Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Slave Auction / White Boy

I recently visited St. John's College in New Mexico. I assumed it was a Catholic college because of the prefix, but it's just a formality. Like calling someone 'doctor' when they're really an educator. Besides the fact that the campus sits proudly on Atalaya grounds, a popular mountain trail overlooking the city of Santa Fe, St. John's offers an interesting approach to learning whereas students don't necessarily take the standard liberal arts courses but instead are expected to write essays based on questions relating to classic European readings, with at least one mention of W.E.B. DuBois because, I was told, the famous African American historian had once visited the campus. Fair enough, especially if the intention is to avoid any complaints from those who might object to a one-sided education. Still, you get the sense that the overall objective of the curriculum is to glorify Greek mythology while not preparing White students for the real world; a world that consists of different perspectives and skin complexions. Native American philosophy, for example, since the College already sits on stolen land, so that young Anglo scholars can learn to think outside of the bubble. Because when you place a kid in such confinement in an effort to provide him or her with the best education, you actually set them up for a rude awakening later on when they're forced to interact with people who could care less about Homer, since their definition of education is in learning how to interact in a multi-cultural society. And by the way, just so you know, Greek philosophy is based on African teachings. Pick up a book called Stolen Legacy by George G.M. James. As in most literary accomplishments and inventions by African and African Americans, it was first hidden from public view until a fair-minded British scholar let the black cat out the bag!

So where am I going with this? Well, I had just finished walking the Atalaya trail when I noticed in one of the dormitory halls a sign that proudly advertised a slave auction. In a matter of seconds, I experienced what Dr. Joy-Leary would call post-slavery psychosis where a visual or word takes you right back to the scene of the crime. I did that thing Scooby Doo does whenever he's confronted with something he just doesn't get, or gets it and right away looks for the nearest exit-- Huh?!?! I didn't even pull out my standard Harlem, What da...?!, because the magic of Santa Fe had virtually shut down my hood impulses. Just that Huh?!?!; and I did look for the nearest exit! The two students I had met up with, one Anglo and the other Asian, quickly assured me that it was simply a play on words; that it's a dorm thing where students offer free labor, as in washing other students' cars or doing their laundry. Of course, this sounded like bubble gum, to me. Because where I come from, that's called a dolgier or sucker. Or in the worse situation, prison time, and guess what? You're it! But when in Rome you try to act Roman, right? So I chilled. It wasn't until the following day that I got a call from the White student who expressed his displeasure with the whole matter after reconsidering the sign. He offered his apology for such an insensitive act. I told him it wasn't his role to apologize but that I appreciated the gesture, and we began an honest discussion about race-ism, White privilege, bubble education and internalized race-ism. The kind of open convo that hadly ever takes place in American classrooms and living rooms.

It's always good to see Whites stand up to race-ism, especially when they benefit from it. It reveals their level of integrity and courage, even. Because he didn't just end it there. He complained to his resident assistant and talked to other students, though they avoided the issue altogether. Some resented him for pointing it out. But it's the fact that he took action that matters. He even took it to the Dean, and then later found an open ear in a rebellious faculty member.

At the same time, there's a reality show called I Love New York that follows the outrageously stupid antics of an overrated bimbo as she decides on which male to be her lover. It's the kind of non-sensical cable tv show that would make Dr. William Cross cringe; maybe even scold me for abusing my brain cells. And yet I've grown addicted to Tiffany; her weekly carrying-ons and oversized boobs! Call it vegetating, but I'm hooked! This past episode she had all the fellas at the dinner table, all of them Black except for one Anglo who she calls White boy, and I started wondering what if the situation were reverse? What if Tiffany was a blond, all the males were White except one who she decided to name Black boy? How would that go over with a Nubian audience? Would it be considered outright race-ism? I'd certainly feel offended. But would other Blacks see it as just a play on words? We Blacks typically consider an Anglo who can hang or has become family our White boy as an endearing statement. The youth do it all the time; and the one White kid in the group will allow it because somehow in his DNA he knows there's a difference between being the brunt of a joke and earning his protection. But when it's the other way around, it somehow comes off more as an oxymoron. It's just not as cool.

I was thinking about all this; if other Tiffany viewers caught it, or if it didn't even make the radar. We say White boy all the time, mostly to ourselves and one another, and it's no big deal-- That White boy crazy!...White boy got skillz...White boy came in third place....That White boy fine! I don't think White people go around saying, Black boy got skillz. I just don't see it. Maybe in some trailer home in deep Texas where they still call Black men boys, but other than that it just doesn't happen. Too much history. Too much guilt. Plus, they know brothas would flip! But does that make it right?

Race-ism has no flag. I'm realizng this late into my 40s. And the older I get the more the lines between endearment and insensitivity become blurry, to me. There was a time when I'd put up a fuss and get stuck in anger mode, if not victim mentality, this after seeing a slaves for sale sign. Now I consider the Machine that pushes the isms, in the first place. It helps me keep in mind that our nation is still a teenager and that reparations can also come in the form of double standards.

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