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

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Diversity And The White Man–How A New England WASP Became Black

Porter Crane had been born into one of the most storied, privileged families in New England.  His ancestors had come over shortly after the Mayflower, were instrumental in forming the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the New Haven Plantations, and the first English settlements on the west bank of the Hudson. 

In each of these settlements the Porters had thrived in shipbuilding, trade, and small business enterprise.  They had become trusted advisors to the Crown and after Independence were legal counselors to Washington, Adams, and Hamilton.  The Cranes were more influential than the Cabots, Lodges, and Davenports, wealthier than all three families combined, an indelible part of early American history, and second only to John Winthrop, founder of it all.

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Porter had grown up in Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, and Gstaad; had gone to St. Paul’s, Yale, and Harvard, and had settled in nicely to a position at Danforth, Plimpton, & Stone, Wall Street investors whose seat on the New York Stock Exchange was almost as old as Porter’s family itself.  He was given far more responsibility than his young years would ordinarily merit, but because of his pedigree and a corporate belief in the staying power of family genes, he was assigned an impressive portfolio.

He was a member of all the best clubs in New York, squired only the most beautiful and promising women of his social class, and was on his way to an early, profitable, and happy marriage.  If a social trajectory had ever been perfectly engineered, it was Porter's. 

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So, what happened next shook the rafters of Crane homes from Rimini to Palm Beach.  His volte face from conservative young man of received wisdom, morals, and manners to a lion of the progressive Left was met with surprise, indignation, and revulsion.  How could this man, bred, educated, and shepherded to lead; a man of impeccable rectitude, purposeful ambition, and right behavior have turned such a dark corner?

“The black man has suffered for far too long”, he told his uncle Egbert before the fireplace in his Beacon Hill home, “and we must make it right”.

“What has that got to do with us?”, his uncle replied, shocked at the implication of family complicity if not guilt.  In his mind, the Cranes had always been on the side of the good and proper, philanthropists, and moral leaders of the community.  Yet young Porter persisted.  Every board foot of timber cut from the Vermont woods that went into the slave ships of the Three Cornered Trade was tainted; every hawser, pulley, and pump; every deck, wharf, and crane; every boot and glove that touched them; every turnip, cabbage, and carrot that filled the hold; every farthing borrowed from Boston banks…All were irreversibly and irreconcilably wrong.

“A bit much, don’t you think?”, smiled his uncle, a man of unshakeable belief in the historical imperative of his family, a man of principle and philosophical determinism.  Slavery had been around since Mohenjo-Daro, Ancient Greece and Rome, Persepolis, and the very first Chinese dynasties. It came to an end like all human institutions, one cycle of many in the perpetual grand mechanism of history, subject to inevitable centripetal forces, moved to the margins and soon forgotten.

Of course the newly aware nephew entertained no such thoughts.  Slavery was purely and simply evil and had been ever since the first shackles had been bolted on the first African.  If there was such a thing as a higher, universal good; then there had to be its antipode, an absolute base evil.  There could be no justification, no intellectual circumnavigation, no ifs, ands, or buts.

“I want to be black”, said Porter.

Bill Clinton said he was the first black president, and he indeed came as close as they come.  He loved fried chicken, collard greens, and the blues.  He loved hanging out with black men on the stoop, sharing stories about poontang and moonshine.  He liked the Reverend Al Sharpton, and the aging coterie of Martin Luther King.  He said that he felt for the plight of black people – it was a personal, emotional thing with him, not just a political one.  

Even more than LBJ who did more for the black community than any president since Lincoln, Bill Clinton’s empathy was heartfelt.  He was moved to tears over a poor black child, fist-clenching angry over reports of lingering Jim Crow and continuing denial of black rights. 

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Black people loved him, apparently.  They loved his warmth and good-natured camaraderie, and felt that his friendship was above and beyond ‘the black vote’.  He was a friend to the black man, and they would never forget it at the polls. The fact that he drew the line at black women – his preferences were uniquely white – gave some blacks pause.  If he were really one of them, he would be courting their women.  

Ordinarily black men were angered at white sexual trolling – for that was what it was, sexual adventurism which never amounted to anything; and worse, white men never settled for anything less than the high-toned, sassy, and best black women, emptying the gene pool of the best.  Yet, they forgave Clinton for his white women.  He meant well, but how could an Arkansas cracker ever get above high-gloss nail polish, tight skirts, and cheap beauty parlor hair?  He was as black as a white man could get, but still as white as an Easter lily.

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Joe Biden in his private moments wanted to be even more black than Clinton.  He wanted to breach the divide between black and white, make the racial promise of America reside in him.  He wanted to walk, talk, and act as black as the men whom he secretly admired.  

He was no Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas fan.  They had been laundered, bleached, and whitened beyond recognition.  If you shut your eyes when they spoke, you would swear that they were white.  No, he wanted the true black experience and would try as hard as anyone to find it.

Unfortunately, Biden was well into his decline by the time he had made such an apocryphal discovery, and never knew whether he was coming and going let alone whether he was black or white.  What he did know was that he had compassion for black people, felt as though he had come up from slavery and Jim Crow, marched with Martin Luther King across the Pettis bridge, and walked arm in arm with Jesse Jackson in Chicago.

In fact, the President’s passion was so real that after a while he began to believe that he actually had been in Alabama with King or at the lunch counter with Freedom Riders.  “I did that”, he said to his wife.

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The racial conversion of Bill Clinton, from white Arkansas hillbilly to the first black president, is understandable given the bi-racial environment of the South and his Bible Belt righteousness.  Joe Biden’s turn to racial progressivism is equally understandable given his the-way-the-wind-blows political career.  When it was time to speak up for the black man, it was definitely expedient to do so, and over time the mantle of racial respectability was worn with ease.

Now, Porter Crane’s radical transformation was much harder to fathom.  He had not grown up around black people, and despite the increasing racial clamor at Yale, he had stuck to his own kind, Fence Club, and weekends on Park Avenue.  

No one of his age and generation could possibly ignore the racial hysteria of the times, but his redoubts and refuges seemed as impermeable as any.  Yet, there he was, transformed, a black man with a white face. 

The philosophical transition was the easy part, the rest more difficult.  He hated rap music, bling, the gangsta roll, street dope, and attitude; and could not stand the harangues and white-beating from pulpit and stage of Black Lives Matter.   

Being black, however, had nothing to do with externals.  It was a question of internal change, a transformation of the doable.  Jesus was a black man, an African, and an oppressed Palestinian.  Capitalism was the white man’s tool for continued supremacy.  Africans, the closest the human race has to Lucy and the origins of mankind are God’s anointed, more pure, absolved, and true than another race. Being black meant embracing and believing, nothing more. 

Porter of course ran up against black prejudice.  In black eyes he was as white as the driven snow, irremediably white, elitist, and racist.  No matter how much he persisted and proclaimed his innocence, he was marginalized, dismissed, and laughed at. He as nonplussed and increasingly angry that no one would believe his professions of faith.

The story ends as predictably as it began, and Porter once again took his place at the white table.  His family forgave him his dalliance – they knew that he would return – and his friends and colleagues welcomed him back with only a few questions about ‘what was it like?’.  Ah, he said to his wife, breathing the fresh, salty air of the Vineyard.  What was I thinking?

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