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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 11.25.09




Scary Reality

An educated black man

by Mark Harris

As is my wont, I spent Halloween alone, correcting papers, waiting for the sole group of trick-or-treaters to come through my neighborhood that night. I thought about a costume I could wear, and all I could think of was my cap-and-gown uniform worn once a year for college graduation: Educated Black Man, scary thought to those Oregonians the likes of Samuel Thurston, he of the persuasion to forbid free American citizens of African descent from coming to Oregon because their penchant for race-mixing with Native Americans would create a mixed race superior in the sense that they could mix the African experience with European-American culture with the Native knowledge of the land and foment revolts among the non-mixed Natives in Oregon. 

While Oregon Natives were smart enough to foment their own revolution, no such cross-cultural collaborative revolution occurred, though Thurston and his ilk were historically correct about black and red mixing to make maroons. Maroon is the Taíno word for African-Native genetic and cultural hybrids. It literally translates as “wild and free.” A Spanish synonym, cimarrón, combines the Spanish word for mountain top with maroon, for the maroon penchant for seeking higher ground to rest from resistance to European adherents to chattel slavery. 

I like maroon better than the usual word in English, mulatto, a Portuguese slaver term referring to a first generation black-white mix. At least maroon is a term of respect. 

I heard a knock on the door, and the pitter patter of little feet sounded on the porch. I opened the door to have light shined in my eyes from a little curly-caramel-haired kid the color of cream in dark coffee. Kalinda color: the description I give for instructions on how I like my homemade coffee, after my firstborn. 

“Trick or Treat!” I pulled my niggardly store of candy, three quarters of a salad bowl, to the door. The kid kept shining his light in my eyes (practicing for a career in law enforcement no doubt, scary thought). There was a beautiful maroon princess, caramel skin, curly hair, elaborate black and gold dress (She must be Charlotte Mecklenburg, I thought), as they filed forward, all seven or so of them, all close to the same skin color. 

Why do all the black kids sit together in the cafeteria? Why do the mixed kids trick-or-treat together? Safety in numbers? Doesn’t matter really. I didn’t ask them who their people were. They smiled at me, and I smiled back at them, proud of them without even knowing who they were. The white supremacists of our community would curse them; liberals pity them: “I feel so bad for the children.” This state was founded to prevent them from ever being born, though some of them have been the best examples of humanity in arts, letters, the sciences. 

Now one of them leads the nation, seeking higher ground. Progress of a sort. Or a scary reality.  

Mark Harris is an instructor and substance abuse prevention coordinator at LCC.