April 9, 1996
Mr. Clarence Page
I enjoyed your book Showing My Color Impolite Essays On Race and Identity. Good book. Glad I read it. While you did not ask for feedback, I press it upon you.
We deal with people as they are and how we want . . . and how we want is often determined by what we believe they are as perceived by what we believe they are in our minds. For example, I write because I think you are capable of going beyond the trap you have created about yourself.
You or an aide must be mulling over whether this bundle is from a person worthy of reading. Will something be missed of value? Or will this be another crackpot who has a secretary?
First, I am going to summarize my theses -- then I'll go for your book and emote. I believe my comments on your book will support my theses. Naturally, the other articles I have written along this topic will be of the same theme. At least it is part of the dialogue to overcome the quicksand in which we find ourselves.
(A) Race and color are catch words used by some to manipulate people into mindless robots. Race and color are power mechanisms which have no genuine basis in reality but have been reified into a pseudo-truth which is without being, and therefore they are not functional or positive in outcome. Race and color as conventionally used contain their own violent energy because violent energy is always needed to sustain that which is not real. And the simplicity of use of race and color as conventionally used, even though without substance in reality, render difficult their being circumvented and overcome.
(B) The old style racial stereotyping (white and colored) have been replaced by a new style of racial stereotyping (black and nonblack) but both are the same old segregation -- old urine in new bottles -- two sides of the same counterfeit coin -- based on semantic nonsense derived from "color" and/or "race."
(C) The emphasis on race or color or any biological feature as a primary identifying characteristic will prevent absorption into one's own culture when it goes beyond that of biology. In essence, color and race lack being because they are erroneous concepts and are therefore unabsorbable and therefore must be rejected or processed differently in order for the individuals to really engage in the universe in a full manner. In a sense, emphasis on the biological prevents "the examined life." Yes, this is Western Civilization -- the strength of Western Civilization is that it is blind to all but good ideas and transcendental ideas. Whatever it is . . . it is stared at, analyzed, studied, absorbed, modified, and made one's own -- and put in a library (the hallmark of Western Civilization). If someone cannot do that, the group will not make it -- if they proclaim that this process has a biological trait of its own (like "white way of thinking"), then they have just shot themselves in their foot or higher.
Page 1. H.L. Mencken was a satirist -- a curmudgeon -- I'm not sure he was serious. I am sure he was wrong.
Page 5. You may clear your "fuming discontent with the current fashions of racial denial" -- which is not what I am trying to do. But first you have to look up "race" -- in the Oxford Dictionary -- have fun! Look up and find its impudence. While one cannot "deny" it or "the difference race continues to make in American life" (as you put it), one must learn to ignore it. And a lot has to do with what you are protesting the denial of. "But denials of a cancer, no matter how vigorous they may be, will not make the malignancy go away." Is the "cancer" identified with "race", the denial of race or the overemphasis on race?
Page 5-6. "I would argue that too much is made of the virtue of `color blindness.' I don't want Americans to be blind to my color as long as color continues to make a profound difference in determining life chances and opportunities. Nor do I wish to see so significant a part of my identity denied." I hear you, but I could not disagree more. You could reverse the whole thesis. The problem is this tendency we have to make a superficial attribute to be our identity. A color as an identity . . . the fraudulent concept of "race" as a means of identity . . . when we are trapped in that, you make the statements that you make. If the question is framed as you have on page 7: "I was not black enough to please some blacks, I would never be `white' enough to please all whites" then there is no answer. The emphasis on color while at a certain psychological level means much to you, it is still not true. As you say elsewhere, very few individuals are really black and damn near no individuals are white. The impact of allowing ourselves to be seduced into a persistence of using these terms because they have some sort of an approximation to truth has untold negative consequences.
Page 13. "Despite all these color-conscious efforts to educate the country's children in a color-blind ideal of racial equality, many of our children seem to be catching on to race codes anyway . . . ." Yes, like "showing my color" is a code. Of course people will develop codes for race and color -- this is how they control those people. Lemming leadership I call it.
Page 16. "It didn't begin with us" -- and no one really knows who it did begin with. The problem is not its beginning, the problem is how to end it.
Page 17. "The problems with the twenty-first century will still be the color line" -- not if there is a change of understanding of the semantic origin of our problems. And the semantics play right into the simplistic, sensationalist approach of journalism, which would certainly not sell as many papers with a calm story about people getting along in contrast to one that has a tinge of "racism" to it (page 18).
Page 18. You quote Ralph Ellison: "When I discover who I am, I'll be free" -- and I hope you found out he was not a color, and in fact he was not a race either.
Page 19. Your reflections on identity are important. Identity first of all must be as a human being -- a total human being. In transcendental terms it is called aliquid, which means the identity or essence or the form of the being in question. Once one recognizes one's humanbeingness, then it has to be focused on the next level of identity of importance -- which is not of biological character such as the conventional use of "race" -- it has more to do with national identity and cultural aspects into which one has been born and raised. I think I cover this in one of my articles. And there is an American race -- there must be an American race.
Page 20. More on identity. The choice is up to us now contrary to what you're saying. And no one wants to render anyone invisible regardless of one's skin tint. To be "sporting enough" is to pay no attention to it -- you cannot "let bygones be bygones" but one can consciously decide "enough!" And to reject the "melting pot metaphor" and concoct a "mulligan stew" is to fail in the analogies because one should not close off the potential. Perhaps Ollapodrida is the next metaphor.
Page 23. "White racist standards of beauty and intelligence" -- now there is a mouthful. Why do you use the word "racist"? Or the word "white"? Western Civilization would define "beauty" as a transcendental which is independent of color and race -- and the same with "intelligence." And I deny "there are many ways . . . to be black." Come on -- you're talking about a subcultural lifestyle or two -- you are not talking about a color. And when you claim "the white people pretty much determine the standard for fairness" that is an artifact of just who is promoting virtue or not. Several times in the book you talk about standards and definitions and ways of thinking as being "white." This is a shifting mechanism to maintain the controlling aspects of the terms "race" or "color." It is absolutely self-destructive to interject color into behavioral and intellectual analysis. It is forced, unfree, self-destructive and damnable. Look, there is no way you can get rid of the Oxford Dictionary. It is great fun -- it is incredibly studious. You can spend hours perusing the 88 meanings of the word "race." Any race aspects or color aspects are contrived and I would go so far as to suggest they are scheming -- scheming in order to control those susceptible to control. Furthermore, it is a violence to humanity because it precludes a unity of thinking that is to the benefit of all parties. Western Civilization, just like the Oxford Dictionary, may happen to be lighter-complected in some ways or others -- but in no way are they "white." And you have no right to call them such.
Page 27. You state that you can "defy" the rudeness of race but "cannot deny it." Why not? The whole race concept is a fiction.
Pages 42 and 67. Before closing, a comment on your use of the theme of guilt. And I am thinking of Leanita and the tragedy therewith. One of the most moving lines in Hamlet is "so full of artless jealousy is guilt, it spills itself in fearing to be spilt." Now that paradigm applies to so many things -- and guilt is one of them. So full of hate-filled jealousy is race, it creates itself in fearing to be created -- it presents itself in fearing to be presented -- it burns itself in fearing to be burned -- it hates itself in fearing to be hated.
Enough already -- I haven't covered half the notes I scribbled in the margins as I read your book on the beaches of Sanibel.
I tell you what -- let's have a "Million Different Man March" -- where everyone who doesn't believe in race or color meet in Washington for a day of prayer and reflection with the expectation that no man who will stand by any man except one who is different.
Wishing you well in all good things.
Samuel A. Nigro, M.D.
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