Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The American Born ‘Do

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.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Brainwash, Wax and Polish

I saw him coming, no I didn’t, I saw him standing in the lobby. He’d chastised me for reading a book in yoga class. Once; I never attended his lessons again. I avoid his lessons. Someone put up a photo on FB of me taken when I was 11.  In the picture I was reading a book. I can read a page in an elevator or when waiting for, say, a yoga class to begin. I didn’t appreciate being chastised for reading a book while waiting for the yoga lesson to begin.  I didn’t appreciate being collared when I was 11 for reading in class. I’d look at the granola plump, long skirted, baggy eyes good Samaritan assigned to the “We don’t know what category to put these social misfits into so let’s bag them all up in a classroom and sic a soft heart on them” class, and think she really ought to leave me alone; I didn’t want to read the big print history book with the insert box on African gourds. But that book wasn’t in that class, that was the next class the next year when I couldn’t believe my eyes that we were being instructed upon a gourd. What did we read then when I was 11 and in 6th grade?   

“Is it good?” he’d asked me as he collected my yoga token.

I smelled trouble. I placed the book face down on the floor. “No.” I replied. It wasn’t good, and yes I am a compulsive reader.

He turned away, and then his squashing intention overrode my negative affirmation. He turned back, “Books are for outside the yoga studio.”

“That pansy music in the back ground is distracting. Turn it off.” I wanted to say. But I didn’t.  I aped his passive aggressive smile back. “Yes?” I said as sweet as saccharine. Our eyes twinkled at each other. He had to begin class anyway so I waited for him to leave my vicinity and stop badgering me.

So when I saw him standing there in the lobby, I ducked into the yoga studio quickly with my book, Tony Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” under my arm. My mind was enjoying the book very much, and I was on chapter three. My mind was busy spending quality time on the concepts the book was weaving from African American mythology to Greek ancestors to identity switches to forlorn Sisyphus fun rides with everyman’s death as bait. Even when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about these things.  

“Is that a good book?” he asked. He wasn’t teaching the class, but perhaps he’d followed me in.

“Do you like poetry?” I might have replied, formulating a poem in my mind:

Strawberries and Cucumber
Cut up
Halved and cubed
June 6


“Think about it.” I said, perhaps. But then I didn’t say this, but then I did like my little poem.  So much for my little pre yoga anxiety moment with a large Dutch ghost in yoga or swim shorts.


“We will start today’s class with a poem,” the teacher said and she announced the title. “She Let Go.”


She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go. She let go of the fear.  She let go of the judgments.  She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.  She let go of the committee of indecision within her.  She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go. She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go.  She let go of all of the memories that held her back.  She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.  She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

The poem is by, well there are conflicting views on who wrote this poem. I liked it, I didn’t like it. What situation I wondered does this apply to? I asked myself that at the end of the poem. I took in the first half reasonably peacefully without chucking. What is it to be human? I just read a weak essay on this particular matter, and I must say I think it boils down to religion and money. Get it where you can, brainwash, wax and polish.