All of the commotion over the young woman in Spokane lying about being black reminds me of two things:
For one, there was something that Martin Luther King, Jr., used to say to black audiences. He knew there was an effort by some blacks to try to look white in order to seem like “real” Americans — getting their hair straightened, dressing like WASP businessmen, women wearing makeup to lighten their skin color, women wearing white gloves at a formal dinner….
Dr. King would say, The way to be an American is to be as black as you are.
It was an early version of “black is beautiful.”
Malcolm X used to say likewise: You don’t need a long, thin nose like a white person in order to be attractive. You don’t need straight hair to look beautiful.
Being who you are — and being that person with self-esteem — is what makes a person attractive.
Why this young woman in Spokane thought she had to change her looks in order to seem credible in the black community is thus all the more puzzling. African-American leaders have been telling people for years now: Be yourself. Here’s someone who wants to ally herself with a black community — but does NOT want to be herself.
The second thing I’m reminded of by this controversy is: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
You don’t need to be poor to help the poor. FDR was one of the richest men in America. People didn’t care. What they voted for was his vision. Government would take a broader role in individual lives. The result was programs that in their day were opposed as being communistic — like Social Security, the Fair Labor Standards Act (raising the minimum wage), jobs for the unemployed, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (assuring bank customers of their deposits), the Wagner Act (protecting workers who wanted to organize a union)…The vision by many Americans shifted from a government that left people to their own fate no matter the wider factors beyond their reach causing unemployment and illness and poverty…as opposed to today when most Americans EXPECT government to help individuals.
People voted for that vision. It was raised by a rich man, FDR. He was wealthy. He grew up in a privileged community in a row of mansions along the finest land on the banks of the Hudson River. I’ve visited these mansions. Yow! As President, FDR went against the conservative thinking of his rich neighbors and their type. Doris Kearns Goodwin called her biography of FDR “Traitor to his class.”
You don’t have to be poor to help the poor. You don’t have to be black to help blacks. You don’t have to be a laborer to help workers.
But we ARE seeing this kind of ridiculous charade by candidates for President — who think they have to “dress down” in order for people to connect with them. Today — Jeb Bush wearing an open-collar shirt, no jacket — announcing his candidacy. Last campaign — Mitt Romney going everywhere in an open-collar shirt and blue jeans. No amount of denim is going to cover up how wealthy these men are!
In 1988, when George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis were competing for the White House, both men went around the country trying to out-do each other as “one of the people.” Richard Nixon was observing the whole ordeal, and he wrote an opinion piece for Newsweek.
He said, these two should knock it off — stop pretending they’re not rich — stop pretending they are not politicians. Both men have been in public service most of their adults lives.
I can’t imagine John F. Kennedy campaigning in blue jeans. He was rich — everybody knew it — he didn’t try to hide it. What did people vote for? His vision for America.
The only lasting politics — said Emerson — are good ideas. All kinds of people have them. You don’t have to become someone else.