Movin' On Up

Oh, those party conversations. It was said wistfully, as in passing. Still it carried heft. Whooomp! Like a steaming sack of hot do-do it splattered down. The affluent black woman at the holiday g

Dec 5, 2002 at 2:06 pm

Oh, those party conversations. It was said wistfully, as in passing.

Still it carried heft. Whooomp! Like a steaming sack of hot do-do it splattered down.

The affluent black woman at the holiday gathering confirmed the quiet fears and anxieties of upwardly mobile, scorched-earth Negroes everywhere. She hoped her pre-adolescent son, though surrounded by white children, wouldn't grow up to marry a white girl.

And this from a mom living so far east that Negroes probably carry passes to drive around in their own neighborhoods.

Negroes living in suburbs to the far north and east are hilarious. And they don't realize it.

They move as far away from us — you, me and themselves — as their myths, aspirations, fears, money and sweat equity will take them.

They show their children otherness and recoil when the offspring covet that otherness.

Then they wake one day and realize that a) their (white) neighbors resent the assimilation, b) their (blackwannabewhite) children are rapidly aping their assimilation, c) they've created a paradise lived from the underside of a glass ceiling or d) their sons appear destined to give 'em the sweetest taboo — marrying a white girl.

Gasp! Clutch the pearls.

But don't stay in a state of permanent Madeira. What can you expect when you've socialized your children to be as far away from themselves as possible? When white is the paradigm, it will be the reality.

Let's get one thing clear: I don't advocate separatism.

I'm not a honkey-hatin' Black Nationalist. I don't subscribe to the notion that to be black — I mean reeeaaallly black — a Negro must be down by street decree. You know, an urban dweller raising nappy-headed children who stayed put in the ghetto to prove a point.

Nor am I a playa' hatin' sista begrudging any black person their share of what and how they consider the American Dream. Dream on.

I am a Myth Buster. I'm taking out the gimmicks in my range. I'm here to remind that The Jeffersons was a sitcom created by a white man starring black characters so bitter, bigoted, hostile and self-loathing we had to laugh.

Maybe it reminded us of ourselves. Wasn't it secretly delicious the way George could snort "honkey" and call the Willises "zebras?" Perhaps we dreamed of being simultaneously rich and hateful.

Why, it was white flight in reverse. We could move on up and hate them instead of them hating us.

All I'm saying is, when you move on up, don't be surprised when your self-inflicted alienation comes back to bite you in your newly acquired Burberry.

But black sprawl is more serious than Negroes moving away, acquiring and then questioning. It creates and manifests unnatural competition between us in a society that delights in its people killing themselves softly so they can own what they can't afford.

Unless Negroes are independently wealthy or entrepreneurs who don't have to make hellish commutes to the city to make more money, black sprawl might actually contribute to the fraying of the New Monied Black Family (NMBF). And though NMBFs tend to remain intact, they're not healthy units. We don't discuss them the way we denigrate single-parent black homes.

Why? Simple.

The more we make the more we (think we) need, and the more we (think we) need means the more we must work and the more we must work means the more time we spend away from the home we're killing ourselves to pay for but it's a home we're never in except maybe on the weekends and then we're so exhausted we don't want to be bothered with the family we say we're providing a better life.

And it don't stop. If the mounting stress grows disproportionately to the rest of their lives, I'll bet one SUV, one private school education and one nanny that these Negroes are pulled taut to the point of implosion.

I bet they're self-medicating to numb it down. They're overwhelmed and perhaps questioning their identity while all the time measuring themselves against a standard they neither created nor even fully comprehend.

But it's OK. It's OK to show our children we did better than our parents and that they can do better than theirs.

How much should that lesson cost? What's the price tag on identity, and will a second mortgage cover it?

The point is we don't have to go so far to find ourselves or to prove points. When we do, we end up threatened, classist, hostile and alienated.

Separate and still unequal. Just like The Jeffersons.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.