|"Uh, Rahm, would you mind not standing so close|
that I can hear the fierce beating of your heart?"
We understood we belonged to a minority that had suffered in the past and was still subject to discrimination and exclusion. However, change was coming fast. Jews were quickly becoming accepted into the white majority, and our parents taught us that nothing that really mattered was beyond our reach and we had little to fear as we moved through the world. We were safe in this assumption except, ironically enough, when Rahm was “black.”
Rahm and Ari had my mother’s skin coloring. Both brothers needed just a few days in the sun to turn the color of café au lait. By the end of the summer the two of them were almost chestnut brown. With curly black hair and a broad, flat nose, Rahm could easily pass for an African-American.
We got most of our ultra-violet rays at Chicago’s Foster Avenue Beach, which became our regular summer hangout. In yet another demonstration of her confidence (today it might be called child neglect), our mother would send us off alone to spend entire summer days playing in the lake and on the sand. I led the troop down Winona, through the Foster Avenue underpass, which let us safely cross Lake Shore Drive, and then into the park, where the beach stretched northward for a quarter-mile or so.
In this time before cell phones, our mother did not need to hear from us every half-hour to be reassured that we were O.K. As the hours passed, she somehow assumed we were fine, and for the most part, her confidence in us, and in the city, was well placed. Exceptions arose when some stranger decided to call Rahm and Ari “n******” and demand that we get off the beach.
I'm reminded of Countrywide Financial's Angelo Mozilo's assertion? belief? claim? that he was a victim of racism. The Oompa Loompa-colored Mozilo's sister claimed:
"He was always this Italian guy people didn't want to accept. When he tans he gets really dark. My mother told me that when he worked in Florida he was asked to sit in the back of the bus."
I'm starting to notice more and more of a Flight from White.
For example, Armenians in Southern California are more often drawing a verbal distinction between themselves and "whites." When I was at UCLA in the early 1980s, the star of the economics department was Fresno-born Armen Alchian, who just died at 98. There was plenty of interest in pushing diversity back then, too, but the notion that Alchian wasn't white wouldn't have occurred to anybody, just as George Deukmejian was obviously the white guy in the gubernatorial race against Tom Bradley.
In the past, lots of people emphasized their white side. For example, we don't have any Census figures for the number of Latinos in America in 1950 and 1960 because the League of United Latin American Citizens convinced the feds that Latinos should just be counted as white. Back then, Marco Rubio would have been considered as white as Judge Leander Perez was.
But, obviously, these days being white is for losers.
(Apparently not genetically, though. The New York Times relaunched its T fashion magazine last week:
The new T arrived yesterday. I’m impressed by its heft. As I looked through the magazine, I was surprised at Deborah Needleman’s choices. There is a complete absence of any people of color in articles or fashion shoots. I assume the ads cannot be controlled, but I saw only one African-American and one Asian-American among the thousands of models in the ads. The T doesn’t look like my neighborhood or America. [T Magazine’s New Editor Pledges to Make Future Issues More Diverse])
So, I expect that more and more you'll see Caucasian people dropping contrived hints that they aren't really white, until only Prince Charles is left.
Which white group will be the last to defect? I'm guessing Poles. They don't seem terribly opportunistic. But this trend will test even their loyalty and common sense. I expect in a couple of decades to be reading about how even Poles are now identifying as part-Mongolian Eurasians.