The Moment I Realized I Am Black: Token Confession Entry 4

My first memory of being keenly aware of my black body, and that it meant something more than Jesus loving all the children of the world, “Red, brown, yellow, black and white. They are precious in his sight.” was while watching television.

In January 1987 the landmark PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize debuted. I watched it with my family. Across the thick glass screen of our television set—classic eighties version big wooden box with knobs for turning the channel and bunny ears attena—I had my first exposure to porn. Black trauma porn. There lying on the brown carpet of the family room I watched horrifying black and white images of black folks in the 50s and 60s getting beaten by white civilians and law enforcement, hosed down with fire hydrants, and attacked by police dogs during the Civil Rights Movement.  For the first time I can recall I saw moving images that chronicled part of the history of race in America. For the first time I saw images of Emmet Til’s mutilated body. For the first time I saw moving images of the Klan marching through the streets and burning crosses in a vacant field or someone’s yard. For the first time I saw moving images of black folks marching, singing, and being beaten for having the audacity to take a stand for their dignity as human beings. Sacrificing their bodies for a prize that should not be elusive. For the first time I saw images of white Americans enraged at the audacity of black folks peacefully protesting against the tyranny of white supremacy in all its social forms in the public square. For the first time I saw the steely resolve of Rosa Parks. For the first time I heard the power of Martin’s voice.

I don’t think I had a sense then for how traumatic it was to watch that documentary. To see those images. It’s only in the last few years of seeing videos of the last moments of Eric Garner, Tamar Rice, and Philando Castile, that I’ve gone back in my mind’s eye and dusted off the footage of moments from my youth as I try to make sense of it all, and endeavor to be a conduit towards conciliation. Reflection has led me to ask questions like, “when is the first time I was aware of my blackness?” Watching that documentary at school is what stood out despite, upon further thought, investigation and mining my memory, realizing I saw it at home in the safe company of my family first. So what was it about watching parts of it again at school that stood out? The awkward collective awakening we had as kids I suppose. It was as though nothing was the same again. To say that our innocence was taken from us as we watched these images from America’s second Civil War would be a slight over exaggeration. Accurately put it was our ignorance that was taken from us. We had been formally initiated into the reality that America to its core is a nation that was established on a racial hierarchy. I had been awakened to my place in it. And for the first time it started to make sense.

What started to make sense you ask?

Certainly I was aware that there wasn’t a lot of people who looked like me around unless I was surrounded by family. I had the feeling of being “the other” for as long as I could remember, but at times it went deeper than just being “the other”. Previously I couldn’t articulate it. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. That is until I saw Eyes on the Prize. Then I knew exactly what it was. It all started to make sense. Mostly gone was the overt forms of racial violence. Racism in America had made adjustments in response to the Civil Rights movement. It had undergone a master class in subtlety. So subtle that often those who wielded it did so unwittingly. Subtle like the strangely disapproving looks I sometimes received from strangers. Keep in mind I was not more than ten years old and I already knew “the look”. Before I just thought it was odd. After seeing Eyes on the Prize I had context. Context for how some people saw me even as a young black boy. Context for despite a quelling of racial violence, the belief in inherent racial superiority, or more specifically to me, racial inferiority was still very much the air we breathed in America. White Supremacy and Black Inferiority had endured. Context for my presence in the incomplete reckoning of America’s original sin.

 

Uh Oh Cheerios!!! Backlash No Surprise Here

I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who is just finding out about the stir that was caused by a Cheerios commercial on YouTube two weeks ago. It was actually my brother in law who lives in the south of England that asked my wife and I what we thought about it, and we had no idea what he was talking about. One quick Google search and we were up to date.

The commercial, a 31 second spot, depicts an interracial family. A cute little black-white mixed girl with Cheerios box in hand asks her white mother, who is sitting in the kitchen working on something, are cheerios good for your heart. The mom gives the answer we’d all expect about Cheerios being whole grain, low cholesterol, low blah blah blah, upon which the little girl promptly exits the kitchen. It then cuts to the black father who suddenly wakes up from his catnap on the couch to discover that the left side of his chest is covered in Cheerios.

The backlash in the comments section of YouTube apparently was so ugly that General Mills, requested that YouTube disable the comments section for their video. Of course there are plenty of videos of people sharing their disappointment with the commercial. White people and black people alike were upset, really upset. Most were upset that Cheerios would even present an interracial couple as being the normal American family at all. Some were accusing Cheerios as being racist not because the family was interracial but because the black father was depicted as being a lazy good for nothing sleeping on the couch, while the white mother was busy paying the bills and doing other responsible stuff. And of course there is backlash to the backlash. There are people who are surprised that there are people who still harbor such a racist worldview.

I’ve thought about sharing my perspective on this before, but honestly I just kind of put it off. I suppose this most recent event, even being two weeks behind the curve as I don’t watch much TV news these days, is a timely catalyst to share why none of it surprises. The fact that there are people who probably wouldn’t consider themselves racist (they are), but are nonetheless bothered, offended, or simply don’t like to see their race mixing with others, and yet are not part of a secret society on the basis of their hate for other races or supremacy of their own is no surprise to me at all.

I figured the best way to organize my thoughts is to address various different groups whom this may concern.

To the Cheerios brand and General Mills Company… Thank you! As an interracial family it is important to us that our daughter occasionally see some depictions in the media of families that look like her family. I notice when commercials and television shows depict interracial families cause it’s so rare. Especially depictions that aren’t wrapped up in the social commentary and implications of the difficulty of interracial marriage like the movies Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and it’s remake Guess Who I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that there is probably more “positive” depictions of homosexual couples on TV than there are of interracial families on TV. The most popular interracial couple on TV right now is, Scandal, which of course is an adulterous relationship (go figure). I can’t even get a Valentines Day card featuring an interracial couple, and if I could at a place like Hallmark or Target you’d likely have people complaining then too.

To the Haters aka Racists or Closet Racists… Thanks for making yourself known. I’ve always said I prefer the racist that let’s you know they don’t like you or approve, than the one who smiles in your face whilst wishing curses upon your head. A special group of closet racists happen to be Christians who have been taught and raised to believe that God doesn’t take too kindly to interracial relationships and mingling of the races beyond being cordial polite in the public arena (i.e. school, work, and recreation). Every instance in scripture of a command being given to not intermarry was an issue of idolatry not race. In the Old Testament (Numbers 25.1-3), God was concerned with Israel being tempted to follow after the gods of the foreign nations. Likewise in the New Testament (2nd Corinthians 6.14-17) Paul was concerned with those in the body of Christ becoming yoked to those who were outside of the body of Christ. If you don’t believe or agree with me then you may want to take a closer look at Numbers 12.1-8 and see God’s response to Aaron and Miriam giving Moses a hard time about his interracial marriage.

To Those Who Are Genuinely Surprised By The Negativity… I was speaking to my wife about this and we both agree, that the thing we’re most surprised by is that there is so many people who are surprised that so many people didn’t like the commercial because of their strong belief that the races shouldn’t mix.

Some friends of ours were kind enough to keep Isla overnight so Emma and I could get away. It was a white couple and of course Isla is darker than most mixed race children. They shared with us that they went out in public with her and received some disapproving and nasty looks from others. Didn’t surprise us at all cause it happens to us all the time. We never warned them that this could happen, they picked up on it themselves.

When Emma and I started dating I never gave her a heads up what to expect as in terms of people glaring at us in this manner. She being from Scotland knew about America’s racial history, however, she didn’t realize how big of an issue it still is. Early on in our dating life if we got the ugly looks I never said anything, I never pointed it out to see if she saw it. All on her own she picked up on it and knew exactly what it was, and asked me if I had noticed it. And yes we can distinguish fairly accurately between the inquisitive glare and the disapproving glare. Talk to anyone who is in an interracial relationship or have children of another race and they can tell you all about it. Typically it’s not as bad in cities, but once you get out into rural America, it can be thick.

I’ll never forget being in Georgia for a wedding, and Emma and I stopped into Target. Two black girls gave us the ugliest gawk and mumbled disapproval just loud enough to make sure we heard. I nearly snapped around and said to them, “Be mad if you want to but it was girls just like you who as a teenager ignored me because I wasn’t ‘black’ enough, ‘hard’ enough, or just plain good enough to give the time of day, because I had the gall to be myself and not worry about all the tired nonsense and stereotypes that would allow me to ‘keep it real’.”

The reality is that there are still many people who are raised to dislike, stay clear, be weary of people, or not mix with people of other races. In particular more white and black people have been taught these things in regards to one another from birth. Less than days gone by but enough for it to still be prevalent.

To Those Who Lost Faith In Humanity… Not to sound dismissive or arrogant but one of the reasons why I reject faith in humanity is because I think it is dismissive of how troubling and deep the selfishness of the human heart is and if unchecked the evil schemes it can and has devised over the course of history. That’s not to dismiss the fact that we are also capable of wondrous beauty, creativity, compassion, kindness, love, and ingenuity human beings are capable of. But we can’t just dismiss every evil plot of mankind away with mental illness and poor nurturing. At what point do we recognize that some of this nonsense is just in our nature, and is never going to be fully solved through human progress?