Luck of the Smoked Irish
I am Black. How do I know I’m Black? I learned it at school, of course. No, it wasn’t my teachers. Most of them seemed to be of the color-blind mentality. They also seemed to be blind to the extracurricular tutelage of my classmates whose parents taught them they were White. It was from these menacing classmates that I learned I was Black. In fact, they bestowed upon me a diversity of nicknames to solidify the idea that Black was anything and everything other than beautiful. Since this was the era of the original Roots they also labeled me Kunta Kinte.
I am a Black man born to a mother of Irish ancestry. What happens when Black and White humans combine their chromosomes? Unlike when mixing paint, Black and White genes yield yellow skin. That’s according to some Blacks blacker than me who imply my blackness isn’t black enough. This is humorous common ground with Whites who told Black jokes while assuring me, “But you’re not really Black.” To be called yellow by Blacks when those rudely labeled as “yellow” (Asians) saw me as Black was truly alienating. Could being exiled to another planet be a worse curse? Or a blessing? Was this a hint of how Jesus felt when the Bible says he came unto his own, but his own received him not (John 1:11)?
My Irishness Has Never Saved My Blackness
So I am a yellow Black man (or is it a Black yellow man) with Irish ancestry, an Irish surname, who was born on St. Patrick’s Day. My last name led a well-meaning coworker of a color-blind mentality and Scots-Irish background to ask me what I identify as? And why Black? Why not Irish? I rehearsed how I had been pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black), WWB (Walking While Black), RBWB (Riding Bikes While Black), and interrogated numerous times for fitting the description. The description arousing law enforcement’s attention was never that of St. Patrick, a leprechaun, or the guy showering outside in the old Irish Spring commercials. I couldn’t expect this coworker to understand that since my Irishness won’t save my Blackness from fitting the description, my Irishness is for entertainment purposes only.
Somehow the conversation moved to how he was living in California during the infamous Rodney King beating and assured me it had nothing to do with racism. So, was King simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? But what makes some places the wrong place? And why does location excuse public servants for beating a human worse than they would a snake?
Our conversation was interrupted and I don’t remember his explanations for my questions. What interrupted our conversation? Was it a cell phone ring, an intercom announcement, someone else entering the room, or the intrusion of my internal conversation? A conversation which I wanted to share with him, but didn’t feel possible. How could I go deeper when he can’t see the elementary things?
The Complexity of Family & Belonging
Would he be able to admit to how the Irish became proficient haters of Blackness in order to attain and preserve a newly discovered, but previously denied American Whiteness? I didn’t want to know what kinds of excuses he would use to explain away the racism among McRoys. None of the Black McRoys ever encountered a White McRoy clan willing to claim a common McRoy kinship – although this must inevitably be the case. This conversation was exhibit #Y317 of why a Black man couldn’t delude himself into publicly defining himself as Irish, even if halfway true.
Again, I am a Black man with enough Irish and whatever other whiteness to make me yellow. In America, this means my Blackness is likely to arouse suspicion among some in law enforcement and my Irishness is likely to arouse the suspicion of some Blacks blacker than me who think that I think I’m better than they. To be blind to color isn’t an option. Neither is the delusional thinking that any of these shades of humanness has hierarchical value.
How do I overcome the sin of my skin? Jesus. He who formed our first parents from dirt in a garden watered by a convergence of African and Asian rivers claims me as his own. Not by natural heredity or luck of the Irish, but by faith in this brown-skinned, Palestinian Jew, I have been adopted into the family of God. After rereading his family tree I know Jesus knows what it’s like to come from a mixed family and to be rejected by those he hoped would embrace him. His love overcame death to restore wholeness to a world fragmented by racism, colorism, and whatever other -isms you want to add.