I recall somewhere back there (before the civil rights efforts, I think) a much bruited about book (and possibly movie as well) about a ‘white’ man who is stunned to find that he has a ‘black’ ancestor. I did not like this racist message then and I don’t like it now. It is the essence of American racism. The Mormons did genealogical studies to ensure that they had no African roots at least though 1978 when they got around to renouncing their racism — somewhere I have one of these complicated studies done by a relative who converted which takes us back to a 14th century Irishman, a major 17th century British poet, early arrival in Plymouth of our great, great etc. grandparents.

My shock at American racism as a child came when I happened to read Richard Wright’s autobiographical Black Boy which opened the window on the horrors of the racist South. I had been growing up in the outer suburbs west of Hartford, Connecticut where one did not find either Jews or African Americans living. The only exceptions were a grocer in a poor community and a couple working for a wealthy gentleman farmer. I only discovered that Hartford actually had an African American ghetto of about six blocks when we delivered some war effort newspapers there as Boy Scouts.

Since that time I have watched the various manifestations of American racism — the civil rights break throughs, the developing African American middle class — but the enduring racism which has condemned so many to prison, poverty, the struggle to survive, and early deaths.

I respond (honestly) “other” to the census questions on race. I am pretty sure that all of us are a mixture from diverse sources — some suppression of identities in our family legends. We are members of the human race — other.

At the very least Apartheid South Africa drew more distinctions — white, black, and colored (mixed and East Indian — Gandhi). I recall asking South African friends at Oxford whether they had ever dined with Africans after we had invited them to dinner with an American fellow student. They said they had — with ‘coloreds’ like him which was acceptable in South Africa (they opposed racism).

I only began to see things through the eyes of those impacted by American racism when I watched my brilliant Nigerian college roommate reacting to it — he would become quite angry at its manifestations. He finally gave up on a career in Nigeria and did his brilliant medical teaching here in the U.S.

Also we lived for 3 years in a housing project on 125th St. in Harlem when we were graduate students which helped us lose the automatic reaction that someone of color was somehow different.

But I bristle at the manifest racism that is all around us. When I hear Obama characterized as a “black — he would have been “colored” in Apartheid South Africa — I see how deeply embedded it is. No wonder that Clarence Thomas is (sadly) so embittered with his hatreds directed towards his fellow human beings.

How would you feel if your children and grand children would be automatically classified as “black”?

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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