13 March 2008

Jorge Amado's Plan to End Racism

Yesterday, I stopped at Subway for a sandwich. The young guy who started my sub then said, "Sir, I ask this only because I care about the quality of your sandwich: are you willing to have this black guy put on your vegetables?" I stared at him. "Please realize sir, he is black." This was obviously his idea of humor and the young man to whom he was referring looked somewhat bemused and mostly resigned. I said to him, "It's an odd country. You can be white and black and black is what you are labeled." "Yeah," he said. "I'm half nigger and half cracker." Oh good, I thought, my sandwich is going to be made by a young man filled with self loathing. Unsurprisingly, it was tasteless. I should have said something witty or acerbic or critical, like "Oh yeah!" but instead, all I said was, "I'll have the cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, and olives."

In the wake of Geraldine Ferraro's racist remark about Obama, I do wonder about this. How is this that a man who has one white parent and one black is automatically considered a black man? ("I don't know why people are so shocked that she would say this," quips Bernard. "Those Italians are notoriously racist.")

In a great scene from one of Jorge Amado's novels, a group of Brazilians are gathered around discussing race. Brazil has a little of everything and in spite of a reputation for being generally tolerant of one another, race problems emerge. The characters are getting quite philosophical about all this when (I believe it was) the blacksmith breaks his silence. "The answer is to have everyone interbreed until even God can't tell them apart," he announces. At 20, this seemed like a brilliant solution to me but I got very little cooperation in my attempts to put it into action.

Maybe, just maybe, when we finally read that Obama is a white guy whose father was black, we'll be en route to this world of racial confusion. I may have scuttled my personal plans to execute Amado's plan, but I still think that racial confusion might be the final solution to racist confusion.


jennifer h said...

Did you see her defense of her comments today?

"Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls this campaign down and says let's address reality and the problems we're facing in this world, you're accused of being racist, so you have to shut up," Ferraro said. "Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?"

Yeah, that's probably it.

cce said...

Was that a real interaction at Subway? I'm aghast, uncharacteristically speechless. I might have cried with the strain of discomfort. You were good to get out olives and alfalfa sprouts.

Anonymous said...

Friends often say things to each other that seem awful to outsiders- but it was wrong for him to use you as a prop in their game.

I first became aware of multiracial people when Tiger Woods, who I believe is a combination of five races, complained of having to choose just one.

As long as we have affirmative action programs and reservations for Native Americans, it's necessary to ask the question. I wish we lived in a world where race didn't matter- but we aren't there yet.

Gypsy at Heart said...

You put me in mind of my friend Alejandra who always answered to the formulaic question of race or ethnicity with her own little box - HUMAN, she would pencil in. I never told her this but I started painting in my own little boxes in a copycat move. Not once have I ever been questioned about it. I guess that fundamentally means that everyone who has read my token-protest addition, agreed.

On another note... Amado, vaya... I'm impressed. Seems you do know your Latin American authors.

This was another grasshopper read for me Ron. You did it again Kimosabe... I mean... Master.

Ron Davison said...

Jennifer H,
What's the quip? Once you've talked your way into a corner, stop talking. Poor Geraldine.

This was a real event. Thomas is probably right about them being friends having a good laugh at my expense, but it could also be that I'm simply unfamiliar with the cultural norms of Indianapolis.

Tiger could perhaps patent his race and, like they do when they name a disease after a doctor, all future Thai-Black-White-Whatever hybrids could call themselves Tigers. Hmm. I might begin to refer to myself that way. (Of course, no one would have a clue that I'm talking about race - they'd merely assume that I was a middle-aged man deluded about my prowess. Maybe this is not such a good idea.)

Lifehiker said...

I've been with you on this for a long time - intermarriage between races is a great idea for many reasons, one of them being that racial confusion is a great way to eliminate racial division.

However, the Good Witch and I believe the most beautiful women we've ever seen have been mixed race, and that may apply to handsome men as well.

My sister's four mixed-race children are a gorgeous creamy brown color and bright, too. Her mostly black husband is more educated and dignified than 95% of all adult Americans. She's contributed to the confusion. Right on, Girl!

jen said...

i need to go to that Subway.

and about the rest - we were just talking about that in my house the other night - I say we should attempt to confuse things as much as possible.

sort of like, i'm woman, but really half man. or wait, is it man who is half woman?

Dave said...

Total confusion and the goal is a number of generations away. Slowly but surely.

HRH said...

I know it is unpopular, but I agree with the Brazilians and think everyone is way too sensitive about this. What is the big deal...it's a skin color and in many cases only a shade of a skin color? I am probably sheltered and clueless, but there are about a billion things I worry about ahead of a genetic happening. Interbreed on.

Ron Davison said...

Human. I like it for so many reasons. And as to the Latin American authors, I did got through a period of obsession with them, as is my tendency.

confusion as the basis for esthetic. It is true, though, that when it comes to beauty, there are so many kinds of perfect.

I like the new look. and yes, this kind of confu - wait! Now you're just testing how open minded I am.

I can almost hear you say, "the plan is underway ..."

and another great point. looking at the DNA, skin color is maybe .005% of the total code? Less? More important topics every which way.

anya said...

I was lurking around waiting for you to post about this! Hi. My favorite thing that the divine -- I mean asinine -- Ms. G said was that those who objected to her comments were playing the race card. The interviewer said, "They're playing the race card?" "Oh, absolutely." No fair, now I'm confused...

Ron Davison said...

oh, now you're trying to make sense of what she's saying. that is a trap. political speech ought to be listened to like a Lewis Carroll poem - just go for the sound. if you try to make too much sense out of it, you're eyes will cross.