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What . . . happened with those who “passed,” and where their genetic inheritance went. . . .

White people are also various shades of color, some of which is inherited from

their countries of origin, but some of which is inherited from African blood.

 

 

 Books by G. David Schwartz

 

A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue / Midrash and Working Out of the Book

 

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Our Shared History

By G. David Schwartz

 

Loyalty requires imagination.  But loyalty is not unique in this regard.  Imagination is also required for commitment and well as betrayal, support as well as neglect.  Although it seems that more imagination is frequently required for positively distributing the love we want to share than for simply withholding it, the fact is that even someone who withholds love is imagining there are no consequences to withdraw and disdain.

The way history is typically taught, we share an imagined identity due to a specific series of victories.  Our shared history began with the victory of the Pilgrims crossing the ocean and continued through the victory of the Continental Army through World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Granada, Iran, Bosnia and who knows where else.  To a large extend, our identity is build on the shedding of blood, not the retaining of blood.  In order to save and protect, we have been more concerned to shed blood than imagine it.

To the extent that our shared history is build on victories from the war against England through the war against oil hording, we have just annihilated Native Americans, have chosen to overlook the Civil War which freed slaves for a subsequent history of Jim Crowistic “separate but who gives a damn,” and the divisiveness of Vietnam.

We might rationalize by qualifying our remarks by suggesting that,  indeed, the history we share is a history where some are disposed of their land, some are enslaved, some are released to segregated lives separate from the opportunities we claim to have fought to attain, and some are left to bleed to death in rice fields.  We share a history of winners and losers, cowboys and injuns’, plantation masters and slaves, exemptions and non-exemptions where it seemed even people on the other side of the world were not exempt from our need to share victory.  But not with them.

The history we share is one guaranteed to make some of us feel good, feel healthy, feel wise, and others of us feel betrayed, abused, and defeated.  Loyalty requires imagination.  But loyalty also requires a sense of what does or should compel our loyalty.

If sharing denotes a sense of equality, as contracted in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, we have enacted the constitution of the character of the United States too often in ways which find some of us feeling misery through our contemporary history.  This is no real sharing.

How, indeed, can we share a history more authentically without some of us, born white, born with the privilege of drinking at whatever water fountain we desired, staying at whatever hotel we could afford, sitting at whatever restaurant counter promised to feed my hunger, without some of us claiming a misery which is not mine?  And why on the good green earth would I want to share misery?  Instead, we frequently stake an abstract claim to share an abstract document, which quite realistically declares that our concern is not to form the perfect union, but does claim to form a more perfect union.  Everyday, our contract with the future bids us to form a more perfect union.

But how can I identify the means by which to form a more perfect union with people who, those I am most conveniently identified with, massacred, enslaved, segregated, denied and derided and murdered?  How can I discover the way forward if some lands in Alabama had fences between neighbors, but invisible barriers between human beings which could not be seen, but could not be demolished?  How to form perfection if I have not, and have no desire, to miss not a meal but a year of nutritious foods, sleep with rats, rise to despair?

In my country, my land of promise more than liberty, but at least the promise of liberty, there are some people who will assert that poverty and despair are myths.  They will counter the “myth” of underemployment and unemployment, hunger and homelessness  with a myth of their own:  It’s your fault.  American is the land of opportunity, and you have had every opportunity we have had.  In the land of opportunity, no one can stand in your way if you excel.  No one can stand in your path if you sincerely desire achievement.  Not those with racially discriminatory attitudes, not those with leases they refuse to sign, not those with guns.  Look at Colin Powell.

Clearly, the problem of the one imagining that attitudes are barriers which erect iron gates to the real pursuit of opportunity, which will not even allow a discriminatory bias to be perceived and, if it is perceived, be responded to with a host of myths.  We have a number of myths, which run the gamut from the perceived and acculturated education of a whole class of people to the notion that blood is thicker than water.  There is surely good sense in the perception that because the percentage of whites who attend college is higher than the percentage of blacks who attend college that statistically whites are higher educated. 

Having a degree, of course, does not mean you are smarter, as my grandfather and father continually reminded me.  Having a degree means only you have an opportunity to be called in for an interview after you send in your resume.  Having a degree means you have something to put on your resume.  Also, having a degree means you belong to a fraternity where blood is thicker than water.

This myth of blood, a metaphor for what we desire not only running healthy in our veins but running thick through our relationships, is perhaps the most mischievous notion ever devised.  We are continually making choices based on our judgment of values. So we are continually hearing prophets speak about the blood of one being no redder than the blood of another, but what those prophets are suggesting is that the preservation of blood outweighs the preservation of privilege. 

So often the prophets are heard as if they are saying that we ought to preserve bloodlines when what this really means to those who hear in such a manner is that we ought to preserve wealth and rank, prestige and opportunity.  What we clearly have never done, because we have not yet had an adequate metaphor to work with, is assert the primary value of human beings over any and all contingencies, any and all matters of fact.

What would we see at the movies, or what would we read in books, if the violence, which is the background of our shared history, were not continually espoused?  What would delight us if one of us did not share westward expansion with incapacitated and diminishing native peoples?

What would inspire us if one of us did not share the masters’ mansion and one of us did not share the slaves’ quarters?  What would we have to romance if there were not other people to bomb back to the Stone Age?

The beginning of a metaphor of preserving a different sense of sharing, one which does not rely on defeat but does portend victory, is expressed in the actions of some escaped slaves, or some Diaspora freed persons who went to live among white people.  I suppose, based on experiences I have had, or have read about in the history of other peoples, that evading their roots was a mere consequence of “passing,” that the primary motivation was survival. 

African-Americans who went to live among white people sought to survive no less than Jews who lived as Marranos in Spain.  In fact, in the case of the Marranos, there was a practice of Judaism behind the mask, so to speak, so we might well imagine that escaped slaves or free persons not only sang, spirituals of redemption but in a certain sense lived it.

The suggestion that those who passed were less concerned to betray their people than survive, less deluded into thinking they were going to  “make it” than escape beatings and lynching, allowed in this case black people to live among white people.  One can imagine that they lived in fear of being discovered.  One can also imagine that they married and had children, and attempted to stake out of life less concerned with westward expansion and bombing in foreign countries than simple survival.

Simple survival brings consequences with it.  The behavior of some people with whom I would be identified by the hue of my flesh brought consequences with it.  One kind of behavior was the rape of black women which resulted in the situation where, even today in the discussions of some of my black acquaintances, the color of one’s flesh is valued according to the hue of appearance. 

However, whereas I am told that African-Americans once valued a lighter appearance. One can well imagine discussions where either a lighter appearance and thinner lips, or a darker appearance and distinctive features are valued.  Eventually, I suppose, we will each learn to value ourselves for what we are, and what went into the composition of us rather than some illusory wishing for a different appearance.  If and when that happens, perhaps we can then learn to value one another beyond appearance.  But until that day, the following thought needs to be expressed.

African-Americans today are both tall and short, heavy and thin, dark complexion and light complexion because of the behavior of some white persons.  Although I am not going to confuse rape as a sexual act, nor lust as a humanitarian act, we can well imagine there were some blacks and some whites who genuinely loved one another, even though the differences between African Americans today have been, and continue to be, discussed in terms of genetic inheritance.

What is too little discussed, perhaps, is the question of what happened with those who “passed,” and where their genetic inheritance went.  Once the issue is raised, the answer seems clear.  White people are also various shades of color, some of which is inherited from their countries of origin, but some of which is inherited from African blood.

Our shared history becomes no more reasonable, but more to be reasoned about, if we have shared more than invisible lines which cut deeply from plantations to cities.  Insofar as we share the thickness of the metaphor of what makes us human, we share the experiential power to cut across the invisible lines that separate us.  If I am open to the possibility, I am open to the reality, of our being brothers and sisters on more than a metaphorical level.

Furthermore, because I come from a people whose innermost self is loving and tender and I face a people whose innermost self is tender and loving, I have to believe that my genetic composition is the result not of gene pools and fleshly hues, but of love and tenderness.

I have never been content with the idea that my great-great-grandfather enslaved the great-great-grandfather of any other people.  Nor, in the face of the necessity of promoting a metaphor which allows me to disclaim and deny that our future can ever be built on sharing misery, one dispensing and another receiving, I have the imagination, because I have the imagined genetic pool of love and tenderness, to say I, even I, was enslaved.  If not me, then some of my ancestors.

I have been exceedingly lucky to have passed into Jewish life which tells me at least once a year: I am to regard myself as having come out of slavery because none is free until all are free.  Which I imagine the entire heritage gone into the composition of me, I cannot be satisfied to say some of us were oppressed because we limit ourselves when we oppress others.  Some of us were, and are, oppressed because of real cruelty in the world.  But some of us are a bit nobler when we accept the loyalty required to imagine not metaphoric brothers and sisters, but real flesh and blood persons who may be at some distance genetically, but are just outside my door physically, are my responsibility because they are my kin.

None of us will be free until all of us are free.  We are the consequence of sharing the process of living toward the impending freedom.  Those who do not recognize that, in the process, both acts of violence and acts of tenderness have composed who we are genetically, invisible, indelibly, are passing.  Worse than passing, they are disloyal.

In my veins flow histories of relations I will never know objectively. At my hands flow histories composed of violence.  To break the irrational archetypes and pursue the imaginative powers of being human, we physically/metaphorically feel that the question is never “What happened to her?  What happened to them?”  The question is always, “What is happening to us!”

It makes us nervous to talk about blood issues because, throughout our history, blood issues have always been concerned with the flowing of blood out of us.  Even when such obnoxious and ignorant phrases as “black blood” or “blue blood” were used, they were too often the means of identifying whose blood someone wanted to let flow out.  When our survival is at issue, however, we will let any blood into our body that will allow us to live.  The fact that we live now is the result of the numerous bloods which have flowed into our body.  To the extend that persons who passed were allowing blood, red blood, the only color of blood there is, to flow, I have to be appreciative to unknown ancestors and peoples of unknown backgrounds and experiences.

Yet we are right to be content that our blood stays in our flesh.  We are correct in the desire to protect our flesh, and in the long run protecting our flesh means to protect all flesh because bombs will not stay in a foreign country and riots will not be confined to ghettos.

We do not need to hollow out a realm inside us to accommodate the other.  We do need to stretch our arms.  We do not need to empty our mind to practice tolerance.  We need to stretch ourselves.  We do not need to sigh and move on.  We need to shout for joy and more mountains. Who will benefit?  Me.

The American I claim as my own is an America that needs vision.  Once this American sees what vision will allow citizens to see, regarding our own shared past and looking forward to our shared future, we will need to repent.  We will need to profoundly assess what we have done to one another in the name of freedom for some, and retire some outworn ways, and retrieve our founding contract with the future.

We have grown use to thinking of the human condition as conflict, us against them, encroaching poverty, misery and malefic health.  Rather, the human condition is her being the other side of my face.  She is not a mirror image of me, and she certainly is not a negative image of me.

She is the other side of my face.  We share blood.  When she is hungry, or thirsty, for material goods or spiritual attunement, I owe it to my ancestors, to myself, to address her needs.

G. David Schwartz is the former president of Seedhouse, the online interfaith committee. Schwartz is the author of A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue and coauthor, with Jacqueline Winston, of Parables In Black and White. Currently a volunteer at Drake Hospital in Cincinnati, Schwartz continues to write. His new book, Midrash and Working Out Of The Book

posted 15 February 2005

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Responses

My problem with targeted prejudice (recently, Muslims, as in Ann Coulter’s "ragheads" comments or the Danish caricatures of the prophet Muhammad as terrorist) is that I might be next. Of course, it is not cool today to publish the kind of caricatures of blacks that were popular in the 19th century, but many stand ready in these instances to defend freedom of press.

I suppose you recall Ben Vereen's black face performance to a select audience of whites and many ready to defend it in the name of free artistic expression. In America today, it is more politic to embrace the Other (like blacks), like Rosa Parks and Coretta King, when systematically that very same person supports social policies that are indeed racist and anti-black. 

Where was the hoop and cry when $39 billion was cut in programs affecting the poor. I suspect, because over 90 percent of whites are middle-class, that the view was that these cuts would have percentage-wise a modest impact on whites, and they can be sacrificed for the larger policy of cutting taxes for the rich, who are overwhelmingly white.

That's the duplicity, the slickness, that we find today in both Democrats and Republicans and their political hacks and opportunists. We Americans have to become more sophisticated in our political perceptions. Though we have gone beyond the 19th century caricatures, we have not yet escaped the racist myths of criminals and welfare cheats. These have black faces. The news emphasis this morning was on individuals cheating FEMA, not on corporations and businesses cheating the government. But I suspect those listening to the radio program put a black face on the FEMA cheats.

America still has a long way to go to cleanse itself of its racial mythologizing, that is, its racismRudy

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Westover: Giving Girls a Place of Their Own

By Laurie Lisle

Westover, a girls' school in Middlebury, Connecticut, was founded in 1909 by emancipated "New Women," educator Mary Hillard and architect Theodate Pope Riddle. Landscape designer Beatrix Farrand did the plantings. It has evolved from a finishing school for the Protestant elite, including F. Scott Fitzgerald's first love, to a meritocracy for pupils of many religions and races from all over the world. The fascinating account of the ups and downs of this female community is the subject of Laurie Lisle's lively and well-researched book. The author describes the innovations of the idealistic minister's daughter who founded the school in 1909, her intellectual successor who turned it into a college preparatory school in the 1930s, the quiet headmaster who managed to keep it open during the turbulent 1970s, and the prize-winning mathematics teacher, wife, and mother who leads the high school today. This beautifully illustrated book tells an important story about female education during decades of dramatic change in America.— Publisher, Wesleyan

 

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The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Foreword by Mary Helen Washington. Afterword by Dorothy Sterling

DeCosta-Willis makes it possible to look back in a new way into the character of wells, and, more than that, into the daily life of African-Americans a century ago.— Chicago Tribune

 

Wells and DeCosta-Willis join together across time in a scholarly collaborative dance of sisterhood to produce a work that not only holds an insightful mirror to the past, but could be used as a guidepost for African-American and other women today in living totally self-defined lives.—Tri-State Defender

 

A unique look at the life o an independent, unmarried African-American woman coping with financial hardships, romantic entanglements, sexism, and racism . . . A substantial contribution to African-American Studies—Publisher Weekly

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

By  Frank B. Wilderson III

Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson's stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who've accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela's rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela's regime deems Wilderson's public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America. Wilderson has a distinct, powerful voice and a strong story that shuffles between the indignities of Johannesburg life and his early years in Minneapolis, the precocious child of academics who barely tolerate his emerging political consciousness. Wilderson's observations about love within and across the color line and cultural divides are as provocative as his politics; despite some distracting digressions, this is a riveting memoir of apartheid's last days.—Publishers Weekly

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Becoming American Under Fire

Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship

During the Civil War Era

By Christian G. Samito

In Becoming American under Fire, Christian G. Samito provides a rich account of how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By bearing arms for the Union, African Americans and Irish Americans exhibited their loyalty to the United States and their capacity to act as citizens; they strengthened their American identity in the process. . . . For African American soldiers, proving manhood in combat was only one aspect to their quest for acceptance as citizens. As Samito reveals, by participating in courts-martial and protesting against unequal treatment, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded. The experience of African Americans in the military helped shape a postwar political movement that successfully called for rights and protections regardless of race. For Irish Americans, soldiering in the Civil War was part of a larger affirmation of republican government and it forged a bond between their American citizenship and their Irish nationalism. The wartime experiences of Irish Americans helped bring about recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization and also caused the United States to pressure Britain to abandon its centuries-old policy of refusing to recognize the naturalization of British subjects abroad. / For Love of Liberty

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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update 31 March 2012

 

 

 

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Related files: Our Shared History  Shawn  Our Shared and Incomparable Sorrow