race rant

Trevor-Stone-IrvinFirst, yeah this is long, but just maybe, it’s time for long, cuz it’s been a long time comin’.

I suppose it all started with Michael Jackson and his desire for a “white” nose, which didn’t turn out so well. Why a really handsome, very talented guy would willingly fuck up his face is truly beyond me. Michael was said to have lightened his skin, while Rachel Dolezal is said to have darkened hers.

To be blunt this whole black-is-white and white-is-black thing has me totally confused … I thought I had a bunch of black friends, but now I’m not so sure. Could it be they are all just addicted to suburban tanning booths and Al Green records? On the other hand I know quite a few white people, and now I’m not sure what the hell they are either. Most of them seemed to be benign layabout, Irish drunkards and roustabouts; now I suspect they may be just benign, high-yellow, layabout, Irish, drunkards and roustabouts. The public as a whole and the black community seems to be split on this. Some folks are giving kudos to Rachel Dolezal for wanting to be black; others are really pissed that she is usurping a racial identity that isn’t hers – – plus the fact, she has killer micro braids.

I don’t understand the “one drop rule.” How is it that one drop of black blood can turn a white person black, but a quart of white blood doesn’t turn a black person white … really? WTF? The rules don’t seem quite kosher, do they? It seems logical that once a drop of either is added to the other, from then on you and your offspring are forever a milkshake … maybe more chocolate, maybe more vanilla, but regardless always cool and delicious. And who the hell doesn’t like milkshakes?

Rachel says she identifies as black: she was raised with adopted black siblings, had a black husband, and has a black, or bi-racial child, depending on where you fall in this quandary. So I can understand how she identifies “with” blacks but I also get that it is a bit of a stretch to identify “as” black. Rachel worked for the NAACP and she attended Howard University, a historically black university, which oddly she sued for racial discrimination because she was white (she lost the law suit.) So, is Rachel is trying to have it both ways? Yeah … L’il bit, but does it matter?

Do I think Rachael is a bad person? No. Do I think she is confused? Possibly. Do I care what race she calls herself? Not really. Do I think she should call herself anything she wants to call herself? Yes I do.

And why are we checking into Rachel’s race so closely? If I called myself French, no one would question it for a minute; no one would look into it. Now, I have no idea if I am French or not … but that’s the point. If I decided to wear a beret and call myself French, no one would frantically start searching Ancestry.com to make sure I wasn’t just a Scottish drunk trying to pass myself off as a French sophisticate and force me to resign from my job.

This isn’t the first time we’ve run up against this sort of thing. During his run for the presidency, Obama was seen as “not black enough” by some within the black community and of course waaaaaay too black by others (can you guess which community had a problem with him being too black?) And to a few complete idiots, he wasn’t even American black, he was “Socialist Kenyan black.” That’s got be a rather strange divide to straddle. There have been movies about this phenomenon such as Spike Lee’s School Daze. And adding a bit more confusion to this, some have called Bill Clinton “our first black president.” Now, I’m not sure what Bill racially identifies as, but my guess is it wouldn’t be black or white, it would be “hound dawg.” Lord, I love that guy!

This whole debacle dredged up my own issues … just who the fuck am I?

Well, at first look I’m Scottish (with some Welsh Corgi thrown in – – there are some really short legs in the family tree). So suffice it to say, I have quite a few Scottish ancestors, but where in hell did they come from? We all seem to want to adopt the nearest social identity we are comfortable with, but is that really accurate? Before I had Scottish ancestors, there were thousands of years, and thousands of generations of others, most of whom can’t be Scottish. My best guess is we are a mad mix of Irish, German, Portuguese, French, Italian and god forbid, some those horribly inbred English folks with bad teeth thrown in. And before that, according to my National Geographic DNA test, for hundreds of years my family slowly wandered about in the Mideast, having tons of Mideast sex with Mideast peoples. And accordingly to the geneticists, we all go back to a black woman somewhere in Africa … so what am I? Who are you? In reality we are all a deep, long blend of damn near everything and everybody. In short, we all be mutts. Your fiction of racial and national purity is just that, pure fiction.

Racial identity isn’t the only identity we like to fudge with … regional identity is another area in which we cherry-pick as well. People claim to be things they aren’t. They claim their roots go back to Jesus, when in fact they’ve only been in a place for a relatively short and insignificant amount of time. People claim to be northern or southern or western; but are they really? We all claim to be related to famous explorers, nobles and royal families, never to murderers and common drunks. Your family connection to the area in which you currently live likely goes back fifty years at the most. A few families here and there have lived in the same area for a hundred years or so, but big deal. Before that, your family came from someplace else, and before that someplace else, and before that someplace else yet again. Yet you insist on planting your flag in the last place your found yourself and say that’s who you and your people are.

Lots of folks in these parts like to call themselves “southern” … but Dahling, unless you are American Indian, you and your family have only been “southern” for a very tiny speck of time. Your southern heritage might go back a couple hundred years – maybe. Though it probably doesn’t. Regardless, your people do go much further back, to many places, none of which are southern or even American. So why do you insist on calling yourself southern – instead of, say, northeastern Sudanese, Sicilian, Armenian by way of Syria, England, and Hoboken, N.J.? Why is your heritage so narrowly defined by only the last fifty or one hundred years and a war you were on the wrong side of, which we’re all glad you lost? Why not define yourself by a larger picture? Why do we think so small when it comes to defining ourselves? Better yet, why not define yourself by your accomplishments, and not by what your ancestors have or have not done, or by arbitrary lines scribbled on a map.

There are those of us who like to define themselves primarily by their confederate ancestors and the Civil War, what’s up with that? Your ancestors go back for thousands of years. They came from and lived in a thousand different places. They have likely fought in thousands of wars and battles … but you seem to like to confine “your heritage” to a small sliver of a time, and to just one war. A war I can honestly say I’m not proud that my southern ancestors fought in. I could lay claim to being one of the “Sons of Confederate Veterans,” but I don’t, because I don’t support what my ancestors fought for … they were wrong, I’m glad they lost. Our country is glad they lost. If your “heritage” is somehow wrapped up in the battle flag of Northern Virginia, your “heritage” is one of racism. It was a racist symbol then, and it is one now. That flag wasn’t even the official flag of the confederacy. That flag did not fly over state capitals after the war; it was brought back in the 1950’s to show where those states stood on civil rights, meaning to deny civil rights to black Americans. Some of my ancestors fought under the confederate flag, but it’s not my flag; it won’t wave over my house. I visit my ancestor’s graves because they are family, not because I thought they were right, believed in their cause, or were even decent people. I believe in family, just not everything my family does. If I got to pick my ancestors, I’d make some changes. My southern family did own slaves; I sure as hell don’t respect my ancestors for that. And please don’t use that bullshit excuse that “you have to remember, those were just the times.” That’s just horseshit. Mankind has always known slavery was wrong – – it never stopped them, but everyone knew it was wrong. I don’t define myself by my ancestors, where they lived, or their deeds, good or bad. I can’t take credit for the good things they did, and I can’t change the bad things they did.

But for those that do identify themselves by race and region it has an interesting side effect: by cherry-picking which particular part of your ancestry, race, heritage, or region you identify with, you subtly, or overtly, let others know what you believe. You stereotype yourself with your “heritage” while railing at anyone who defines you by it. Like Rachel Dolezal, it is hard to have it both ways, isn’t it?

Why do we make such iron-clad distinctions about our ethnicity and region, and does it matter? Race shouldn’t matter, as it’s not something we choose … but we all know it does. It matters, because at any given time, society bestows upon us a racial identity that impacts our lives deeply. Rich, poor, black, white, Jew or gentile, society has a place for you. When your identity and particular place in society is looked down upon, when the laws work against you, when you are treated unfairly within the judicial and political systems, identity does matter.

It’s very hard to change your place in society without legal, social, educational or economic barriers standing in your way. With those barriers it can be close to impossible to improve your position. I was raised in an area up north that had racism and bigotry – it wasn’t blatant and overt, but it was there just the same. I lived in an area where some folks didn’t like, or trust Italians. I once overheard a neighbor saying “it’s okay to screw an Italian, but you sure as hell don’t want to marry one.” I’ve known people, north and south who disliked Jews and told Jew jokes. I also grew up with Jews and Italians who strongly disliked blacks, never appreciating the irony of their dislike. My best friend’s immigrant Italian grandmother hated immigrant Puerto Ricans with a passion. When I came home from college, my next door neighbor, a guy I had always liked, had heard I had a pretty serious girlfriend. He asked me, “Well, she’s not a n***ger, is she?” I never spoke with Mr. Grubel again and that girl became my wife. I would add that there wasn’t as much animosity toward blacks in my home town, because there were no blacks in my home town … Ten points to the person who knows the reason for that. So racial identity does matter.

Regional identity in my view is more of a choice. I have lived in a number of places, yet I would prefer to be known more by what I’ve done, good or bad, than by the color of my skin or the town and state I happen to pay taxes to.

So, back to Rachel Dolezal. From what little I know about her, I’m under the impression she did a decent job while working at the NAACP. If I were them, I’d consider turning down her resignation, or hiring her back, and be glad for her efforts, whatever race she is, whatever race she claims.

But after all this racial brouhaha, I guess I shouldn’t take anything at face value anymore (no pun intended.) If Rachel’s racial heritage needs to be completely dissected, shouldn’t everybody’s? So, to all my black friends (yes I’m talkin’ to you Will Cantrell, Jerome Tarpley, Dave Edwards, Rene Johnson, Kenneth Walker, Dawn Molanado, Ken Thomas, Alonzo Jackson) I know you all “appear” to be black, but I will need some proof from here on out … An’ to all my white friends, same deal. I need some proof of your banjo-playin’ hillbilly ancestry to make sure ya’ll aren’t “tryin’ to pass” or are god-forbid Canadian.

As for myself, I’m pretty sure that I have six or seven drops of Eskimo blood rolling around my system, so I’ve decided to “self-identify” as Aleut. I’ve now found meaning in my racial roots through kayaking and spearing narwhals. My new Aleut name is Kakrayok (meaning: cheerful, dim-witted, white boy). Welcome to my all-inclusive igloo.

Full disclosure: I have very curly hair and rather broad lips for a white guy (see photo). So after checking the mirror closely and squinting really hard a bunch of times I felt I really needed to look into this racial identity matter – cuz for all I know I may be Portuguese Scottish Nigerian. Fuller Disclosure: In my great-great-grandfather’s last will and testament, he passed fourteen slaves down to his daughter, my great-grandmother. I consider it the great family stain, though nobody, and I mean nobody, seems to want to discuss that over Thanksgiving dinner. And being familiar with how poorly a lot of slave owners behaved, who knows what cousins of color I may have scattered about in South Georgia. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.


Trevor Stone Irvin

Trevor Stone Irvin

Illustrator and Designer living in the Candler Park area...At one time I worked at the Atlanta Constitution and then for CNN at the startup...it all seemed too much like real work so I went freelance...which my father defined as "being unemployed for a real long time".