Monday, November 12, 2012

Kunta Makes a Comeback

My husband is obsessed with race. This is a puzzle to me. I mean, I am not immune to issues of race— far from it—but my husband seems obsessed in a completely strange way.

We are a mixed race couple. If I say something like “Honey, could you please be sure and take out the trash tonight?” He is liable to respond in a slow, country drawl “Sure Massah. Whatever you want Massah.” Huh? For one, he’s white. And two, taking out the trash in your own house is akin to being  a slave? On what planet? If I say, “Honey, could you pick up something for dinner tonight?” Depending on his mood he might say, “Sure, why not. Let everyone take advantage of The White Man.” (That’s how he says it, in capital letters.)

I just think this is hilarious.
I don't have a real caption.
I say to him, “Sweetie, of all your characteristics, you seem awfully tied to your racial identity. What’s up with that? It’s not as though you’re being persecuted for your race and need to affirm yourself.” I tell my husband that he is probably the only person in the world whose daily vocabulary contains the words “Kunta Kinte” (as in “I’m not your Kunta Kinte.”), with whom he apparently identifies.

This is nuts. It’s like he’s hijacked my heritage for his benefit. Were it not for the fact that’s he an all-around character (as in, “Ha ha. That guy is quite the character”) and a decent husband and father, I would probably take deep offense. As it is, we’ve been married for nearly 25 years, and I love him, so I tolerate his crazy. Also, I figure his comments will one day give me insight into the mind of the dominant class. One day.

The other day, we were watching a movie set in an Alabama town in the 1950s, and this particular scene involved a young black musician, somewhat of a drifter, fresh off the train in a new town. He’s walking around the deserted streets, clearly not from there and looking for a place to land, and my husband, who loves to do voiceovers, says in a flawless, raspy, and stern-sounding Southern baritone, “Boy, what you doin’ here?” I told him, “Honey, you’d have made the perfect, racist Southern sheriff.” Of course, that only fueled his fire, so he added several more lines of dialogue. He doesn’t know when to quit, that husband of mine.

One of our sons once asked him “Dad, why can’t you act like a respectable white person?” Meaning, I guess, do all those things other white men do, like work in a job that requires a suit, tie, and briefcase and regularly speak in clipped tones about … whatever. Instead, my husband works in social services and spends most of his time in poor Black neighborhoods soaking up the culture and then coming home and saying stuff like “I’m home! What be going on in here-ah!?” in his best high-pitched Chris Tucker voice.

Does he wish he were black? Does he want to be on stage? Does he want to yank my chain? I don’t know. It just makes me laugh.

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