"Why is America all about Black and White?"- A Good Question to Ask

"Why do you fellows always talk in terms of race!" he snapped, his eyes blazing.

"What other terms do you know?" I said, puzzled.

~Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man


How many immigrants who either fit into the category of "White" or "Honorary White" is it that have asked me- once picking up on my pro-Black sentiments- "Why is everything in America about Black and White?" I myself couldn't even tell you the number. I've lost count of how many, and there have been many, with each new repetition feeling more and more like a sign of pro-White America's voice the world over. So let me begin with a sketch of my thoughts on the matter.

First, a question that should be asked is why aren't these questions being asked of those Americans who are actually Black- whether by self-identification or by outside labeling? Why is it, that when these questioners look around their social circles they find the vast majority are either of the same ethnic groups as them (which is extremely understandable, given the immigrant experience), or else are of very similar skin tones to them? The first issue is not really an issue for me, but the second point very much relates to the topic at hand. If, as they seem to think, the United States isn't classified along Black-White lines, then why is it that immigrants who are classified according to U.S. policies as "Black" tend to find themselves "naturally" associating with Black Americans and those who fit into the category of "Honorary White" or "White" tend to find themselves "naturally" associating with other Honorary White Americans and White Americans? The answer to the very question they are asking lies within their own experiences here- it ain't hard to tell, but it's very hard to face. Perhaps it's because America abroad is portrayed through the lense of a pro-White narrative, it becomes confusing for immigrants to match their experiences inside the country with this propagandized version of the United States outside of it.

Starting with this, I want to delve deeper into the actual question: Why is it that everything in America is about Black and White? Certainly, America itself is not, nor has it ever been, comprised only of Western European immigrants (who eventually came to call themselves and think of themselves and other Europeans as "White" over a long, drawn-out, and damaging process) and imported and immigrated African slaves, servants, and mariners (who have been called "Black" by Europeans, Persians, and Arabs for quite some time, but the actual defining and categorizing of "Black" wherein these people came to think of themselves and see themselves by these constructed terms came about through a long, drawn-out, and horrifically scarring process). So why is it then that so much of American culture centers around this polarization?

Well, skipping over Manichean or Zoroastrian influences on Christianity to see the world as comprised of the dual governing forces of good and evil and light and dark, or how this helped formulate early European conquerors' notions of the "Black" native "savages/cannibals" of the Caribbean and the American East Coast in contrast to their "White" "superior civilization"; and also, for the sake of time, how this categorization of "Black" and "savage" became transferred in tandem to the newly imported and equally enslaved and terrorized African workforce, let's look at more modern manifestations of these old arguments and how they play out today. Ralph Ellison brilliantly allegorizes American society in a scene in his book Invisible Man where the main, unnamed, Black character goes to work in Liberty Paints- a paint company that supplies its best seller, "Optic White," to the government to whitewash its monuments with. In fact, the company was founded for the very purpose of producing this paint for the government. On the surface the company is managed by Honorary Whites and Whites- White Americans and immigrants working to fit into that same category- but its actual workings are dictated by the unnamed White Boss and Lucius Brockway, an aged Black man hidden deep in the boiler room bellies of the plant, and who fights viciously against the new immigrants being sent in by the higher-ups to learn his trade secrets. Lucius proudly insists that it was he and the Old Man- the White boss who first founded the company- who built the company from the ground up, with himself laying the pipes and foundations for the actual building. The company's best seller, "Optic White," is itself formed from a pure-white base distilled from Lucius' black organic elements combined in the boilers and then transformed into this magical white-out by the few drops of "black dope" that is allowed to go into it. In fact, this black dope must go into it, and it must be of the right variety in order to create the "Optic White" paint- a "white" paint that "is so white you can paint a chunka coal and you'd have to crack it open with a sledge hammer to prove it wasn't white clear through" (Ellison, 168), but that the close observer can see holds tints of grey from the black addition to it.

In my opinion, this is one of the most telling allegories of America and its pro-White agenda that we can see today. For one, the entire story itself is structured solely around Black and White: there are only White Americans and immigrants working to become White in the leadership and straw-boss roles, and only Black Americans who either exist deep in the foundations of the company or are college-educated scabs hired by the White overlords. The confluence of Native voices are completely absent, as are any from the ,multitudinous variety of those labeled "Asian." The entire company is founded on the production of Whiteness, and thus its very inner make-up becomes a mirror of this agenda as well. Thus, you need the carefully measured number of Black additions to the vast bucket of Whiteness in order to make the whole thing work. But, as Ellison comes back to at the end of the novel,

"America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let it so remain. It's "winner take nothing" that is the great truth of our country or of any country.. . .Thus one of the greatest jokes in the world is the spectacle of the whites busy escaping blackness and becoming blacker every day, and the blacks striving toward whiteness, becoming quite dull and gray." (Ellison, 447)

Neither is able to escape from the influence of the other, and thus become so inextricably woven together that one can't imagine one's self without the "Other." Voilà , America and the secret of pro-White democracy.

This is a literary explanation of reality, but the ground-level story is far more- for lack of a better word- fucked up. "Deeply depressing mess we're in" is what Brother Ali calls it in "A Letter to My Countrymen" and a moral twisting that creates moral monsters is how James Baldwin figures it. To give some more concrete examples, let's begin with the ever-popular Brer Rabbit stories. These are stories that many link directly to West African tribal myths and philosophies that describe the world around them and proper behavior and that have survived on to this day in the American South. They indoctrinate the listener into a completely different worldview than that of Anglo-America or of popular Western European fairytales like Red Riding Hood, and give them different signposts by which to guide their lives. From the time Europeans started enslaving native tribes and then importing slaves from African tribes into the Americas so as to boost the production of their colonies to become abnormally profitable, most slaveowners have had their children nursed, reared, and (in the first part of their lives at least) instructed by their slaves- usually older, and most notably Native and African slaves, although in some areas other subject ethnic populations were conscripted for the same use. In the American South, Natives and Africans were those most frequently resorted to, and so these young children of slaveowners- who almost invariably grow up to become slaveowners themselves- are raised, quite literally, by the milk and at the knees of these older Native and African women and men. Thus, in the Southern mentality, the figure of the older servile Black Uncle or Mammy (who is most often pictured as Black, but can also be Indian) becomes a salvation figure of sorts, one that can save both them and their Whiteness. For the Southern mind, they are the drops of black dope that make the white paint. The level of moral twisting and deep monstrosity of this becomes apparent in the transmission of stories like Brer Rabbit. For most White Americans who are raised on Uncle Remus' Brer Rabbit tales, they become stories transmitted through a heinously racist representation of the bumbling, illiterate, ignorant and servile Uncle Remus telling the story in his slave quarters to the demanding and superiorly civilized Master's child. Stories indoctrinating the listeners to a profoundly African (or, some may argue, "Creole") worldview are transmitted in a way that also indoctrinates Whites into an innate understanding of their own "superiority," even as children, to the "inferior" and servile African slaves who are childish in comparison even if they are in their august years. And this is just the beginning. Stories of a profoundly philosophical nature like the Tarbaby- an a propos warning about greed or anger getting you caught inside a mess that you can't get out of- became horrifically twisted by White Supremacists into a racial slur of hate against the very people who raised them and gave them these moral fables.

If it seems I'm focusing only on Southerners, it's because for me, as a Southerner, I see the same pervasive racism that is so blatantly obvious in the South perpetuated throughout all America, just in less immediately evident ways. As many Black Americans have commented before in various different ways, "In the South, at least they'll tell you to your face they don't like your kind. Up here, they hide it behind a smile." The same moral twisting is evident in Chicago, in New York, in California, in Florida, in Michigan, in Oregon- and small wonder, given the huge historical role the South and people from the South have played in the politics and doctrines of the United States. If you don't believe me, take a second to consider just where exactly our nation's capital is located.

There are a few things that can immediately begin to be ascertained from all this. One, that one cannot discuss "Whiteness" without at least an implicit understanding and inclusion of "Blackness." The two are inseparable, and thus one big reason why the internal and external propaganda of pro-White American democracy focuses mainly on White Americans and a small number of Black Americans they can use to bolster the interests of Whiteness. Two, that doing so involves a rhyming repetition of the historical moral twisting that occurred within people to make them "White" in the first place, and in the process a perpetuation of the horrendously long and continuing list of grievances, injustices, genocides, and silencing of all those who can't be completely covered by this "Optic White"- or rather, those who are continually subject to the process of being covered by it. It's a twisting ingrained into the very fabric of American company and thus, without conscious effort, many immigrants play into the same segregated machinery that has kept American society so unequal since the first European conquests and colonies in this place.

Why is America all about Black and White?

Now that's a damn good question, there.



"But there exists evil, true evil in this world, you know." Paulo continued to lecture to Kristy sitting next to him in the side office of the MMA gym, happy to be indulging in his favorite pastime. Kristy's grey eyes searched his stoic face for more, and after pausing a minute for dramatic effect he waded into the story with evident relish. "I know me this one guy from the Canadian special forces- a good guy, a good friend of mine, he joined this service just for that reason, to get rid of them evil people in the world, much like Gurpreet, the founder of this gym, did when he joined. He was talkin' to me once, was tellin' me bout this one time they were on mission in Central Africa, him 'n a couple other men, and as they're walkin' through the jungles they see this black cloud in the distance. So they says to themselves, we better go check it out. So they go on an' start headin' towards the cloud, you know, to see what it is an' as they get closer an' closer they see that it's over this village. An' as they get closer to th' village they notice this, this smell is just getting stronger and stronger until they realize that it's not a cloud that's hanging over the village- it's all flies."
Paulo searched Kristy's rapt face for the right signals and then continued. "It was flies, all flies, just coverin' th' whole of the village from the dead there. Everyone had been killed. As they're walkin' thru they're noticing that the most of 'em are crowded round the church in th' center an' so they go in.....my friend, he was tellin' me, Paulo, I'll never be able t' forget that sight fer as long as I live. Th' entire village was in that church, bodies hacked t' pieces an' cut in half, stacked on top'f each other an' rottin' away, with th' blood so thick and so high that they were actually wading through it to get inside."
The look on Kristy's face satisfied Paulo, and he leaned back with a contented look about him, lacing his deeply tanned fingers together in front of his barrel torso. "It was done by people like that, like them truly evil ones. These people, they're sneaky, they're sly, they come in and butcher whole villages this way, just kill everybody an' leave 'em there an' then slide off away, across the river, into the next town, and just blend into the crowd, they get rid of all their weapons an' gear an' just continue on with their day, sitting in a cafe and drinking a coffee an' nobody knows it's them cuz they can put on a whole new face, a whole new appearance, go home an' kiss their wives an' say 'hey honey I'm home' an' act like good people when they're actually horrific murderers."
As he watched Kristy's pale face grapple with the terror of the story, struggling to find words around a choked throat, Paulo thought back to his meeting with the Canadian special forces agent and Gurpreet all those years ago. Mark had just come back from a mission and was an emotional wreck- any little thing could set him off into a torrent of tears or stone-cold silence staring dazed off into the distance or cause him to abruptly leave the room in obvious agitation. Gurpreet had invited him over to the gym to talk things over, let things out for a bit, and Paulo had been taking a break from instructing some students on some of the nastier points of street fighting when he found himself knocking at the door of the office for his forgotten cell phone. Gurpreet had invited him in, feeling a second in this matter might help especially since Paulo and Mark were on friendly terms with each other. Paulo found Mark sitting in the simple black office chair across from Gurpreet, his head in his hands and his fists clenching at his short greying hair.
"They're wearers of masks, I tell you! Maskers- masqueraders- shifting, cunning, manipulative, absolutely evil!! Gurpreet- Gurpreet!- Gurpreet, I can't do this anymore, I'm telling you, I can't do this, this last, this last, this was too much. You know- you know! You've been through a similar thing, I know you have! You told me about that one time- remember? That one time when they had you-" Mark stopped in his rambling with a subtle motion from Gurpreet. He looked up with blank, dead eyes through Mark. The looks of people still active in the forces gave Paulo the shivers, which surprised him considering he'd had the same look at one time. Dead eyes- dead dolls- like the Dia de los muertes painted skeletons, smiling through the veil of the Otherworld. He wondered if it was that look that pushed his ex-wife away, would make her cry and scream at him, yelling at him to just feel something for once in his life...
Paulo came up cautiously to the two, apologizing for interrupting as he tested the waters of the situation, his nerves on edge and sending out tentative feelers before his steps. Gurpreet brushed aside his excuses with a wave, inviting him to come pull up a chair. "Paulo, you know Mark, right? Mark, Paulo." Gurpreet's short cinnamon brown fingers were clasped pensively before his mouth and his hazel eyes were hard and exacting inside his proud, hawkish features as they watched the two men before them nod in greeting, one standing to shake hands with the other then both sitting as one like puppets connected by unseen ties to those analytical irises and interconnected digits. Gurpreet waited patiently until both were seated, then breathed in deeply and sat back, his attention seemingly wholly focused on Mark.
"Yes. You are correct, my friend. I've been put through.....several.....of those same situations before, actually." Gurpreet's hands lowered to his sides and his gaze quizzed Mark's ravaged features. His eyes dropped to his own left hand where a twisted scar told the story of a bullet torn through skin and bone, the remnants of another time long gone, a masquerade too complete for even him to see through until the very last moment. Paulo watched his eyes, already knowing the story, but curious to see where this was going. Gurpreet, however, did not talk about himself. Instead, he began in a more decided tone than before, "It's tragic, what these killers do. Hide behind masks, change personalities, commit atrocities and then come home to kiss their wives and children goodnight as if everything's okay and alright. They use the goodwill of others for their own sordid ends, Mark." His eyes seemed to meet Mark's in whatever other place it was the two of them saw the world through, and Mark's body seemed to become a little bit more solid as Gurpreet spoke. "It doesn't matter what or who- anything and everything are a means to an end. These are the people that really killed that village, the people that you really need to be fighting against, precisely for the reason that they are so insidious, so accepted, so......evil." Gurpreet sat back as Mark seemed to digest these words and gain a little bit more strength from them. Paulo had a feeling some bait was being set, but because he trusted Gurpreet he decided to nibble at it anyway. He shot a questioning look over at Mark, who looked up at Gurpreet, then over at Paulo, then back down again. Gurpreet decided to tug on the line for him.
"You'll have to forgive us," Gurpreet adressed Paulo, "Mark just came back from a very emotional, if unproductive, mission, and has been trying to sort it out some. You'll understand if it's not something we can talk directly about, but it does contain some similarities to previous missions that had disturbed him. I think perhaps talking about one of those other times might be therapeutic in helping him to work out some of what he saw. Take, for instance, that one time you and some of the others- who was it again? Jack? Paul? Ahhh, the names escape me right now, not that it really matters since they're not their real names anyway- while you were traveling in that one country in central Africa...it deals with the same kind of killers we're talking about right now, those people who are pure evil, the type people like us joined the special forces to eliminate. These people are like chameleons, able to change their appearance at any moment, to suit whatever whim of theirs....." Gurpreet was scrutinizing closely both Mark and Paulo while seeming to be completely at ease and relaxed. "Anyway, a group of these had massacred an entire village- ahh, why am I telling the story? Mark, you can do it far better justice than I, seeing as it's your tale." Gurpreet laughed and smiled, but the warmth of his lips failed to meet his eyes. Hazel connected with dark brown, and something understood passed between them. Mark seemed to smile in spite of himself and he took up the passed thread, sitting up a little straighter as he did so to better narrate.
"Well.....we were all traveling in the bush of central Africa, me an' some other of m'boys, when we saw this black cloud off in the distance...."
Paulo came back to his senses as Kristy asked him how such a thing could be true. Paulo shrugged. "It's something that happens all the time. It's why you see so many leaders like we have today, especially in places like Africa and the Middle East- Afghanistan, those Taliban, Al Qaeda- and in South America. Like the dictators in China, it's all run by these chameleon-like people. Our system is now set up that we value people with those characteristics over honest individuals- we now value evil over good. I mean, for me, that's why I feel America's the best, because our democracy was set up to prevent stuff like that frum happ'ning, but even if you look at today, at th' politicians, it's still goin' on. It's terrible, what's happ'ning to this place, but at least let's hope it never gets like those other places. Places like Africa need us, because we got what can help them. Why else would we be in our position as the greatest nation in the world an' they're over there with all that? We got sum messed up stuff happ'ning over here, that's truth, but at least we don't go round supporting mass genocide."