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

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Half This, Half That - The Hilarity Of Decanting Bloodlines In The Name Of 'Diversity'

Bobbie Benson was a complicated mix of racial identities. Her mother was half Boston brahmin and half Indian, her father was Lebanese-Italian, and her grandparents on both sides were products of mixed Melanesian and Chinese ancestry with, the story goes, some Caribbean turtler blood introduced when a Taiwanese great great grandfather traded in the Islands.  

When asked to stand in the proper ethnic profile corner of the classroom during a diversity session, she hesitated.  As her classmates happily joined their affiliation - black, white, Native American, Asian, she couldn't decide where to go, and more importantly what was the point disaggregating her genetic potpourri in the first place?  She had been born in a small New England farming community where everybody was eating pot roast and apple pie, going to church on Sunday, and talking crops and nobody was more true blue, red-blooded American than she. 

'Now, Bobbie', said LaShonda Jackson, diversity facilitator at her middle school, 'chop chop, pick a group'; but Bobbie hesitated.  Her diversity was too complicated. 'I'm like a Turk', she said, by which she meant that only one in a million Turks could trace their lineage to the Göktürks of Western China, and all the rest had the blood of Hittites, Romans, Bulgarians, Arabs, Circassians, Georgians and a hundred other colonizers, settlers, and travelers who had been in Anatolia, on the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and everywhere from border to border for 2000 years. 

Miss Jackson who had only been trained  in black and white differences, and constantly mixed things up when she put a coal black Tamil student in the black corner until he said, 'I'm white', by which he meant Caucasian which he was, for the Dravidian peoples pushed south by invading northern Aryans were indeed Caucasoid. She had been even more flummoxed and derailed when a descendant of Australian Aborigines (however decanted through generations of mixed marriages, his aboriginal genes showed up in his hair, nose, and skin color) refused to join any group.  

Miss Jackson looked at the young girl and gave her the once-over. 'Gotta be some black in there', she thought noticing a slight dark tint in the girl's complexion, but didn't quite know what to do with the hazel eyes; so took her arm and stood her with the ghetto girls who saw her coming and shouted, 'She ain't black' to which the girl responded that no indeed she wasn't, so at her wits end LaShonda let Bobbie sit by herself in the back of the room and look on.

LaShonda Jackson had been pulled out of Boston's black ghetto, Roxbury thanks to an Alderman with some pull and whose walkin' around money included favors and public sinecures.  He had noticed LaShonda at a community meeting when she stood up and went on about neighborhood values, white oppression, and slow welfare checks.  He offered her a job then and there, asked nothing in return except an occasional 'peck on the cheek', as he put it, assignations in one of his 'safe houses' in Cambridge where he dressed like a Harvard professor and entertained his ghetto queens. 

Her job was with the City Council's adjunct Committee on Racism and Diversity, brainchild of the same Alderman Jones who happened upon her in Roxbury.  After desultory, obligatory training - every black person in Boston knew what the problem was, white privilege and consequent oppression of the colored races - she was sent out to the whitest school districts in the city to sensitize their children; to make them aware of their sorry history, the nobility of the African races, and their duty to reform, pay reparations, and do penance. 


Now, LaShonda was far from the sharpest knife in the drawer, so when faced with Bobbie Benson's Turkish remark, she was rattled.  Who was this white girl trying to fool? She knew a scam when she saw one - God knows, scams in the 'hood were a dime a dozen and hustling was the ethos of the place - but she had never known that white people were up to the same tricks. 

Before leaving for her next consulting assignment, LaShonda went over to the girl and asked her what all this Turkish nonsense was all about.  Bobbie, whose parents had parsed and mulled over family genealogy for years - the Boston brahmin connection enabled her mother, regardless of other less desirable links, to be certified as a Daughter of the American Revolution, the whitest and most elite of all American societies - were not so much proud of their complex history as fascinated.  They were one way or another part of a larger international migration, some doers and shakers, others laborers and takers, but all part of the flow. 


So she was up on family history, how her ancestor Cheung Lin took a half-Haitian, half-Dominican woman slave on Far Tortuga and made his living turtle hunting; how an Italian sailor from Venice sailed across the Mediterranean to its eastern shore and married a Lebanese Druze, settled in Amman and had ten children; and, although she was on less sturdy ground here, how the Melanesian angle featured in her history. 

'So you are black', LaShonda replied to the girl when she heard 'Haitian and Dominican'; but the girl shook her head.  She wasn't sure about the Dominican side because Americans had colonized the country for quite some time and....Here she was interrupted by the increasingly frustrated Miss Jackson. 'You black, honey', she said. 'You got some of that Ne-gro blood up inside you'. 

At this point Bobbie knew who she was dealing with, demurred, thanked Miss Jackson for her patience and understanding, and went off to math class. 

'Well, I'll be damned', LaShonda said to herself driving to Somerville for her next class; but as limited as she was, shook her head and forgot all about the girl's nonsense about Far Tortuga and Melanesia. 

The 'thang' with Alderman Jones was getting tiresome, and so was the diversity caper.  When she decided to leave the alderman, he retired her job and she went back to Roxbury where she - by her own admission - belonged.  She was tired of white people, hammering them for racial discrimination, neo-Jim Crowism, and white privilege.  Nasty as it was, the ghetto was her home. 

As far as Boston's diversity training program was concerned, it was short-lived.  The Supreme Court decision dismantling affirmative action had repercussions everywhere not the least in the public schools which were told in so many words, to stop pushing black people, and get with the white program.  The students were delighted of course to get rid of this classroom fol-de-rol.  The black kids beat up on their white classmates outside of school, took out their equality sentiments in teeth and bones, and let the status quo ride.  

The white kids transferred out of the public school system or moved with their parents to the suburbs, and once again, as always, like hangs with like, and diversity went the way of all fanciful social reform. 

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