Why? CNN's "Black in America" and NPR's "State of the Re:Union" Offer Up a Potpourri of Tragic Mulattoes Before a National Audience
Again, thanks to the good and kind folks who contributed to my first annual donation drive over at my "home base" We Are Respectable Negroes. Some kind donors noted that they read me here on Alternet and I wanted to acknowledge that fact. I appreciate all of you. After kids, Starbucks, and Black Pete, if you have a spare dollar or two, do throw it in to the collective begging bowl for our first annual fundraising drive if you can.
Watching CNN, and listening to NPR on Sunday night, reminded me that Imitation of Lifewas not just a movie or a play; for many of us, such stories of racial identity, confusion, denial, and shame are all too real.
CNN's special on colorism and mixed race identity went as expected. It profiled many maladjusted young black people who would fail any brown paper bag test, yet have an almost pathological obsession with wanting to be white. I was laughing at the TV screen during the show because these brown complected black folks, who desperately want to "pass," would have been better suited for a skit on Chappelle's Show, than discussing matters of "race" and "culture" on national television.
As an antidote to such tragic mulattoes, Soledad O'Brien's Black in America special also profiled some well-adjusted black people who understand that race is a fiction. Despite the "race" of their not black parent, they understand that the one drop rule prevails in the United States, and these individuals gain strength and grounding from their identities as Black Americans.
By comparison, NPR's State of the Re:Union ran a much more powerful and important show on Sunday night. All aspects of the sad and twisted American obsession with race, and how it has damaged all of us, were on clear display there.
There is a cruel and plain truth which ties CNN's "Black in America", and NPR's "Pike County, Ohio: As Black as We Wish to Be", together.
Being "black" is a social, economic, political, and social liability in the United States. Blackness is fetishized, desired, coveted, and wanted by non-whites. But, no one really wants to be black. Why should they? If one is assessing life chances, wealth, social stigma, risk, danger, and the added stress and anxiety that comes with being a black American--or another person of color (to varying degrees)--who would opt in to such an arrangement?
The young tragic mulattoes on CNN understand this fact. The black people who can pass for white in Pike County, Ohio certainly understand this fact: there, one of them even states that being black in America is too difficult, and who would want to be such a thing?
Thus, a provocative question: would any "rational" actor choose to be black (or not white) in America?
Would a self-interested, utility maximizing person, with complete information, choose such a racial identity? Are those black people who dare to pass for white--their cowardice being noted--just doing the "smart" and "rational" thing? Should they be condemned for such a "logical" and pragmatic decision? Are those who cannot cross over just envious of those who can?
When I was about nine years old, me and a friend, both of us black were wandering around the neighborhood in-between bouts of mischief--throwing rocks at cars, setting fires, chasing girls around the neighborhood with dog poop on a stick--and would fill these moments with the types of profound, deep, and intellectual conversations befitting young "men" of our age.