"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

I Want To Be Black!–Memoirs Of A White Girl In The Age Of Progressive Racism

Margot Fenwick, child of a Daughter of the American Revolution and a descendant of John Davenport, first settler of New Haven and dean of Yale College, was of the most privileged class in America. There were only one or two sidesteps that prevented her mother from being a First Family of Virginia – an errant grand, grand, grand uncle who had had a liaison with a half-Quebecois half Mohawk woman, but proximity to  true American nobility was there.

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She had been educated at Miss Porter’s, an exclusive finishing school in Farmington, CT, and then a post-graduate year at Fincher, an elite boarding school in the South. It was the best of both worlds, Southern and Northern, one which would prepare her for a life of privilege, wealth and social acclaim. 

The choice of university was debated in family chambers.  Should she go to the University of Virginia which for more than one hundred and fifty years had been the only place for proper Southern gentlemen and more recently ladies; or to one of the Seven Sisters schools, parallel institutions to Yale, Harvard, and Princeton?

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She opted for one of the Seven Sisters, a women’s college known for its academic excellence but also for its encouragement of sexual diversity.  Of course the admissions committee did not ask overt questions or expect overt answers, but summers in Provincetown or Bernal Heights were the looked-for codewords that facilitated admission.

Not only did New England's and the South's finest women students choose to go there as an entrĂ©e into New York, Richmond, and Boston society and as a chance to study with the likes of Leonard Herschel, renowned calligrapher and graphic artist, but saw it as an opportunity to have a series of bedroom affairs with attractive classmates and meet an appropriate husband from one’s own milieu.

Margot matriculated at a very interesting time.  Not only had the school become a go-to college for lesbian intellectuals with social ambitions but it was at the forefront of the progressive gender-race-ethnicity movement.  It  not only offered a congenial place for women not only to find meaningful, young, lesbian relationships, but to have them with women of color. As importantly, it was the seat of radical feminist and racial politics. 

The admissions committee encouraged the recruitment of black women – particularly those from poor, inner-city neighborhoods - and despite the objections of old alumnae who worried about the increasing political cast of the school and the likely lowering of academic standards through affirmative action, they were successful.  The admissions officers wanted the campus to offer the inimitable matrix of disadvantaged black women and desirous, hopeful white women from Beacon Hill and Rittenhouse Square.  The campus would be the center of progressive womanhood.  

This union of 'badass ghetto girls'  and white upper class women  would be the only real, relevant issue in the university universe, and the school would become a role model for progressive education.

Margot let her hair down, dismissed heritage, family propriety, and sexual conservatism, and had a series of affairs with women from Southeast Washington and San Francisco. She joined many of the activist organizations on campus, and was heralded by her black sisters for her rejection of white privilege and embrace of the African American experience.  

As happenstance would have it, the Fenwick family was interested in pinning down some loose genealogical ends, and had every family member DNA tested, vetted, and sorted.  While the matriarch of the family wanted to confirm once and for all her direct links to Sir Walter Raleigh and ‘King’ Carter, the developer of the Northern Neck and icon of Upper South plantation history, Margot was hoping for something more  - a black ancestor.

Most of the old white settlers of the Tidewater and Old Virginia – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among them – had adulterous, inter-racial relations with the slaves on their plantations.  Maybe, just maybe, one of her white, patriarchal, grandee ancestors had produced mixed race offspring from which she was descended.  If so, she would be admitted even more into the radical racial circle of college, and be even more respected as a privileged white woman with slave genes.

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Now, most elite white families like the Fenwicks wanted nothing of the sort.  The slaves brought to America from Angola and the Gold Coast were of tribal origin, bartered, sold, and traded for their brawn and reproductive potential.  Their DNA would contribute absolutely nothing of value to their families in terms of genetic or social advantage, especially to a Southern social debutante like Margot.  

Yet the zeitgeist for the younger generation and the ethos of their times, gave African origin as ipso facto high value. Rather than look to storied European roots – genes traced back to Louis XIV, Charles I, and Bavarian princess; or even for that matter to shoguns, shahs, and mandarins – the highest order of ancestry was African  and tribal. Contrary to the beliefs of their parents, these younger Americans appreciated both the pagan totemism of tribal Africans and the social cachet of their oppression. 

Margot waited expectantly for the results. If only, she thought, if only…As often happens in the roulette of genetic testing a number of her family members were sadly disappointed by their results.  Black bits found in their DNA, far from the Holy Grail that she sought, were but a sullying contamination of a pure line.  

There was nothing racist in these families' disappointment.  First Virginians and North Carolinians had no ingrained animus against blacks and judged only on the basis of comparative history and valued Europe, its courts, princes, and kings, more than colonial sub-Saharan Africa. 

Image result for Images DNA. Size: 149 x 100. Source: wallpapercave.com

When the results came in, she couldn’t have been more overjoyed.  There were indeed traces of Ibo in her makeup – not significant, but enough to validate her claim to African ancestry.  She was Black after all!

The early years of the 21st century have been obsessively focused on race.  The culture of victimhood has granted high social status to those who have fared badly at the hands of those in power.  The equation was simple.  Africans were enslaved, oppressed, and then freed.  Despite the urgings of Jefferson who knew that releasing them into the population would cause disarray, hostility, and dependency, they became part of the American Republic. 

For decades they were marginalized and dismissed subjects of white opprobrium and rejection.  They became caricatures of English gentlemen during Reconstruction era Republican-enforced elections to state legislatures.  It was an invidious attempt by Northerners to force black representation on a defeated, but resurgent Southern plantation aristocracy.  Jim Crow did the rest, and the eventual refugee migration on the Illinois Central to Chicago was the result.

Now the racial cudgel has been taken up by progressives, and blackness ipso facto has been iconized. Black descendants of Angolans, Nigerians, and Ghanaians are being lionized not because of their historical origins, but because they were enslaved. Progressive victimhood is not an ascribed value, but an inherent one.  

Margot, with her papers in order and ancestry confirmed, became black. I am of the ten percent, the underclass, the marginalized, and the oppressed, she said.  She in a moment of emotional solidarity gave up her storied ancestry – the Jamestown Colony, the Tidewater, and the Northern Neck.; and the nascent American New World colonies that her English, French, and Spanish ancestors made into her homeland – and raised her African tribal heritage and American slavery to the highest rank.

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The ten percent black population govern American discourse because of slavery, Reconstruction, and post-bellum federal mismanagement.  Without a doubt, the Radical Republicans of Reconstruction were the root cause of persistent segregation in the South and responsible in large part for the divisive racial hostilities of today. American Southern racial history is American history.  It cannot be ignored or dismissed.

Be that as it may, Margot Fenwick bought the progressive racial cant lock, stock, and barrel.  She gave up the influential, mythical history of her European ancestors for a political meme; and by so doing lent her hand to the pervasiveness of racial obsession.  Every time someone subscribes to political presumption rather than fact and sensibility, they contribute to further disunity, division, and hatred. 

She touted her blackness when it was her whiteness which had resonance and relevance to early American history.  She championed Angolan slaves without any understanding of African tribal complicity in the trade, the primitivism of their beliefs.  She had never read Faulkner, Styron, McCullers, or O’Connor and appreciated the complexity of post-Civil War racial society.  Amends must be made and reparations given, she shouted with her sisters, looking only at the surface – slavery alone and itself without context and history.

Image result for Images William Faulkner. Size: 153 x 204. Source: tvtropes.org

It took some time and some doing, but Margot Fenwick eventually returned to her roots.  She became a member of the DAR, applied for membership in the much more exclusive Society of the Cincinnati, and retired to Groton-Long Point.  The weight of history, social responsibility, and family ancestry were preponderant.  She gave up her facile, progressive politics and never looked back.

There is more to social identity than survival.  History adds to being - it is the past which may not determine how we act but certainly describes who we are.  There is more than pride in acknowledging a historical past.  It is extended identity, a long unbroken line of cultural influence; and the longer the line and more influential the families along it, the more important it is to retain, preserve, and honor it. 

This European heritage is being eroded by the cancel culture of today, airbrushed out of American history and genealogy.  It is considered the origin of white supremacy and its consequent oppression of others, rather than the moving force behind the building of civilizations.  

Margot finally realized that by expunging her significant past, she was negating herself. Her return to the Fenwick fold was not so much a rejection of civil rights or ignoring the problems of race, but a more realistic, sanguine, and proud recognition of the principles and resonant achievements of her ancestors. 

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