For the past month or so, I’ve been working on a class on medieval Christianity and before that I was dealing with a full load of four courses. It was my intention to do a number of posts on various aspects of the medieval church, but recent events have caused me to change my plans.
I haven’t been posting as much lately, what with the demands of graduate school and such, but occasionally a story happens that demands a response. No, it’s not about the Donald Trump Show, the ignominious return of the Duggars to television, the death of Mother Angelica, or whatever thing Pope Francis is doing. This story is much more important: Kathleen Battle is returning to the Metropolitan Opera:
Yesterday, I went to the Atlanta History Center to see the new “Atlanta in 50 Objects” exhibit. Most of the choices were predictable, but still interesting: a copy of “Gone With the Wind,” White and Colored signs from the Jim Crow era, the old school Pink Pig that used to be at the downtown Macy’s, MLK’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, funerary from Oakland Cemetery, etc. However, there was one entry that really surprised and interested me: the “pickrick” (i.e., axe handle turned club) that Lester Maddox used to chase black civil rights protesters away from his restaurant, the Pickrick Cafeteria:
There’s an old movie of the “so bad it’s good” variety called The Thing With Two Heads (1972) that could be interpreted as a bizarro world allegory about American race relations. In this film, a rich, racist white man is dying of cancer and demands to have his head transplanted onto a healthy body. The doctors oblige, but the only body available is that of a wrongfully accused black death row convict. Hilarity ensues, and we have the perfect analogy of race in America: a two heads on a single body, constantly beating itself up:
Of course, race in America is more than black and white, so maybe a better analogy might be a hydra with self-destructive tendencies. Nonetheless, the thing with two heads is a good way of thinking of race in the South, which is still largely a black and white affair.
This, alas, is not a post about the wonderful 1960s sitcom “That Girl.” It is a post about being “that girl,” i.e., the only black girl in the room. Or the building for that matter.
Recently, I saw this article on the Atlantic site:
One of Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s schticks is his insistence that if nominated and elected, he would be America’s first “real black president.” As opposed to the “fake black” president we have now. This assertion isn’t new, since Herman Cain was saying the same thing during his own failed presidential run, and this meme is being reiterated by white Republicans who are desperate to run a black candidate to make them seem less white and less racist. Whatever one thinks of Obama’s policies, the notion that he is somehow “less black” than Carson or Cain ignores the way in which blackness was and is constructed in the United States.
One problem with discussing race with white people (or people in general, actually), is that they take they view that as long as they are personally nice to a small group of black people, they are not being racist, even if they support political policies that disenfranchise black people as a group. To them, racism only exists among a small subset of people that one could call “lifestyle racists”: Klansmen, neo-Nazis, racist heathens, etc. Such a view ignores the fact that “lifestyle racists” are relatively rare in 2015, and most of them don’t live in mainstream society, because these delicate snowflakes can’t fathom the possibility of having to endure even casual contact with those they deem “lesser.” This view also ignores the fact that for a long time, the Klan was considered to be a fairly respectable organization that had the tacit support of the white population.