Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Brown Trout as "Black Walt Whitman"

A fellow writing instructor recently said over drinks, in reference to my beard and complexion, "You look like a Black Walt Whitman."

So browbeaten has he been by political correctness that he immediately blushed and stammered trying to retract his statement, but I came to his rescue by laughing and then reciting the "grass, the uncombed hair of graves" passage from Leaves of Grass in a Brer Rabbit accent. Nothing so diffuses embarrassment over an accidental racial faux pas like blatant racism. In hindsight, though, I should have made him squirm.

I don't think of myself as African American, owing only 25% of my lineage to that demographic, but still I suppose most people see me and consider me at least as "black" as Colin Powell. In truth I can grow a mean afro. It's just that growing up in the Great White North, where I was a novelty being the only swarthy kid outside the natives (who kept to their reservation), gave me an appreciation of my unique condition partnered with a complete lack of cultural contact with the greater African American community. There are times, obviously, when I take great pride in my "dark quarter." I love being the only "black" trout fisherman on the stream. I love to say, for example: "My people are responsible for the only good and unique cultural qualities to come out of this nation: Creole cooking, jazz, rock 'n roll, blues, country (banjo), gospel, hip hop, Southern fried everything, Southern accents, &c, &c, &c." This sort of statement always comes off as patronizing and even loony when coming from a "white" person. I rarely mention that I'm three-quarters German Oom-Pah and only one-fourth Delta Blues, but who cares? I've got the color, and I use it as I am able.

Am I a black Walt Whitman? Dunno. I have published a few volumes of verse. But two of my wives were lily-white, and my daughters have been known to sunbathe to "get more color;" they look more Italian than anything. I suppose I'm light-brown with a touch of caramel.

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