“Black blood is the strongest in the world” my mother used to say, “because one drop makes you whole.”
She was light enough to have passed for white, and in fact agonized her entire life because she hadn’t, wondering whether her days would have been happier if she had told a little lie, denied her mother and brother. If she hadn’t married a dark-skinned man and had dark-skinned children.
One of my first memories was of sitting in a restaurant with my mother and sister while on a road trip to Michigan. I can’t tell you where we were. Maybe Arizona or New Mexico. But when my father joined us, the waitress froze. The manager told us that we couldn’t eat there: the apparent “mixed” couple seemed to be too much for them. My father was forced to pay for the meal we couldn’t stay and eat. Oh, yes. I remember that.
One drop makes you whole.
Whatever “race” is, it is hard to think of a social construct insane enough to make that rule sensible at all, other than Contagion theory, the idea that “a little tiny turd spoils a great big punchbowl.” And in fact, the rule seems to descend from the need to categorize human beings so that they can be sold, or at least kept on their side of the line.
Make no mistake: everything I say about race flows from the assumption that human racial groups are basically equal in capacity or worth. That means that blacks are not intellectually inferior, and whites are not morally inferior, either position equally justifiable if one believes in inequality.
I take neither: this is all just human stuff.
Where does it come from? Well, start with the natural childish tendency to think YOUR daddy is the strongest, your Mommy the prettiest. We see people doing this with their religion, gender, political orientation, school, kids, dog, whatever. We want to believe the world revolves around us, and there is nothing wrong with this if you get the “joke” and see that everyone else gets to feel the precise same way: their world revolves around THEM too. THEY are the center of good as well. Get that joke, and the rest of it starts making sense.
So…Europeans arrive in America. Vast tracts of arable land + the ability to store wealth in abstractions like “money” = the desire for vast amounts of labor. White “indentured servants” came largely voluntarily for periods of seven years. If the situation was too harsh, they can escape into the general population. Native Americans? If things get too harsh they can escape back into the Western territories or their native lands.
But how about Africans? They look so different they’re easy to spot if they run away. Taken from thousands of miles away with no hope of returning home without the same technology that brought them here. Remove their culture, language, religions, history, homeland…everything. Blank slate. Erase their cultural memory chip, program them with “Slave 1.0” which calls them inferior, but be sure to pass laws that keep them from learning (simultaneously claiming they CANNOT learn, and punishing anyone for performing an experiment to test that hypothesis. Isn’t that cute?)
Then create a wall between them and the dominator population: the “one drop” rule. The gradation was: black, mulatto, quadroon, octaroon, and then “a nigger in the woodpile.”
And as males always do (I love males, don’t get me wrong, but they have an equal and opposite set of psychological oddities to those defining Womankind) they wanted access to the females of the opposing tribe, while denying access to “their” females. So at the precise same time black men are lynched for LOOKING at a white woman, white men are “creeping” across the color line, and keeping black women like breeding stock in woodland shacks at the corners of their property. With lots of blond-afro’d little kids running around.
Get it: the human urge is to avoid pain, increase pleasure, and produce maximum grandchildren has created much of the good in the world…and the terrible as well. This demands control of resources and land. The male and female drives complement each other, make no mistake: every guy knows that the more power he has, the more women are attracted to him. It’s just part of how we roll as a species. Power, beauty, sex, fear…quite a recipe.
Because control of land demands removing those who owned it, or repelling those who would take it. That allows agriculture, which produces more children (which is why agriculturalists out-competed hunter-gatherers: the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is actually healthier, but sedentary farmers produce more children which means that they can produce more warriors. They just tend to out-breed and win conflicts, even though as individuals they are often less healthy). Sedentary farming produces domestication leading to using animal power to increase production leading to surplus, surplus leads to trade, trade leads to abstraction (money), money leads to capital being loaned and invested, leading to wealth, and wealth wants to perpetuate itself. As soon as you can increase security with surplus, the tendency toward laziness (a human virtue as well as weakness) leads to the need to domesticate more…efficient and effective animals. Let’s see now…what might be the perfect domesticated animal…
Could it be PEOPLE?
Now, you can trade for those hours and ergs of directed human effort…or you can simply steal those human beings, brainwash them and force them to function as you wish. As slavery was MUCH different in the New World than the Old, I suspect that when Romans enslaved Greeks, the relative genetic and cultural similarity caused an automatic level of respect and identification. They did not strip the identity from their Greek slaves. It is possible that the more “different” the slave, the easier it is to treat them inhumanely. Treating human beings like animals or machines is the perfect way to extract the maximum amount of value at the lowest cost. Sub-Saharan Africans looked a hell of a lot less like, say Germans than did the Irish. Easier to dehumanize, and therefore more potentially profitable.
Think about it in terms of food in America. We don’t eat things that look like us: monkeys for instance. We will eat warm-blooded creatures. Many people who eschew eating mammals will still eat fish–less identification. Harder to project our own sense of emotions, pain, fear onto fish. “They don’t feel pain the way we do,” the line goes.
The PRECISE same thing said about African slaves. Again…I wrote two novels, LION’S BLOOD and ZULU HEART specifically stating in hundreds of thousands of words that the problem is universal, not located in something lacking in either whites or blacks. Accident of geographic history, a mere “blip” in the quarter-million year history of the human race radiating out from Africa and then, as if a contentious family reunion, colliding back together to trade, made and play the “we rule, you drool” primate game.
So the Great Lie was mighty useful to reduce guilt and hold fear at bay, in the service of maximizing profit and ease and of course giving men access to all those tasty slave wenches. The lie: They are different. They are less. They actually enjoy “service”. They are natural slaves.
And the most toxic of all, because it is usually concealed behind polite rhetoric, or a refusal to actually state your position, or the lie that they have no opinion, or “its too theoretical”: that given the same historical circumstances, whites would have done better or complained less. That’s the position white racists take.
The matching belief among black racists? Blacks would have been kinder, whites would have done worse.
Those two groups deserve each other. My tribe are those who don’t need to warp reality to believe “one drop makes you whole.” Oh, it might be necessary to take that position to build a political coalition (rather than fracturing into black, white and “colored”, a useful tactic in South African apartheid), or to acknowledge social realities, or to have tribe or find an identity. Those are real.
The social construct of race, however, is one of the most poisonous fictions ever created. Necessary to understand our history and social reality…but still a fiction. It is part of the “dream” world which must be evolved beyond to awaken, but necessary to understand the world of the “dream”.
Some people say: “I don’t see race”. That’s nice. That’s a luxury black people cannot afford. It is also, I respectfully submit, a comfortable fiction. What they MEAN is that they are not prejudiced. They hope. But the reality is that they are saying: “don’t pay attention to that cancer. Your attention makes it grow.”
That is magical thinking, The Secret on poisoned steroids. You have to study a disease to cure it, and the disease here is the natural human tendency to “Other”, to be greedy, to fail to associate your own humanity with others. You can see this same tendency in religious wars, in sexism, homophobia and National Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny and any number of other excuses to try to force the world into your own image.
The answer? I have noticed that those who do NOT believe in human equality have no solutions for how all of this is going to turn out. They are frozen in place, filled with fear as they see “the monkeys taking over the zoo.”
There is no pleasure down that road, and you can just smell the fear and anger baking off of them.
Because the most basic questions about humanity cannot be answered logically (we cannot perform the experiments necessary to come to a truly scientific judgement of the situation. Ultimately, faith is always involved, and by some odd coincidence, racists almost always conclude that their group is superior. Odd how that works) and the “they are inferior” approach leads no where, I choose to apply a rubric: reality makes sense. The world, the universe, moves toward higher levels of complexity, the human race toward inter-connectedness.
If a view of reality leads to no positive result here, even though I cannot ultimately PROVE my position, I am free to ask myself: “what if?” in a different direction.
What if we are all the same? What if there is unity in the human experience, but we also have this tendency to “other”, separate, and all of our problems originate there? What if as a species we are capable of mugging someone, pissing on them and breaking their legs and then telling our children: “look at that broke, stinking, homeless person too lazy to walk. He must like it that way”
Or worse, if one thinks it is nature, not nurture: “God made them that way. God is great.”
Wow. Holy crap. The implications are massive, and horrific. I wouldn’t want to live in that world. That sounds like someone is mistaking Heaven for Hell.
On that other hand, if men and women, black and white, Christian and Muslim are all basically made from the same stuff, have the same basic needs and strengths and weaknesses but are traversing different historical territory…
IF you can start with that, you can ask: what would make ME behave that way? Act that violently, self-destructively, non-optimally?
So far, I’ve yet to see a single situation that doesn’t make sense when you apply this idea. And the answer is always the same: a tiny percentage of human beings are natural predators, and that is no greater in any group. But pain and fear trigger anger and violence in the MAJORITY of people. Pressure makes us rigid. Perception of survival stress creates pressure. See more anger and violence in a community, and look for the pressure.
It is VILE that people remember 9/11, and the horrible mistake we made in Iraq, but not step back and say: “under stress and fear, our minds are clouded, and we become rigid and seek something to destroy to vent our terror” then apply that to human history.
When former head of American Special Forces Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn says that ““When 9/11 occurred, all the emotions took over, and our response was, ‘Where did those bastards come from? Let’s go kill them. Let’s go get them,’” this is exactly what I’m talking about. (By the way: I don’t feel the same way about Afghanistan, the invasion of which, in pursuit of Bin Laden and Al Queda, seemed reasonable to me at the time, and still does. Iraq was not a failure of our military, either–they performed brilliantly. The civilian leadership let them down completely, IMO.)
But you several reactions to this thought: deny it was a mistake at all is a popular one in certain quarters. If Flynn says that we CREATED Isis with that action, and we admit it was an error, then we have to see that the Muslim world was given reason to fear us. Fear leads to anger. Anger to violence..
But if we deny the universal humanity, deny that we let our fear shut down our frontal lobes, deny that we make a fantastic error then when terrorist actions take place, we can separate ourselves. ‘They” are different. “We” don’t do things like that. Not a bit. You cannot connect them to the community of human beings.
Cannot accept even a single drop of responsibility…
Because one drop makes you whole.
So, then, what is the answer? Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Start with yourself, and your own fear and tendency to “other.” Start by connecting with your own heart, and coping with your own stress so that it doesn’t crush you into a fearful, frozen ball. How?
- Five times a day, stop and breathe slowly and diaphragmatically for sixty seconds. Low, slow, soft, relaxed breathing
- For Fifteen minutes every morning and/or evening, “listen” to your heartbeat, taking your pulse or just being “soft bodied” (but holding your head lightly, as if suspended by a string from above).
- Remember that violence stems from anger. Anger from fear. Ask of your opponent, or enemy: what are they afraid of? Why do they fear? What would cause ME to behave like this, and when have I done it?
- Love yourself. Extend that humanity to others. But also, take no shit from anyone. Yeah, that can sound like a contradiction.
It is not.