if blacks ever moved into her neighborhood she would move out. So the first blacks to move onto the block moved on to the finer side of the block, the side that faces the river and is far more expensive than my mother's side of the block. They were both MDs or Lawyers or something equally fine and their very nice children attended one of the high-toned, expensive private schools, not one of the cheap Catholic ones and they didn't much play with the kids on the block. Needless to say, no one moved including my mother (for whom I take NO responsibility, thank you very much.)

It's the sort of thing that I KNOW happens, I'm not that naive, I just think it's so STUPID that sometimes I have to talk about it. I like your reaction to it. Too bad you didn't know me then or have me around because I could have gone with you to that store and while they were watching you my purely white self could have robbed them blind. Just for spite. (Among the very few things that mother of mine taught me as a child were lying, cheating and stealing so it would have all been doubly appropriate.)

Once I was in a tony little cooking stuff shop with my 20-something purely white son and HE was followed by a middle-aged white lady clerk. I was very angry. Again, I would have been more likely to steal than he - not that I would have but that he so would NOT do that. I, in turn, followed the clerk and stared at her until she went away.

And finally, you know, I suppose, that on the dock in Annapolis, MD, there is a plaque marking it as the place where Kunta Kinte was first sold. Or would have been.
LOL! nerdcred, you are hilarious! I love the part about blacks moving on your mom's street. Guess she hadn't reckoned on a family that outclassed her, huh? Too funny. I love your sense of humor. Thanks for getting back here.
I've come back to look at some of the comments. Do I Really have my Own Personal Dittohead???? Thanks, Nerd Cred!

Passing is a strange thing. My grandfather, second generation American and brought up thoroughly assimilated, worked for a company called Sperry Gyroscope in NYC during the Second World War. They made systems for military aircraft. They didn't hire Jews, so he passed - not that it was much of a stretch in his case. However, I think it affected him, because I never saw him do or say anything that indicated that he identified Jewish, other than marrying a Jewish girl with immigrant parents so he was around his in-laws' family a lot hearing a bunch of Yiddish thrown around. Still, I never saw him absorb any of that; he was at my Bar Mitzvah but I think that's strictly because he was expected to be there, and he occasionally showed up at a Seder given by my other grandparents (who were immigrants, native Yiddish speakers, and kept a kosher home), probably for his wife, the family gathering, and the food. I have to wonder if passing for many years did any of that to him; this being New York, the antisemitic comments at work would have had to have been frequent.
I believe living any kind of lie takes a pretty significant toll on an individual. For one thing, it is a kind of self-loathing. And you are so right about the jokes. Many people think they can tell if a person is Jewish by looking at them. If your grandfather had a more Aryan look to him, his co-workers would spew their anti-Semitic bile with abandon if they were so inclined.

That's a really interesting phenomenon to me. I had a Caucasian manager who once sat across the desk from me and called her boss a kike. I was gobsmacked, visibly I guess, because she asked what was wrong. I told her I felt that anyone who will use one ethnic slur would use them all, so I was offended. She was stunned.
Jewish "passing" is based on a denial of a real heritage, not just a stigma (even though any ethnicity can be used as a stigma). People accused of being "blacks" who are only "passing as white" are indeed WHITE. The people who "look white" and claim to be "black" are the ones doing the "passing." They are proclaiming themselves too inferior for the "honor" of their own European ancestry. They are also sending a message of biological inferiority in regard to the "race" they claim to champion. They are comparable to Jews claiming to be non-Aryan and a separate "race," while pretending that that terminology has become positive and something to take "pride" in regardless of its racist origin. Of course, I haven't heard of any Jews who are that stupid. If you look at the "racial" aspirations of ethnic groups in the United States, you see that Jews, Latinos of every ancestry, Armenians, Arabs, etc. have all wanted to be classified as "white." Were they all "living a lie" or do academics and other commentators accept their actions without moral judgment? I think that the ultimate lie is when an obvious Caucasian claims to be "black" because he falsely believes that there is a "one drop" rule (which magically excludes Hispanics and Arabs) that makes him unworthy of calling himself "white" or because claiming to be "black" is a guarantee of easy competition when applying for certain jobs, places in universities, etc. Such a person is guilty of self-hatred (not good enough to be white). Those who reject the false "one drop" myth and show it the contempt it deserves are the ones who show true self-esteem.

http://www.melungeon.org/node/68
Sorry I'm so late in responding. This is a fabulous piece and congrats on the well deserved EP. -R-