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Saturday, July 13, 2024

More than skin deep

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A Supreme Mess

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The brilliant Harlem Renaissance writer and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston, is frequently cited for her aphorism, “All my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” Hurston was referencing the fact that some African Americans strongly rejected her views regarding how best to advance the race. Indeed, she believed that some were not interested in advancing the interests of Black folks at all. Notably, Hurston’s political views were heterodox — and often controversial. She was a conservative (or, perhaps, a libertarian) who was openly critical of certain civil rights positions that most African Americans warmly embraced.

I thought about Hurston earlier this week during a conversation that I had with a Black man who appeared to be a few years my senior (I say “appeared to be” because, well, “Black don’t crack”). I was having lunch with a colleague when the gentleman approached our table to share that he recognized me from my weekly column. Our conversation was brief, respectful, and interesting.

We quickly veered into politics, which was not surprising given that it’s a topic about which I write frequently. Among other thoughts, the gentleman expressed distaste for Vice President Kamala Harris. In short, he is skeptical of her for at least a couple of reasons. One is that she is biracial. Another is that her husband is not Black. “How can we trust her to really be for us when she isn’t married to one of us?” (I have come across this sentiment numerous times over the years — long before Vice President Harris came on the scene.)

I listened closely and then decided to challenge my new friend. I began by referencing the fact that South Carolina Senator Tim Scott is not married to anyone of any race. I then stated that I would trust Harris over Scott on any day — twice on Sundays — regarding issues of racial justice. My friend considered my statement for a second. He then agreed.

In my judgement, African Americans should think very carefully before concluding that the race of someone’s spouse or partner is a valid reason on which to base that person’s commitment to racial equity. I cannot conceive that the Rev. Dr. William Barber — who is the Martin Luther King, Jr. of today — would be less of a titan in the struggle for Black equity if he were married to a white woman.

On a related note, I would not trust Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas regarding racial equity even if he were married to Harriet Tubman. I’ll go even further. I’d take Jane Elliott or Tim Wise, both of whom are white, over Shaun King any day. Of course, the struggle for Black equity must be Afro-genic and Afro-led. However, it would be unwise not to welcome the allyship of others who have demonstrated by their words and actions that they are committed to our cause and are respectful of our leadership.

I completely understand where my new friend (whose name I will not disclose) is coming from. Most African Americans experience at least mild PTSD from merely living in our homeland. For example, a couple of months ago, American Airlines kicked off all the Black men on a flight because an attendant “smelled body odor.” There is not one chance in a trillion that such a scenario would ever have happen with white men. How can such racial “water boarding” incidents not leave an indelible mark on our individual and collective psyches?

Tragically, one effect of racial trauma is that it sometimes leads Black folks to create über emotional rankings of the “worthiness” of each other regarding our struggle. Spike Lee’s “School Daze” perfectly lays out certain facets of what I call the “Blacker than Thou Syndrome.” The fact is that I have known very light-skinned Black men and women who were completely “down for the cause.” I have also known others who were as Black as midnight, but who have no interest in what used to be called “uplifting the race.”

It is profoundly disappointing that we still engage in such infighting. This divide-and-dominate strategy has been employed in America since the days that our ancestors were the property of human traffickers. It’s one thing to have principled debates about strategy (a la DuBois vs. Washington); it’s another to exclude others because of immutable characteristics or because they love someone who can’t do the Electric Slide. (Ok, that one is personal to me because I can’t dance. At all.)

In the end, there just aren’t enough of us in the first place. Thus, we can’t afford to lose — or to exclude — those who are committed and reliable warriors for justice.

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