What happens when your personal narrative doesn’t match your tribe’s skin color?
This post is dedicated to Skip Parker RIP. He was the best neighbor a new homeowner could dream of. He was the best friend a person in a new neighborhood could dream of. He was the best man a new husband and father could dream of. He took care of my family when I was not and could not be there. He was one of the most influential men in my life. And he was Black. So what?
Another man I call friend, for over 30 years now, is Fontello Allen. The best natural athlete on our Sunday Beer Softball team (Championship Team, I might add - little thanks to me!) I was thrilled when I could beat him in any athletic endeavor, especially golf. He was in my wedding. He was at the hospital when both daughters were born. They call him Uncle Fon. I love the looks on peoples faces. He has had my back forever. And he is Black. So what?
Top left: Yours truly and Fon. Top right: my brother, Bobby, Fon and me at my bachelor shower. Bottom: my brother and Skip.
In prison, inmates are separated by tribes based on skin color. The reason is more practical than racial: tribes regulate their own members, and do not allow race mixing. It permits the cops to easily observe and control, especially on the yard and in the chow hall.
In society, we are attempting the same process, but the reason here is more racial than practical. Tribal nature is so powerful in humans because it was evolutionary necessary for early human survival. There is safety in numbers and the division of labor multiples effort.
It is pretty funny how real racism works, like the actual kind based on tribalism.
In prison, I met a dude called Island. His skin was the color of a chocolate covered macadamia nut. He was from Hawaii. And he ran with the whites. Another dude called Ghost ran with the Southerners, the Mexicans from SoCAL. An albino guy with yellow eyes. He said his mom was Mexican, and his dad was a dog. Whatever that meant. I observed that there were different sub-cultures of same-colored inmates. And, occasionally, skin color was not the deciding factor in a race-segregated society. Ironic.
So let that sink in. In a society strictly defined and dominated by racial skin color, sometimes, skin color was an unreliable indicator of which tribe one may belong to. Much like the survival skills of a chaotic childhood are found useless in adult life, the need for skin color as a tribe-identifier is similarly useless.
What does that mean for us now? And how can we use prison insight to improve race relations for society in general? Well, to start with, we can recognize that skin color as a measure of a human being’s capacity for anything of civilized value is hopeless. Can we please dispose of this toxic and nauseating relic from centuries past?
What useful facts about a person can skin color tell us? In the example from prison above, we learn that a man with dark-colored skin identifies with the White tribe. A man with albino-white skin identifies with the Brown tribe. How odd.
Are they race-traitors? If they were, or even suspected of being one, they would’ve gone out sideways. They didn't. That means that they self-determined their race and their tribe. Novel idea, right? What’s more, the cops and the other tribes accepted and respected that individual decision about self-identity, and DID NOT QUESTION IT.
Consider what happens outside of prison. Black and Brown people are constantly bombarded with messages and narratives that seek to determine for them their self-identity. White and Yellow people are bombarded with similar messages, but pointed in the opposite outcome.
Self-identity for White and Yellow people is examined through the lens of privilege. Expressions of cultural pride from these groups are most often labeled “supremacy” of some sort. Hard to imagine a white toothless out-of-work coal miner in Appalachia or a 60-year-old non-English-speaking Thai immigrant firing a wok in Chinatown as an example of “supremacy”, but here we are.
But when Black, or Brown, or Yellow people express discomfort or rejection of a certain tribal membership requiring conformity of beliefs in addition to skin color, they are labeled as stupid, gullible or race-traitors. Just for thinking independently.
Rape counselors changed the term from “rape victim” to “rape survivor” in an effort to empower the being that did, indeed, survive a life-altering circumstance. The merits of that are beyond me and this post, but it makes sense on the surface. The term victim just connotes such powerlessness. And think of all the caring Whites that label Blacks as victims.
As they like to say, where you end depends on where you start. If every conversation starts with victim, when does healing and growth take place?
For ignoring tribe color and self-identifying with the tribe of their choice, Black men like Mr. Stephens are denied respect, their lived-experiences are negated, and, in effect, they are canceled. This is the crux of the issue -
Self-identity, Self-determination, and Self-expression are the rights of every single human being on earth. The individual alone is the sole determinant of their own expression of their race or culture. This decision cannot be questioned or fact-checked by anyone, especially members of the rejected tribe.
Sadly, though, here in America, the right of self-identity is being stripped from us. And replaced with a rigid code of conformity, that if breached, results in a medieval-type public castigation and expulsion from society as a whole.
The punishment for the modern-day identity-heretic for rejecting the tribe imposed upon them is for that rejected tribe to erase that person. Their public expression of narrative-contrary self-identity makes them a Galileo to the church.
They are metaphorically burned at the stake in the public square, and the twit-mob revels in orgasmic fulfilment. Caution may be the prudent course for some in the mob, for they may find themselves the next to be tied to the stake.
The Tired Trope of “My Black Friend”
And another tired trope to be retired is “We need to start a conversation.” Uh, if I am a white guy, and I have a black friend, and we have a conversation, what is that called? Why do so many tribe-members publicly disparage former members of the tribe that have decided to leave the tribe and join another?
My thought-train stalled, so I decided to read from one of my favorite train-wrecks, Mother Jones. Curiously, a headline popped up
The GOP’s Black Friend Says America Is Not a Racist Country
As a White man, why am I mocked for having friends of a different skin color, and for verbally expressing pride in that fact?
Why are my friends of a different skin color criticized and ostracized as race-traitors for being friends with a White man?
If starting a conversation between Whites and POC is of paramount importance, shouldn’t listening to an existing conversation between these constituents be at least as important?
Do you mock your white friends who may refer to you as “their Black friend?”
Why confer upon yourself the moral superiority of deciphering the unspoken racist thoughts of others, solely based on skin color?
Because a member of the same skin-color-tribe as you left your tribe and disagreed with your public racial declarations, you thought-police that same-skin-colored-person-as-you. He is judged to be so infantile and unsophisticated in his thoughts, because his beliefs do not match his skin color, that he falls easy victim to white supremacy.
The first sentence of the last paragraph completely sums up this sense of moral superiority
Scott’s speech may have been chock full of GOP talking points, but there was an old favorite that wasn’t explicitly deployed but was obviously implied.
So, Senator Scott did not “explicitly deploy[ed]” something racist, or something that covered racists, he thought it and implied it. Really. How convenient. This completely absolves those who would make false claims of violent racist attacks. Now they don’t even have to stage a fake-attack. Just say that the White man was thinking about attacking me.
A white supremacist does not even have to say or do anything racist. Because of the racist notion that a certain skin color denotes a certain belief system or proclivity for violence, those of that skin color have no defense against the charge.
And while we are at it, whose “old favorite” is it anyway? If it wasn’t “explicitly deployed” then how on earth could you identify it as a favorite? Is that a form of moral magic?
You write, very eloquently I might add,
...America embarked on a fragile but badly needed racial reckoning. White conservatives needed someone to tell them that they weren’t racists resisting a changing world, but rather the progress on racial equality was something that was being inflicted on them. The GOP needed a Black friend.
You lost me after the “but” and I think that the entire sentiment would be true if that last part of that sentence were left out. But let’s unpack it. America does need a racial reckoning, I very much agree with. The absolute horrors of actual racism are tragic, sickening, and morally reprehensible. When I read stories or see images of any type of human racial violence, I feel like puking.
So when a video emerges of a white cop extinguishing a black man’s life over a lifetime of minutes, I did puke. And then I called a black friend. And asked how they were doing? And then, the next day, I spoke to my colleagues at work, the closest of whom are Black or Brown. To a person, every single human being I spoke to in my orbit initially thought and now supported what would become the final verdict. My White friends too! It was not a divided opinion.
I needed a Black friend to share my feelings with. As a White man, I needed a Black friend to share his feelings with me. I needed and wanted to show compassion and thoughtfulness to my friends, period. But especially my Black friends, because I know that our friendship seems almost taboo now in this racially divided atmosphere.
Because I have a Black friend, I have an understanding of how bad America needs this reckoning. White people that do not have Black friends are missing this vital and important sense of perspective. Calling all White people inherently racist adds friction to the movement.
Because I have a variety of Black friends, and Brown friends, and Yellow and Red friends too, I have a small sense of what that reckoning should look like. If I lived on Mars, I would more than likely have Green friends. And be involved in that intergalactic reckoning. Another post for that, though.
Because I am married to a third generation Mexican-American woman, a fantastic, amazing, incredible woman, I know from up-close how racism works. I have found myself in executive boardrooms and prison cells where I have had to actively lie that my wife was Hispanic. To survive, economically and literally. Try that on for racism.
Because I have multi-racial children, I know the pain and isolation that race-rejection causes, and the humiliation and sting of a child not understanding why other kids say their parents won’t let them be friends with Mexicans. By Black and White kids.
Now, if you are a regular reader, you know because of the lockdowns, I have been endorsing the Costanza Rule. The Opposite has been a guiding philosophy during this period in my life. And, surprisingly, it works. There is another darker George moment, though, that is a caricature of the current menacing tone of mocking inter and intra racial friendships.
Before the Now-Normal, back when comedians proved laughter was the best way to prod, poke and humorously move America forward, NBC aired Seinfeld S06E22 - The Diplomat's Club - Mr. Morgan and Sugar Ray.
Desperate to prove that he has a Black friend, George spirals progressively downward in an almost-too-uncomfortable foray into Whiteness and privilege and Blackness and racism.
What resulted was a conversation. Based in reality, but viewed through humor. Laughter broke the ice and recognition melted the tension of that really uncomfortable situation. Another conversation had started about race. Then what happened? Comedians became racist for humorously exploring racism by doing what they had always done. Make fun of it.
Now, due to Intersectionality, which I write about here, any deviance from correct thought and belief expression about race is aborted. Victimology is ranked and stratified, old victimhood statuses are revoked, and new victims of new oppressions publicly self-identify while shame-begging for privacy.
The Victim Industrial Complex was hatched. The twit-mob is its standing army and occupying force.
Racial rectification could be more easily addressed when all victims had equal status and all oppressions were one-dimensional. Now, who gets their complaint handled first? Black man? White woman? Black woman? White gay man? Black MTF Trans? Yellow FTM trans? Brown Lesbian Dreamer? White celebrity afraid of Fro-Yo? Can we get a roster please?
Indeed, where do we go from here and which conversation between whom gets started first? I believe strongly in the principle of friction, and found a great read on it here. Basically, human behavior will remain in a rut of least resistance. If something is even barely perceived as too difficult, we will not do it. Period.
So how hard is it to START a conversation between two strangers of different colors? For me, not hard at all. But I can imagine for others, it is probably perceived as too emotionally difficult. So it will not happen.
May I propose this alternative
continue existing conversations
stop demonizing them
participate by listening
activate by example
And include others from each participant's orbit. I can imagine some friends of my friends may not have as much in common with me as we respectively do with that friend. Remember when we used to meet those people from other orbits and tribes? Where did that kinda stuff happen?
Oh yeah! I remember. Backyard BBQs. Ball Games. Happy Hours. Dinner Parties. Softball Games. Soccer Practice. Booster Clubs. Work. School. Gym. Bar. Library. Museum. Beach. Yeah. Pretty much everywhere.
So let’s keep this in mind as America reopens and we grapple with a mandatory racial reckoning. We have not been together for a year, and the only images we see of each other are disseminated by political, media and corporate interests.
Consider those interests for a moment. And then consider your interests. Do they align? For me, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But at least I am in charge of deciding. It appears that some have abdicated that responsibility.
Battling actual racism takes real thought and real understanding. Because racial relations are nuanced. This reckoning cannot be solved in 160 characters. In all honesty, it cannot even be started there. When a Black man attempts to “start” a conversation, he is banned. For expressing his take on race.
Fortunately, Substack treats people like sentient beings capable of deciding what they want to read and believe. I follow a guy with a bunch of alphabet behind his name, which is supposed to mean he is smart, Torrance Stephens, PhD. I completely enjoyed and agreed with his latest post, The Performative Art of White Virtue Signaling is Modern Racism. You can read it here. He is banned for life from the twit-mob. Oh how sad.
America is not a racist country. And I am not a racist. And, just as importantly, I am not an anti-racist either. Both are labels. Both terms are filled with hatred and self-loathing. Both load the conversation with a pre-manufactured starting and ending point, rendering the conversation meaningless to solve actual issues. But maybe that is their point.
I am, however, acutely aware of the circumstances in my life that have been altered positively in my favor due to my skin color. And with that awareness, I am also cognizant of the fact that my Black friend may not have had the same outcome as me. Due solely to his skin color.
How did I become aware that America needs a racial reckoning? And why did I get involved?
I talked to my Black friend.