Saturday, March 28, 2009

African Americans in the Obama Administration: The Brown Paper Bag Test

Now I know with the state of the economy and US foreign policy there probably are a lot more important things I could be writing about. Well I figure there are enough bloggers out there to keep up on those issues. I've held off on writing this piece for about a month now. Yet, it still had a nagging presence and I just had to get it off my chest.

Has anyone else noticed that the hand full of African Americans Obama has selected for post within the administration, all pass the brown paper bag test. In case there might be one or two white people reading this or some black person who has really been sheltered, see the urban dictionary's definition of brown paper bag test. The long and short of it is , back in the olden days and maybe even today, if you were darker than a brown paper bag you were not considered an acceptable member of the black elite. Of course there were exceptions: Madame C. J. Walker, a self- made millionaire broke through the intra-racial color barrier. We all know enough money can get you pretty much anything you want. Remember Pele' bought himself white racial status in Brazil. The phenomenon is even present in Atlanta politics. Despite the fact the city has had a black mayor since the 1970's, there has never been a dark skinned mayor. Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, Bill Campbell and Shirley Franklin all easily pass the brown paper bag test.

But back to the matter at hand. As I look at the African Americans that have been appointed to prominent positions; I'm not talking about the brother who shoots hoops and was his personal assistant on the campaign trail. I'm talking about the real movers and shakers. Let's run down the list: Eric Holder
(Attorney General), Melody Barnes (Domestic Policy Advis0r), Valerie Jarrett (White House Senior Advisor), Rob Nabors (OMB Director), Susan Rice (Foreign Policy Adviser), Lisa Jackson ( Director of EPA), Desiree Rogers (White House Social Secretary). All of these individual fall in to the category of light or at least brown skinned. Definitely passing the brown paper bag test. If I missed a Kwame Kilpatrick kind of dark skinned person please bring it to my attention.

I know by now you are yelling at me saying, "but his wife is dark skinned. Yeah that's right. He indeed selected a highly educated, chocolate sister with strong ties to the Chicago community, which certainly didn't hurt in giving him the "hood cred" he needed to build his political career on the Southside of Chicago. Which makes this seeming slight of more darker skinned African Americans for his cabinet even more disturbing. It can't be said that in 2009 dark skinned blacks aren't just as smart and educationally advanced as lighter skinned blacks. So what's up. Could this be a part of the post-racial, Obama era. Is it necessary that Obama appoint individuals to his cabinet who like him, are not perceived as threatening to white people as darker skinned blacks. Could it be that we are not as advanced as we would like to think. There were a lot a people who weren't feeling Michelle in the beginning. They wanted to paint her as the angry black women and anti-American. Now since she's the First Lady, they obsessed over her sleeveless arms and her taste in fashion: all but kissing her black ass.

Now I know many of your are saying that the light skinned/dark skinned debate is antiquated and reflects narrow thinking. In a perfect world where race and representation all shared an equal playing field, I would be in full agreement. However, there are studies that suggest that internalized racism is alive and well even in our children. Kiri Davis, a seventeen- year old film student demonstrated this in her "doll test" , the test was a recreation of the doll test performed in the 1950's by husband and white psychologist, Kenneth and Mamie Clark. The 2006 doll study had results that were similar to the 1950's study. The children thought the white dolls were prettier and preferred playing with the white dolls rather than the black dolls. A more recent ABC study done post-Obama shows the numbers closer and that a broader range of ethnicities.

Nevertheless, young children's views of power and beauty still seemed to be shaped by the perception that the white person is the person most likely to be in charge or to be rich. Our youth still believe that to excel academically or speak the King's English means you are "acting white". So in spite of Oprah, Obama, Ben Carson, Beyonce, and Jay Z, internalized racism still exists. What message does it send to our children who now believe they can become president, when they look at the staff of the Commander and Chief and there is not a single dark skinned face in the bunch. Am I jumping to conclusions? Being just plain petty, or could Obama actually be " color struck" to borrow a term from Zora Neal Hurston. I welcome your feedback.

Thoughts on Death and Dying

My last remaining blood elder pass away several months ago. She was my moms only sister. My mom passed away about 10 year ago. While of course it's always sad for the survivors for a love one to transition, the person is in a better place in every regard. And as we stand on the nadir of our economic and possibly social and moral epoch, I feel certain that Aunt Clay is in a better place.

They often say that weddings and funerals bring out the worst in family members; for this reason as a rule I attend neither weddings or funerals. Of course when it's a close relative it's kind of hard to avoid. The rest of my family made its way to B'ham and are prepared for the pomp and circumstance of a funeral. My Aunt has requested a grave side service. I don't what this means, but anyway. I waited for the roads to clear up because there had been horrible storms here in Atlanta and neighboring Alabama.

My dislike of funerals is rooted in my childhood when it seems I attend so many funerals of people that were really important in my life. It would always leave a deep sadness within me. The process itself seemed morbid. Of course as a young child I lacked the vocabulary to articulate my dislike for the process. More importantly, as a child, nobody gave a damn about what you might be feeling. You just went along with the process and kept whatever it was you were feeling safely locked within your inner sanctum.

I don't attend weddings for somewhat different reasons but in some ways the same reasons. I married at 19 and the wedding felt like a fairy tale. Of course there is always the day after and the day after that. I remember crying at my sisters wedding who married several years after I did. At first I attributed my tears to the fact that I was about 4 months pregnant at the time. Later I would realized that it was because I felt a profound sense of disappointment from my own experience, that a day that can start out so beautiful can go oh so wrong. Her fairy tale lasted much longer than mine, but the end result was still the same. The Prince eventually turned into a frog.

I digress. Back to the issue of death and dying. I have come to realize that the grieving process is a very selfish process. Instead of our viewing death as a natural progression of living those of us left view it as abandonment. We think mostly of ourselves. Our unfinished business with the person or our guilt that we didn't do more or that we didn't say all we wanted to say. Well thankfully, I have a very different idea. I try each day to show those who I profess to love, love in action. Now of course none of us can love the way folk think we should love. We can only love within our capacity. Some of us have a capacity so wide and consuming that it can literally suffocate the receiver. Others of us are so emotionally detached from our authentic feelings that it's almost impossible to love another person because we don't love ourselves. Of course there is another kind of person, who is so self-absorbed that it is difficult for the person to see beyond their own self interest and needs. All of us possess the potential to be any of these types. It's finding the balance that allows us to love healthy and be fully present for the object of our love without being over baring.

When I leave this earthly plane it is my desire that I sleep away quietly without fanfare and hopefully limited or no pain. I don't want a funeral or that those left behind to feel sorry for me and more important to feel sorry for themselves. I hope they will know that I lived a full life with plenty of laughter and joy. That I always saw the glass as half full no matter how difficult things got. That they will know that even as I breathe my last breath I visualized a world of laughter, dancing and love.

And so it is.