Thursday, November 04, 2010

Aside from the general weakness of democrats when it comes to politics,  Obama is a black man who's lived most of his life in a white man's world. He's a Prep School Negro: he's succeeded by coyness. He doesn't want to be seen as angry, and now he's being lectured by a white southerner, a bitter, reactionary, closeted homosexual.

Another sign of the problem (once you've followed the first link): the film's being shown mostly on the prep school circuit.

On the film: I doubt the girl who says "they wanted to touch my hair" went to the school the director and I went to. That would shock me. The son of the first black graduate was in my class and the editor of the school paper. He was a lifer; I started there at 6th grade. His mother taught there and for 12 more years after we left. His parents and mine had both been active in the movement in Philadelphia in the 60's.

The head of admissions was from the old light-skinned black aristocracy, married to a white man who was the founding director of the Philadelphia ACLU. My mother worked with him for 20 years (my father was on the board of the ACLU of Pennsylvania ). A. Leon Higginbotham sent at least one of his kids to the school, and the family lived up the block from us. I remember a speech to the students where he claimed that we were going to be the intellectual and moral leaders of the country. I remember it mostly for my anger. One of the newer teachers, black but very much not from the background of the Higgenbothams and the others, had done work in prisons and wore a dashiki. At 13 I'd tried awkwardly to ingratiate myself and it backfired. No great compliment or criticism to say we both enjoyed our outsider status, but that they weren't in any way equivalent.

I was an outsider in my neighborhood when I was young, but no one blamed me for being white, or acting white, so it wasn't much of a problem. We moved in 20 years after white flight. Our next door neighbors had been the block-busters. There was tension at first, with the suspicion that we were block-busters in reverse, buying to flip. When we stayed the worries went away. The neighborhood didn't change.

My brother's experience was different. My parents kept me out of public school, though they were never happy about it. Both were products of public education, but my brother had gone to one of the toughest high schools in the city as one of the only white students, and they chose to blame everything on the environment outside the home. My sister had made it into an elect city school, but they didn't want to take a risk with the younger son. A few years before she died I mentioned to my mother that I'd realized I'd always felt a constant low-level anxiety around the white working class. She scoffed at my rediscovery. "Of course. When your brother was bused out [briefly] he was terrified."

I told the editor I wanted to submit a piece on the change I felt after years at the school in my relations with old friends in my neighborhood. He thought my idea was too much to publish. Around the same time he wrote a piece about having Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden as babysitters. He's now at Ann Arbor, and he's written a book on black power in Philadelphia. His mother's on the lecture circuit.

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