Announcing HYBRID AMBASSADORS: a blog-ring project of Dialogue2010 You met our multinational cultural innovators this spring in a roundtable discussion of hybrid life at expat+HAREM. Now in these interconnected blog posts they share reactions to a recent polarizing book promotion at the writing network SheWrites.Join the discussion on Twitter using #HybridAmbassadors or #Dialogue2010
I loved the Brady Bunch.
Never wanting to miss an episode, I’d rush home after school each day and hurriedly plough through my homework. I didn’t want anything to prevent me from spending an hour with the all-American clan and their three lovely girls, Marcia, Jan and Cindy. How I longingly envied these golden locked sisters and their blue eyes. Blonde hair and blue eyes were, I believed, what made someone American. And I desperately wanted to be American.
But changing my almond shaped brown eyes was, along with my olive skin, not possible, even if dying my dark hair was. Like it or not, I was stuck with this “foreign” look, that prompted almost everyone to ask, “Where are you from?” Even though I was born in Brooklyn, somehow I felt my features, along with my name and religion, kept me from saying “I’m an American.” Nothing gave me the right to that appellation.
In time I saw that I was wrong. Hair, eyes, names and race don’t make someone American. Values and vision do. So imagine my confusion in reading Lori L. Tharps’s blog post “Wanted: White Ambassadors to Help Me Cross Over,” in which she appeals to “White (sic) people”, whom she points out that she “loves”, to help her get “White” readers to buy her book.
“The sad fact is,” Tharps writes, “I can’t change anything without some white friends. It is a statistical impossibility that Substitute Me, (the book Tharps has written) will have a chance to shine if only my Black friends spread the word.”
It is an unfortunate reality that “black” writers are pigeonholed as such. They are set apart from their “white” peers whose books are categorized as “literature” – without adjectives. That has not, however, stopped whites from “crossing the divide” and picking up works by African American writes such as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright or James Baldwin. A reader, by its very definition, is someone on a journey, eager for new discoveries or answers to curious ones. Barriers are inherently contrary to that.
“There is nothing in me that is not in everyone else,” remarked African-American writer James Baldwin in 1985, long after the civil rights movement. He was being questioned, not for his skin color, but his homosexuality. Did Baldwin’s sexual orientation separate him from other writers, the questioner wanted to know. To which Baldwin replied, “There is nothing in everyone else that is not within me.”
There is nothing in blacks that is not in whites and in whites that is in not in blacks. That’s what Martin Luther King Jr. was referring to when he dreamed that his children would be judged not by their skin color but the “content of their character.” What would he make of Tharps’s appeal, particularly at a time when the barriers dividing “blacks” and “whites” have largely been eroded? At a time when the U.S. President is a man of color?
Not too long ago, my little sister and I were considering what to watch on television. “Oh look,” I remarked elatedly, “the Brady Bunch!” My sister, who is fifteen years my junior rolled her eyes at me. “What?” I asked. “What’s wrong with the Brady Bunch?” “It’s not real,” she replied. Neither is Tharps’s appeal or assumption. Just as blonde hair and blue eyes don’t make an American, “White” friends or “white” word of mouth won’t make Substitute Me shine. Tharps’s own writing will. She should let it stand and be judged by all, no substitutes.
This post is one of in the Hybrid Ambassador series, written in response to a post on SheWrites asking for ‘White Ambassadors’. You can read the other posts below:
Sezin Koehler’s Whites Only?
Rose Deniz’s Voice Lessons from a Hybrid Ambassador
Anastasia Ashman’s Great White People’s Book Club
Tara Lutman Agacayak’s Circles
Catherine Bayar’s Thicker Skin
Jocelyn Eikenburg’s The Problem with “Chinese Food”
Judith van Praag’s Hope-filled Jars
Catherine Yigit’s Special-ism