Saturday, March 29, 2008

An American tradition, appropriated


Michael Fisher said...

So David. When you go and apply for a loan, are you "black" or do you let them believe that you are "white"?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ It's called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." ;^D

Michael Fisher said...

So in daily life you function as a white man?

I guess that's the difference between you and I. Given my particular phenotype I can't go "undercover".

Maybe that is what gives us a difference in perspective:

You can escape this bullshit
. I can't.

"I don't want to be David Mills, the Negro Loan Applicant".


Though here's my question:

If there is no systemic white racism that affects your quality of life, you ability to function freely, why not tell the loan officer you are black?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ What on earth would my blackness have to do with my need to borrow money?

Michael Fisher said...


"What on earth would my blackness have to do with my need to borrow money?"

Don't know. But what do you think your functioning as a white man in front of that loan officer has to do with your ability to borrow money?

Kellybelle said...

That never gets old, LOL. However, as one of a handful of Black greeting card writers I take offense at Murphy studying greeting card--do you know how many years of 'M*A*S*H,''Seinfeld' and 'Friends" I had to watch to get my job?! ;-D

Alan Sepinwall said...

Anybody remember True Identity, the Lenny Henry movie that was essentially a feature-length version of this sketch? As I recall, director Charles Lane said he had big problems with early drafts of the script where the main character really enjoyed the advantages of being white, and so he took out all of that material -- in the final movie, the closest we get to that note is when he's embarrassed that he can get a cab when an undisguised black guy can't -- and it completely sucked all the laughs out of the film.

I can understand being offended by the premise of a movie, but in that case, maybe you shouldn't agree to direct it, no?

dez said...

^Don't remember that one, but I do remember "Watermelon Man." I liked it a lot when I first saw it; not sure how I would react today.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

I would actually love for Watermelon Man to be a television series reality show. Except the white people have to stay Black!

Dan Coyle said...

Watermelon Man is fucking hilarious. Criminally underrated. Cambridge does a pitch perfect caricature of white entitlement in the opening minutes.

Undercover Black Man said...

Alan, I saw "True Identity" when it came out... but can remember nothing about it. Which is saying something, given its premise. (C. Thomas Howell in "Soul Man" left a more lasting impression.)

Nipped Lenny Henry's Hollywood career in the bud... poor bloke...

TriRacialBro said...

UMB - "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Damn, UMB really is undercover. So passing is cool when the price is right, and the price could be as low as just needing a loan.

Uh,uh,uh. Now where would we be today if Turner, Douglas, King, Marshall, Powell, decided to just pass when being Black didn't suit their needs.

Sounds like UMB may be a part-time sellout?


Undercover Black Man said...

^ It's "UBM," my dyslexic friend.

TriRacialBro said...

^damn! My bad, and no pun intended UBM.


Michael Fisher said...

triracialbro, passing is just another black survival strategy. If only the ultimate one. If something was wrong with it then the black community would not have traditionally protected it's passers by keeping mum.

There problem kicks in when a passer denies the reason they passed in the first place: racism/white supremacy

fishealot said...

^fisher, I hear ya but...

You go to the bank, you pass and survive. But you leave any potential fight for the next guy to dodge or stand up to. In this case it's not so much the reason for passing, it's more the case of willfully taking a "no risk" position with regard to the "potentiality" of possibly having to confront motherfuckers that will deny you equality!

Dude, we need to expose the shit and knock it out with haymakers pow!

UBM is still my man though because he does do some good with his blogging!


GenevaGirl said...

UBM, can you shoot me the link on YouTube, if it's available? The video isn't available outside the States. After reading the comments, I'm curious. Thanks.

Triracialbro, I was really offended by your comment to UBM! I'm a very light black woman and not easily "readable." What am I supposed to do every time I walk into a store, a bank, or a job interview? Stand on top of a chair and announce to the world that I'm black?

I'm not living undercover. I'm not passing. It's not a survival technique. I'm just living my life!!!!

If somebody asks me what I am, which happens all the time, and black folks are especially curious, I tell them point blank, "I'm black!" and go about my business. I'm not hiding a doggone thing.

You really hit a nerve with me. I've been told my whole life that I could pass. Why in the hell would I want to pass? I don't want to be white!

You may think that being light gets me advantages in life, but I've spent an entire lifetime being taunted, teased, and asked stupid questions like:

"Which one of your parents is white?" Neither one, nor are my grandparents. Why are you so curious about my family tree?

"Why are you so light?" Ask the slave owner who raped my great-great grandmother.

"Where'd you get that good hair?" It grew from my head.

"Are you a member of the club?" Yes, indeedy. Why are you asking?

"You're American? You don't look it." What's an American look like!?! (Europeans are baffled by me.)

I know that these indignities can't compare to what most black folks deal with, but they raise my stress level nonetheless. I help the brother trying to get a loan by paying mine on time.

Now people, there are more important issues to deal with than whether or not UBM tells his loan officer that he's a member of the club. The last time I looked, there was no check box for it on the loan application.

Michael Fisher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Fisher said...


"there are more important issues to deal with than whether or not UBM tells his loan officer that he's a member of the club. The last time I looked, there was no check box for it on the loan application."

I'm sorry genevagirl, that isn't the issue at all. The issue is why is it that every black person that can not pass automatically, just by their very presence, has to check that box in the loan officer's mind.

Black folks who pass, don't have to check that box in that loan officer's head.

Now there sis nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But when black folks who are so "privileged" deny the existence of the very System of Racism/White Supremacy that causes them to pursue "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in their daily life, then we've got a problem.

That problem being the confusion of other non-white people as to the reasons of their predicament.

I've gotten to know and like David, the most crucial aspect of his personality being that he is willing to ask and confront questions that are anathema in the black community, such as the question of the possible inheritability among black folks of low IQ. We need this type of inquiry. However, I am disappointed when David appears to stop using logic in his inquiries.

That application of logic will inevitably reveal the true nature of the behavioral system we live in.

And I am not sure what it is that keeps David from pursuing the logic to it's very conclusion.

"What am I supposed to do every time I walk into a store, a bank, or a job interview? Stand on top of a chair and announce to the world that I'm black?"

Interestingly enough, throughout the late 1960s and the 1970s plenty of light-skinned black folks did exactly that. Not necessarily verbally, but by adopting certain dress, language, and mannerism.

TriRacialBro said...

^Fisher, my man, snap-fizzle!

^GenevaGirl, UBM, please accept my appology. I should not have called anyone a sellout, I guess I just went with the flow and threw that out there. ...pardon.

Now, I didn't mean to say that we should always vigorously shout out or exclaim to the world that we are Black. What I was trying to say is that we should be careful not to make choices that lead to leaving others to fight battles where we ultimately benefit from the spoils. You don't have to shout it out but you should not deny or evade being Black as a survival strategy in these times, ...unless of course you are facing an immediate threat of severe bodily harm or death, and then thats a judgement call.

Also, I'm just as light as UBM and I can easily pass for something other than Black but it's never crossed my mind, and I have survived.


GenevaGirl said...

Triracialbro, apology accepted. I am a bit touchy about this whole subject, as you saw. I didn't realize how much so until I started writing the comment. My apologies to all for the rant. (And to my poor husband who has been listening to me bitch all evening.)

Michael, in the early 70's I desperately wanted an afro. I got an afro pick and started working on my hair. The results were comical. At the age of 12, I just gave up and learned to embrace what I looked like.

BTW, the real issue is the loan officer's mindset that needs to be changed. Don't blame the victim.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

I can understand certain people getting touchy about it given their personal experiences. I just didn't see my road dog as "blaming the victim." It seemed that he was saying you can't have it both ways: take advantages of "passing" but then criticizing the system. I don't necessarily agree with that premise.

I think what this series points out is that so-called passing is a convenience and a tool to escape the perils of racism/white supremacy. Conversely, you don't see anyone white trying to pass for nonwhite, unless it's to make a joke.

If there is a God, I would love if It made folks who believe there's no such as racism/white supremacy nonwhite for a long period of time, if not permanent, a la Watermelon Man.

Reminds me of story I read in the Washington Post in the mid-90s. White student from Maryland disguised himself as a Black person in such an experiment. He was supposed to go through it for thirty days. He didn't make a week before he cried himself to sleep and opted out of the experiment.

Now, raise your hand, white people, if you're down to do the same?

On the other hand, I can see why someone would "pass" if they had to. I ain't at them. I'm mad at the system that caused that decision.

fishesalot said...


This is a nice blog thread ya got going here.

Some key theorems:

- ability to get a bank loan is inversely proportional to your perceived Blackness, such that $$$=X/apparent Blackness) where X = loan amount>0.

^there is a proof.

- quantity of Black self-pride, while being Black in America, is directly proportional to courage, such that (Black self-pride) = X * 1/A, where X = amount of courage and A = degree of Black pride in oneself with A<=1.

^there is a proof for this as well but it's a bit abstract.

...interesting postulates.


Michael Fisher said...


I just didn't see my road dog as "blaming the victim." It seemed that he was saying you can't have it both ways: take advantages of "passing" but then criticizing the system."

No, that's not what I meant. What I meant to say is that you shouldn't take advantages of "passing" but then deny the existence of the system.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

^My bad, road dog. I actually understood your point but didn't articulate it correctly.