Yours, Daniel
Imposing Integration

On, we were discussing once again separation of the races in the USA. I seem to remember that we were getting into a "they do this to us" conversation, and I wanted to get to how "we do this to us." So I contributed the following:

I got two stories to tell about my own perceptions and how they screw me up. And they're both about our [Black and White Men Together] national conventions.

I do think black and white folks are kind of falling back into separation somewhat; it's easier to give in to that oppression, and I know from my experience that it's what I expect. I often fall back into thinking that, either through ads or TV, there's no possibility of truly interracial community, even though I have some experience of it in my own life. I still walk around looking at black strangers believing that they want nothing to do with me. That's a perception, and I think it's often wrong, and I think part of the task of BWMT is to portray the interracial life consistently, delightedly, lovingly and strongly so that folks have it as part of their perception of possibility.

When we had our convention in St. Louis a couple of years ago, I took the train. On the way I was reading a book about women in Harley biker culture. I'd before read articles about the issues therein, but never a whole book. By the time I finished it, I got it: these folks were involved in creating a culture, and they had a right to do that, and it was a beautiful creation as all cultures are. It had certain parameters, and race and class and gender were paramount there: it was and is primarily a white, working-class, male culture, and although other folks are welcome to attend, it is understood that you will abide by that culture. What I realized was a kind of respect for that segregated creation, a respect I also have for separatist afro-centrism and separatist women's culture, but I realized that *I* was about integrated living, integrated culture: multiracial, multicultural community and neighborhoods and history and commitments. In fact, I was on my way to just such a gathering. I realized that separatists and integrationists can live in the same society, but I can't spend my time battling separatists. That won't build the community, the life and the culture I want. Instead, I have to pay attention to the folks who want to build the same thing as I do, building families and communities and history with folks like you.

I don't yet know who those folks are, other than the few, like BWMT, who stand up to declare it, even if only by their presence at one of our gatherings. Mostly, I assume everyone's into segregation. To illustrate this, let me tell a story of a small thing that happened to me at our Miami convention a few years ago. I was walking away from one of our meetings, there in the lobby of the hotel, when I saw two attractive black men hanging out together by the front door. I was switching, as I walked, from my BWMT mode of interraciality, back into my usual public role of giving black folks their space, and not doing more than the nod of respect as I passed by. Suddenly, I realized that I was still in official interracial space, and that these brothers were, it seemed, brothers of mine in that they seemed to have a relationship with the BWMT meetings taking place. So I realized that I had a right to greet them, to converse with them, to expect them to treat me civilly and conversationally, to in fact be brothers -- not black and white / soldiers in a fight. You see, normally when I see black folks with each other, I assume their interaction matters more than my interaction with them and I leave them completely alone. After all, I'm not black, so I can't join. That's the idea this society creates in me. Certainly, if these two had been deep in conversation I would not have interrupted them, but they were not. So instead, this time, I altered my walk obviously to come closer to them, making eye contact. They seemed somewhat surprised, but not unfriendly. I stopped for a moment to exchange a few sentences. We three had a light conversation, to the point where we were all smiling. Then I went on my way and they continued their business. I kind of imposed myself more than I usually would have. I realized as I walked away that normally I assume that black folks don't want to have anything to do with me unless we've been purposefully introduced for that purpose, but that I shouldn't make that assumption, even when I see a black stranger in public who's with other black folks. For me to decide what a black man wants or is without giving him the chance to define himself is in fact a decision based on race and therefore racist, trapping both he and I in segregation. It's a decision I often make, however, because of the experience of segregation in my daily life and the messages I get everywhere (even, sometimes, here).

So yeah, there are separatists in our society, and for good reasons which I can value. In fact, separatism is something that we all need to have every once in a while. There are also interracialists like us. The perception, though, is that there aren't any interracialists "left," or that we're shallow sentimental fools for talking so much about it. I often feel trapped by both the political right and the left, the one telling me to stay away from those folks because they're dangerous, and the other telling me to stay away from those folks because they always need their own space. I say instead that we all continue to need true interracial space, not just sharing the physical space, and sometimes, like that day in the hotel lobby, I'm going to be visibly interracial with strangers, even if I fear that someone will think I'm "shoving it in people's faces." How else am I going to have a hand in changing our society more into what I want?