The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

E-mail and other stuff


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The "one drop" rule, saying that anyone with any black blood at all is black, was a part of American (esp. southern) culture since the 1700s.) Whites were trying to protect their status, and wanted to know who they could sell. It was incredibly damaging. My poor mother, who was about Cher's skin color, never recovered. Black, Mulatto, Quadroon, Octaroon...and then "a nigger in the woodpile." Blacks tried to turn it around by saying "black blood is the strongest in the world--one drop makes you whole." But emotionally, it was clear that light-skinned blacks (notice that there aren't "dark-skinned whites", just "light-skinned blacks" in this sense) were very aware of the vast divide they could not cross. Ah, the "tragic mulatto." Anyway, all of this was clearly crap, but it cut deep, and hasn't been cleansed from the psyche to this day.

Me personally? I use the label "black" for convenience. It reminds me how others see me, and helps me understand some of the areas of damage in my psyche. My sister calls herself "multiracial" which is probably more purely accurate in some ways. When I really think about myself, it's a joke. Race to me is like one of those pictures made from big dots. The closer you look, the less "there" is there. Of course, gender identity is similar, and so is the entire question of existence. I'm digging away at the question "what am I" these days, and that's WAY more basic and frightening than dealing with third-chakra racial issues. Bleh.
On the other hand, when you move past this stuff (which I can, at times) very interesting perspectives occur. I love it when people talk about race and I.Q.--and then are oblivious to how painful and insulting such discussions are. One of the things I love about Jerry Pournelle is that he and I disagree about this, but he is VERY aware of how sensitive it is. As a result, we have had many, many talks. If you want to grasp how painful this stuff is, don't have a discussion with me--I'm someone who believes that race doesn't matter in this except as social construct. Have the discussion with an Afrocentric who believes that WHITES are inferior. See how long THAT discussion stays polite. Then, just maybe, you'll understand how it feels to hear skin color, which was the standard used to strip away the humanity of millions of people, then blamed for the current status of those people. Here's another analogy: it's one thing to mug someone, break their legs and piss on them in the gutter. It's another, lower thing to then blame them for being broke, crippled, and stinking. That is an entirely different level of human evil--but completely typical human behavior.
But what lies beneath? For me, I could take no pleasure or comfort in being "black"--I was a green monkey like you wouldn't believe at my Jr. High School, and right about puberty, that really sucks. And I certainly couldn't be "white" despite my mother's light skin. So my mind turned inward at a very early age. I began to ask "who am I" or "what am I" which are far more interesting questions. I slogged through a ton of muck-- some of which still devils me--but if you've read my books, my quest to answer that one has been right out in plain sight for almost 30 years.
And I think I'm finally approaching an answer. Now, I wouldn't suggest digging into this too deeply if you have ANY clinical psychological problems, because the answer isn't comforting: there's nothing down there. The Emperor has no clothes. The deeper you look, the more emptiness you find, and it will shatter your ego, ultimately. People end up in the asylum over this. But if you can thread that needle, I believe it's possible to make the journey to awakening without destroying your family, your life, your community, even though in this context none of them are "real"--all of them are "in the dream." That's why at the Path seminar I referred to the subtext of the whole thing as "how to awaken without destroying your dream." I don't feel I have the right to stalk Enlightenment at the (perceived) cost of my son, daughter, or wife, who (perceive that they) need me. That's just me. It pleases me to fulfill those roles. If I ever make it, I may have a different perspective, but in the meantime, I 've done no harm.
And Obama? So far, while he is certainly a politician, he also seems to speak more honestly and directly than any main-stream politician I've ever heard. And I think that this is what attracts people to him. If he eventually begins to use the kind of doublespeak that his contemporaries use, it will be a shame, but right now, wow. I guy who talks publicly pretty much the way I think he speaks privately. Who speaks--dare I say it--the way I hope I'd speak were I in his position. I'm not flattering myself there: the guy is smarter than me. I have no illusions about that. But can he remain as HONEST as I try to be? That is a much more interesting question. And is America ready for that?
So, what of his race? It's important. It's never, ever NOT been important in this country. Maybe there's someplace on this planet where it isn't, but I've never been there, or been convinced. So we might as well talk about it, although it is uncomfortable to do so. Whatever happens, this next election cycle represents something utterly different. For the first time ever, it isn't just a bunch of white Christian heterosexual guys talking to each other as if it didn't matter that they were just a bunch of white Christian heterosexual guys. The elephant in the living room has finally taken a big steaming dump on the rug. And boy oh boy, is it ever fun to watch people forced to wake up after hundreds of years of comfortable sleep.

I'm giggling. Ultimately, what matters is that the hand on the tiller be smart, and strong, and moral, and honest. If it's a woman's hand, how very very interesting. If it's a dark hand, how very very interesting. The best part in all of this is the discussions we're having--discussions that have been postponed for four hundred years.

Dreaming is great. Wakefulness is better.

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