Musing race complexities in the age of Obama
By Susan Braudy
Years ago, I took the A train to Harlem to speculate about living in a refurbished brownstone with thick walls. But that night I dreamed about losing my long view up Central Park and awoke homesick.
In Harlem, I strolled into the Studio Museum on 125th Street, one of the first to give artists workspaces. I love the hard-edged, locally-made African designs on bark cloth in the museum shop. This street pulsates like no other. Strangers laugh together. Six women teased me into buying a hat with a wire brim that the vendor twisted into every style (honestly). Back home, I couldn’t work the hat’s magic. It sulkily awaits a prince’s kiss to revive its mojo.
On the bus ride home from Harlem, on Riverside Drive at 79th Street, I glanced out the window and took off my sunglasses. But there was no denying it: the washed out, beige faces looked almost sickly. They (and I) don’t possess the hundreds of glorious gold skin tones my eyes had adjusted to in Harlem streets.
Someday, I mused, maybe people of all races in this country will marry each other and we’ll all be golden.
When Barack Obama started his campaign for the presidency, Hillary Clinton’s experience and gender made her my candidate.
“But can she win?” asked my friend Michael Wolff.
“Oh, Obama will win,” I blurted.
I loved talking to Michael because sometimes I said things I didn’t know I knew.
“But what about his, umm, skin color problem?” he asked.
Again, I blurted: “He’s the glamorous color.”
Not only was he a big-deal idealist/
intellectual (president of Harvard Law Review), but he was so confident and beautiful in his black suit and white shirt that he seemed a glorious apparition. Although, despite his golden young beauty, he’s never struck me as sexy, as Bill Clinton had from the get-go.
For decades, many liberals ludicrously shied away from even mentioning that a friend was a person of color, pretending to be color-blind. We cannot be afraid to talk about race.
I think we’ve always been envious of Afro-American physiognomy. Don’t forget that Southern men forced beautiful black women slaves to make babies, and envied the genitals of black men. Today, we flock to poisonous tanning salons to make us look temporarily golden. Check out Angelina Jolie’s face—pillowy lips and big brown eyes for starters. Actresses are also injecting fat into their butts for similar reasons.
Additionally, we’re proud exporters of rock ‘n’ roll to Europe and Asia. All hail Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley—and don’t forget Beyonce.
At college, I was friends with a very bright French major, an exchange student from Virginia. When he stamped his foot, pummeled his guitar strings and sang, “And they call the wind Mariah,” I soared to a place between happiness and tears. He was the first golden-skinned person I knew.
A direct male descendent of an early governor of Virginia, his ancestors were one-quarter black. I still wonder why we consider him black when he’s more Caucasian. These days you’re the race you choose—according to Joe Weintraub, a U.S. Census supervisor.
I celebrate my old friend’s physical beauty and long to be able to describe the bronze or gold or (less and less common) ebony tones of other bodies and faces. I say, let’s pat ourselves on the back: We’re stepping up—despite Goldman Sachs, Sarah Palin and crazed weather, most likely due to global warming.
Susan Braudy is the author and journalist whose last book, Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left, was nominated for a Pulitzer by publisher Alfred Knopf.