“Black Like Me” — that’s the title of a 1961 book by a white man named John Howard Griffin, who used makeup and a very dark tan to look black for six weeks in the segregated South.
The lesson of the book was that it was difficult being black. Blacks were discriminated against. No sensible white person would pretend to be black.
Things have changed.
It was recently reported that Rachel Dolezal, a darkish-skinned woman with frizzy hair, pretended to be black for the past decade. She didn’t suffer racial discrimination. In fact, she enjoyed racial favoritism. Her fake “blackness” got her a job with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a professorship in African studies and a city job as an ombudsman.
Her parents finally outed her, stating that her ancestry is actually German and Czech. Childhood photos show a freckle-faced, pale girl with blond hair.
Blondes may have more fun, but blackness, she discovered, is a ticket to a prize in the affirmative-action game. Native American is another ticket. Ward Churchill’s false claim to be Native American got him a professorship at the University of Colorado. For years before becoming a senator, Elizabeth Warren’s similar false claim got her all the way to a professorship at Harvard.
Yes, Harvard discriminates in favor of Native Americans whose ancestors came from Asia 14,000 years ago. But perhaps they offset that by discriminating against Asians whose ancestors came from Asia just a few decades ago. To get into Harvard, these more recent Asians need an SAT score about 140 points higher than whites, 270 points higher than Hispanics and 450 points higher than blacks. Asians (the recent ones) are finally fed up; they are suing Harvard.
Affirmative action is a zero-sum game, you see. For every winner with the “right” skin color, there must be a loser with the “wrong” one. Asians are tired of being the losers.
As for me, I’m not black — even though I don’t look black. And I don’t pretend to be black, either. Black like me is not black at all. So, you might point out, it is hard for me to know what it’s like to be black. Fair enough.
But my eyes are open and I know what I see. I seldom see racism in mainstream America. It’s limited to lunatic losers.
The first lady disagrees with my assessment. As an example of racism in America today, she told a story of an elderly, short, white lady in a Target store asking her for help in reaching an item on a high shelf.
That’s the whole story.
So what’s up with that? Do Klansmen wield their racism these days by patrolling the aisles of discount stores disguised as short, elderly women in search of tall, black women for the purpose of subjecting them to requests for help in reaching an item on a high shelf?
Personally, I find it implausible that a majority of Americans voted twice to put the Obamas in the White House but they cannot contain their racism when spotting one of them outside it. The Target story does not persuade me otherwise.
Indeed, the only discrimination that is not illegal in America is the kind exemplified by Harvard — against whites and Asians. And it is significant that the experiment of “Black Like Me” has not been repeated recently or, if it was, that the results didn’t justify another book.
Back when “Black Like Me” was written, racism was real and inflicted horrible wounds. There was a time when reverse discrimination against whites may have been necessary to heal those wounds.
But racial quotas today for the grandchildren of blacks who suffered discrimination in 1961 no longer heal the wounds. They fester the wounds. They are based on the false notion that blacks cannot succeed without special favors.
Racial preferences thus legitimize the lie that certain races are inherently inferior and certain are superior — the same lie that was at the core of the belief system of that particular lunatic in South Carolina last week.
Shortly after the publication of “Black Like Me,” a great man told us his dream. He dreamed that someday Americans would not be “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed that black like me would be the same as black like him — it would not matter.
In that dream, there is room for everyone of character. But only if we stop obsessing over color.
(Published in the Aspen Times on June 21, 2015 at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/16855751-113/beaton-black-like-me)