Thus revealed, the creature buried its nose in the tire-tilled soil...
February 28, 2004
The "mother" of posts.
Category: Serious

Well, this one's a pretty long and disjointed piece -- try to follow along. Took me a while to write, and you're missing out on a handful of anecdotes that I wrote down and excised from the version below. The essay's an odd mix of anecdotes and commentary, so hopefully the pound breaks will be helpful. Suffice it to say that if you understand even half of this essay -- particularly the latter half -- you'll know me better than my own mother ever will.

Here we go.

Wes in '86.

Cute kid. 🙂

Unfortunately, I can't recall much of my childhood, but I recall the messages that were prevalent at the time. The "Reading Rainbow" theme comes to mind. Splinter's wisdoms still resonate with me. And occasionally my father would sit down and tell me something about honor or loyalty -- I still have the "Military Values" card that he gave me when I was in the fourth grade.

Yet now things are different. I now know that my father never really cared about those values -- he simply thought that those are the kinds of things that children should be told. When I entered college he told me other things, like how he spent his college days "chasing pussy," and how I should do the same if I didn't want people to think I'm a "fag."

I wrote a lot of short "stories" back then -- I wrote one a week in the fifth and sixth grades, and there was classtime reserved on the Friday of each week for me to sit down and read them to the class. They were usually adventures patterned after "Gilligan's Island" episodes, starring members of the class -- different members each week, with a cast of five regulars. I don't particularly remember what my mother had to say about them (though I recall that she wasn't encouraging), but I do remember her response to a story that I wrote two years ago:

"This isn't something a black person would write."

I realize now that my mother never had anything valuable to say to me, even back then. Three years after that picture was taken, for instance, she said to me, "If you marry a white girl, I won't be at the wedding."

That is the first time I recall my mother speaking to me on that subject, but I doubt that it was really the first -- one does not just decide to begin trying to prejudice a child turns a certain age (at least I hope not). In any case, it certainly wasn't the last...


Several weeks ago, for instance, my mother knocked on my door and said, "Hey, you should go on Ricki Lake."

"What?" I said, rousing myself from sleep. "What are you talking about?"

"It said, if you hate your race and wish you were another race, call in and you can be on the show."

For several moments I was too disgusted to speak -- I opened my mouth three times, but no words came out. At length, I murmured, "You have never listened to a word I've said on the matter."

My mother replied, "Well, I don't understand you. You don't like black shows, you don't listen to black music -- you must not want to be black."

"I want to be me," I said quietly.

"Your ass is black," hissed my mother. "Act like it!"


Days later I happened to pass by my mother's room. The door was open, and she was sprawled on her bed watching BET. Overhearing the content of the program, I sighed, and said, "Why are you watching this?"

"You're just a kid. You don't understand," said my mother.

"What I understand," I said, "is that you are watching a racist show on a racist channel. The channel is named for the 'skin color' of its performers and its audience, and it declares itself to be 'their kind of entertainment' simply because of the hue of their skin. How is that not racist?"

"You weren't around in the days when we used to call each other to say, 'Look, there's a black person on tv!'" my mother replied.

"So you're trying to tell me that even then you were racist?"

"No, I'm not."

"You called people to tell them to watch someone on television simply because of that person's skin color. How is that not racist?"

Later, she added, "You used to watch it."

"I don't anymore," I said.

But I did at one time, though I never really thought much about it -- it went in one ear and out the other. Except nothing really leaves us so unaffected; we may not think so, but on their way from ear to ear statements leave something of their essence behind, and the next thing you know you're saying something that would disgust you -- if only you could hear yourself. But most people don't even listen to themselves, let alone to others.


If you've glanced over the resume, you may know that in the summer of 2001 I worked as a reading counselor at SuperKids Camp. I never thought much about these things until that summer. I had recently declared Philosophy as my major -- though then I intended to go the Philosophy/Psychology track -- and had taken a number of courses in the major, but I wasn't particularly good at it at that point, though I very much enjoyed the challenge of exploring concerns that people had examined for thousands of years. I had no idea then that philosophy would penetrate and later dominate all aspects of my thought, and I'm not sure I would have gone through with it if I had. But that summer was key to expanding my thought in all areas -- though we'll keep to the particular topic at hand.

I could pick a number of things that alerted me to the fact that something was very wrong here. The children's grammar, for instance, was awful -- but in an intentional sort of way. Several students got very angry with me for correcting them, because that's how their mother talked. Others blamed rap lyrics.

There was one incident where one of my students asked his female classmates if they were virgins (I wasn't around at the time; it happened at their bus stop). Where would third graders even learn terms like that? I wondered. I don't even think we knew anything about sex until the fifth grade -- and even that was limited to Phil's report that a guy was supposed to pee in a girl's vagina. Truthfully, I'm still not too clear on the matter (and am not bothered in the least by it), but those kids sure were. They came in one day singing "Peaches and Cream" and knew what the words really meant. (I didn't, and still don't know for sure -- I stopped them when they began to explain.)

Occasionally we took the children to the nearby playground, and once an "interracial" couple walked past. A few of the kids turned to me and said, "Ugh, looka that! That ain't right."

I'm sure I'd said things to that effect before -- and I know my father has said them to me on numerous occasions -- but I can't recall having done it and probably didn't think much about it at all. I didn't really believe it, mind you, but you don't fully comprehend the wrongness of such statements until you hear them spoken by a child.

My eyes widened, and I asked, "Where did you hear that?"

Invariably, it was from their parents or from television -- and I'd certainly seen television shows that taught that message. I'd just never really thought about it before.

"Don't say things like that," I said to the children.

But without a doubt, the one incident that hammered the deleterious nature of such television is the following:

One day three of the girls approached me and exclaimed, "Mr. Brandon, we wrote a rap! Wanna see it?"

"Sure," I said.

"Ready?" said the girl in the center. The other two stood at attention at her sides, as if they were going to perform a cheer of some sort.

"WE PRETTY! WE BAD! WE HOT!" the three of them yelled, whereupon the two flanking girls proceeded to drop back on their hands and rapidly open and close their legs before flipping over on their stomachs to hump the floor. The girl in the center remained standing, but turned around and began thrusting her ass wildly. After a minute, they stopped, stood, and asked me what I thought of it.

My fists were shaking at my sides.

I think I looked away and dismissed them with a wave of my hand. I'm pretty sure I didn't give them a response, and if I did I'd really like to know what I said -- whatever words I summoned after having seen that must have been remarkable indeed. I wanted to yell out, "WHERE THE HELL DID YOU LEARN THAT?!?!?!? (AND IT DIDN'T EVEN RHYME!)" But I didn't, because I knew. I also knew the songs and shows that taught them this repeatedly made statements to the effect that that was how a "black" person is supposed to act. It was upon seeing that "performance" that I knew these kinds of things had to be rejected -- but that entails more than simply modifying one's television viewing habits or seeking other genres of music.


I have said before that this is my least favorite topic to discuss, and I like it even less when relating my own personal experiences. Not only are the results usually less than focused -- I have so many to choose from, after all -- but that my submission of my own past and troubles seems to demand a sort of response, insofar as one cares at all about me: not just a reply to what I've said, but to me, personally. It seems to require some sort of reassurance, some consolation, some advice, and even more so since I've made no secret of the fact that while I continue to hope that people will begin to see me -- and others across the board -- as individuals, and not just as extensions of their appearance, I'm not at all certain that it's even possible. With the rising popularity of "black shows" and a particular kind of rap music to fuel the multicultural agenda, people are being encouraged to reduce others to the color of their skin in more ways than one. Here, "race" is given a lot of emphasis, and people are told to "be themselves" -- by which it is really meant, "conform to some representation of who we assume you are at a glance." (The current crop of Dr. Pepper commercials are a great example of this. The theme song contains the lyrics "promotes originality, salutes individuality" -- how the hell would a soft drink do either of those anyway? -- yet the performers on the commercials have included LL Cool J and Run DMC, all dressed in similar clothes, and Shakira, who I admittedly don't know much about. From what I've heard, however, her music is hardly "original" -- but we could say the same for most pop musicians). Suffice it to say that there may be more "minorities" on television now (much to my mother's delight), but almost all of them are stereotypes. Why must their skin color be emphasized so much? Why can't they be individuals? I miss Cowboy Curtis, but he wouldn't be "authentic" enough for today's standards.

At any rate, the conclusion of my tirades on this subject necessitate a reply. And they usually begin along the lines of:

"So you're black. I'm white. So..."

And already my point has been lost and my expectations have been confirmed.


Late in my junior year of college I met a girl whom I rather liked. I spent a little time with her, subjected her to a couple of vampire movies, etc. -- nothing came of it and I never hear from her anymore, but while our acquaintanceship lasted I very much enjoyed her company. Once my mother called me on a Saturday -- I was supposed to hang out with the girl that evening -- and I happened to mention her.

"Is she white?" my mother hissed.

I was silent for a moment, and then I asked, "What would that matter? Why bother asking that?"

"Well, I just wanted to know what she's like," my mother said.

"So why didn't you ask what she's like?"

"You know, I wanted to get an idea of where she's coming from."

"And what would her skin color tell you about that?"

"You don't understand," said my mother.

"So tell me," I replied. "Tell me what a person's skin color really says about that person. Tell me how knowing the color of my skin really lets you know 'what I'm like'. Tell me."

"It tells me your ass is black," she said.


So take a moment and ask yourself what you really mean when you say that a person is "black" or "white." Pick a "racial" term. Most people will answer that it means simply "skin color" -- but then consider that if you reduce it to that, almost all of the statements in which it is used will immediately be rendered deeply stupid, if not nonsensical. Refer back to my mother's statements and swap the terms. Or think of all of the people who qualify their statements with reference to their "race" -- would they do so with their shoe size? Or the people who proudly proclaim their "racial" ancestry -- would they say that about the color of their eyes back down the generations? No. Such terms signify identification with a particular culture, with particular experiences, practices, and with a particular way of thinking -- such that I don't even think it's possible to call anyone "black" or "white" (etc.) without implicitly making a number of assumptions about that person that you have no right to make. So it's really no wonder that stereotyping and politically-correct prejudice are on the rise -- they live in our language, and very few people are prepared to take an inventory of their speech. After all, it's easier to just go on making assumptions about people. "Stereotypes are helpful," they say, "because there is some truth to them."

But implicitly, people believe that there is more than just some truth to them. Despite what they may say, they really do believe that skin color deserves to be called "race", with all of the implications that entails. It is important enough to name channels after it, it is important enough that people must use it to refer to their friends (I have "white" friends; I have "black" friends), it is important enough that people define themselves by it. At least, that seems to be the message that one would glean from a survey of society. There are so many people who accuse others of being racist, yet there are very few people who recognize it when it blares from their stereo headphones or issues from their lips.

And whenever people begin to seriously discuss racism, Adolf Hitler usually comes up, so we'll close with a quote from him:

"I know perfectly well, just as well as those know-it-all intellectuals, that in the scientific sense there is no such thing as race... but I as a politician need a conception which enables the order which has hitherto existed on historic bases to be abolished and an entirely new and antihistoric order enforced and given an intellectual basis. ... And for this purpose the conception of races serves me well." (From Hermann Rauschning's The Voice of Destruction.)

At least when he wrote that, Hitler knew the true nature of "race" better than anyone -- or at least better than most people living today. Note the tone of his speech -- translation issues aside, the quote conveys something of contempt. "Of course I know that race doesn't exist -- do you think me that foolish?" the quote seems to say. But he realized that it could be used to manipulate people for his own political ends -- and quite rightly so, for that is the true purpose of "race". That is what it was created for -- to justify imperialist motives, to justify slavery, to justify genocide, to justify segregation, and now to justify, protect, and encourage current attitudes and trends in this country. The latter may seem less bad in a concrete sense, but all of these consequences share the same character. And it's worth noting that at all times there were a number of people who rejected the previous assaults and rallied against them -- and enough people did so that they were finally quelled. Today? People fight to uphold the concept of "race" and the necessary separations it entails.

My mother says to me, "You're probably the only person in the United States who thinks BET is a bad thing." She insists that it's "not hurting anybody." She tells me I'm "just a kid," that I "don't understand." That I'll "see one day."

I see quite well -- I have since that day in the summer of 2001. And my ears are also open; no longer do words pass through them leaving only residual traces. They enter into my mind, where they are received and prepared for scrutiny. Now I can finally listen to the words and sounds around me.

And somewhere, I hear Adolf Hitler laughing. The Final Solution may have failed, but the Great Deception lives on.

Peppermint Goth Wes!

And a pic for the road. 🙂

-posted by Wes | 2:10 am | Comments (0)
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