Anatole Broyard was a unique character in cultural history. He was a very pale skinned Creole whose family roots were grown in New Orleans. His parents, also very light, during the hardest of times moved north to Brooklyn, New York in order to find more decent work in order to give their children -- Anatole and his two sisters -- a life that would be better than the one they had in Louisiana.
They settled into a middle class black enclave -- socialized with their darker skinned neighbors and raised their children to be aware of a world that treated those not white as less than. The harsh realities of the 1930s and 40s. Because of their lighter complexion they had a unique benefit of slipping into the larger white society and finding jobs and opportunities they would not otherwise come across. Yet after work they returned to their lives as they were -- not as they pretended. In essence they were part-time "passers." Passing was not a unique trait back then. According to a University of Ohio study there were at least a million people of African decent living this same way during the 1940s and 50s.
Yet, temporary passage did not suit Anatole. He did not wish to be constrained by his heritage so he used his color to escape the world his blood limited. He soon after leaving the military no longer struggled -- as he had in his earlier years -- and made the conscious decision to live his life as a White man -- a white writer who could describe the passion and emotion of the colored community with profound insight -- none of his white counterparts suspecting the secret to his deep and personal touch.
He escaped the prison of his color and lived a false life -- so much so that his own children believed themselves to be pure WASP growing up in toney enclaves of Connecticut -- even daring to feel comfortable enough to tell racist jokes in their private school cafeterias.
Broyard was able to accomplish this because in his era the idea of post-racialization -- where ones color did not matter -- was never a forethought. It always mattered.
Which is why I find it quite interesting that many suggest the rise of Barack Obama signals that that post racial era is in full swing. To conclude such a beginning would lead one to point to some profound evidence that color now is irrelevant to ones life and decisions.
It is true that unlike many later aged baby boomers, Obama does not wear his color on his sleeve -- he better than anyone doesn't have to because in order to do so he would have to wear two sleeves on the same arm. His father is African and his Mother a white Kansan. He grew up with his white grandparents, learned his values and built his foundation in their world view. It is precisely why he is the cool, intellectual person who believes in pragmatic change more so than revolution.
Yet for all of that upbringing for Obama to suggest he is more white than black would seem ludicrous. If one looked at his life on paper it would be easy for him to choose -- but his skin tone dictates otherwise. Decades after Anatole was able to make his choice Obama has only one -- yet it is Obama who is supposed to be living in the more enlightened age.
Which proves that we are not in a post-racial era. We are where we were when in the early 1950s Broyard made his choice -- color always matters.
No where recently is this reality played out than in a unique Associated Press survey, which tries to tackle how much of a factor race is playing in Obama's presidential bid. According to the poll less than 20 percent of Whites believe Blacks are the victim of a lot of racism, while Blacks who answered the same way reach as high as 60 percent. Is this directly related to the color of the prism of world view?
What visibly translates into a more pressing point is the question of admiration for one another. In the poll one in five whites have felt admiration for blacks "very" or "extremely" often. But seventy percent of blacks have felt the same about whites.
This exhibits itself in the election polls each cycle. It is curious that African-Americans are being treated as a group of sheep merely because 90 percent of them support Barack Obama. When 89% of Blacks supported Kerry in 2004 that was because of close agreement on democratic policies -- not because Kerry was white. African-Americans have proven each election year that they -- despite their believe in racism, that not all white folk are to blame and can enthusiastically support a white person if they agree with them on the issues -- from the local school board to President of the United States.
What is troubling in this so-called post-racial era is that the same cannot be said about the white portion of the electorate. The AP poll may answer that mystery a bit when it was illustrated that 30 percent of whites felt racial tensions in this country was a direct result of black responsibility. It is not surprising that less than 10 percent of Blacks felt the same way.
So perhaps White voters -- no matter how much they can admit that injustice has been done to African-Americans -- still hold a level of resentment that is directly related to race and the more visible the race the harder it is for them to embrace.
It says a lot that Obama's ability to come within striking distance of the Oval office is on full display with a month to go in the election -- its a sign of progress that cannot be denied.
But one is lfet only to wonder outloud that perhaps if it was Anatole and not Barack running for President-- the election might not be as close as it is today.
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