Searching for Danzy Senna

Brandeis orientation (“Fell the Rhythm”) requires incoming freshpeople to read Caucasia by Danzy Senna. After reading this excellent book on bi-racial children growing up in the extremist/black power Boston of the early 70s, I wanted to learn how much of the fiction has been inspired by Ms. Senna’s life. With a name like “Danzy” I assumed she must be multiracial, and I was correct. Choosing to visit that great mecca of all things wonderful,, I found Senna’s essay “Mulatto” published in their Mothers Who Think section.

Senna talks about how every white person talks about blacks in racist ways. My question to her is, is this really true? Because where I’ve grown up, in a relatively conservative area but also an area bursting with so-called “minorities,” I see this, but not like she says. Yes, I see “whites” talking badly about Mexicans, who make up a large portion of the Southern California population. Much of the complaints come from perceived differences based on culture, such as language, traditions, and, get this, even smell. I know its crazy, but different diets mean people smell differently, and some people have this perception of Mexicans (or Latinos, or whatever) as dirty.

Whenever I fill out any kind of survey or form that asks for race or ethnicity, I always, without exception, put other. If other has a blank, I like to fill in “Martian.” Really, I just don’t get it. I mean, I understand that humans naturally look for similarities, congregate around each other, whatever. Do I do it? I don’t know. I don’t congregate well, but when I do its with most everyone. I just really don’t see myself as racist at all. Will Ms. Senna disagree? I guess I’ll have to ask her if she believes any white person could ever be truly non-racist.

That’s another question, what is this white thing? I mean, I’m insta-grouped with a race and moral sphere based solely on the color of my skin? It is assumed I believe certain things, and its just crazy. I don’t get it. I generally like to hang out with whomever is interesting or friendly, regardless of ethnicity or whatever, the only real barrier I can see is when they are difficult to understand. I don’t consider myself “white.” I just don’t see it in those terms. I like to joke that I’m lucky I’m Jewish, otherwise I wouldn’t have a repressed minority with which to identify myself. Truthfully I find it somewhat disgusting.

What am I trying to say? I’m not sure. I believe that many people of many backgrounds have been constantly harassed and abused and unfairly treated due to their ethnicity and cultural stereotypes. This is fact, this is true, I would never dream of disputing it. As a corollary, I recognize that discrimination will continue forever until we’re all the same color. What was it Bulworth said? Ah yes. The following quotes may offend your delicate sensabilities. Read no further if that is the case. I will talk about my philosophy on language another time.

All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep fuckin’ everybody ’til they’re all the same color.

Amen, Bulworth. I just get pissed off with this constant negativity and anger. I mean, I like people who are open-minded and also not so easily offended. Having to be incredibly careful to watch ever word you say for any context of possible racial bias is so incredibly terrible. And the hypocricy! Oh, the hypocricy!

Darnell: I say, you ain’t no real nigger, IS you?

Senator Jay Billington Bulworth: [stoned] Is YOU a real nigger?

Darnell: You callin’ me nigger, motherfucka? Don’t call me a NIGGER, moth’fucka!

Senator Jay Billington Bulworth: Would you prefer “motherfucker,” motherfucker?

That’s the real question. Why is it that all the black folk can say “nigger” and not be bothered, but the instant some white shmuck utters the dreaded “n—” word, all hell breaks loose? Have some standards.

I love all races equally, meaning not much, but not much equally. I like the person, not the race. I like the culture, the lifestyle, the traditions, whatever, but not the specific skin-tone as a deciding factor. I really don’t give a damn what color you are. Just don’t judge me based on what color I am, and don’t expect me to be constantly vigilant and incedibly PC when you yourself are not.

I’m black on the inside, buddy. I think I probably like the black people I meet much better then the white people much of the time, but they are individuals, people, not entire swathes of America. ::sigh:: Linda and Ercil and his sister (whose name I’ve sadly misplaced in my memory banks) and I went to the Hollywood Bowl for some Bach. I think she is the funniest person I’ve ever met. She’s dying of cancer, its eating her up, and she is living each day to its fullest. She is in good spirits, she can joke, she can talk, she can ignore the wires going into her arm and the pains from chemo. She is an awesome woman, and I think that much of what makes her awesome is her background and her character developed through a rich culture that is the American black movement thing. And she can joke about race relations, about living in the “bad” part of LA, and about being a black woman with a strange device attached to her body (“Hey woman, put down the bomb!” Trust me, its funny when she goes off about it.). How much of this is because of the color of her skin? Okay, probably a lot is related to the culture based around that coloring. But people who see _only_ the color without recognizing the individual, the human, the spirit within, are doing everyone a great disservice.

So, Ms. Senna, are all whites evil? Can’t you look past the color and just see a person, without judging the race? Certainly we have enough trouble with whites, or Macedonians, or Kurds, or Kosovars or Tanzanians or Congolese or Iraquis doing that already, why you too? Let’s all give it a rest.
[Bulworth exhales smoke into Murphy’s face.]

Senator Jay Billington Bulworth: Have a drink, Murphy. Live your life.

4 replies on “Searching for Danzy Senna”

  1. i love caucasia, and feel like birdee and cole sumtimes, me and my sister are biracial, except we both look hispanic, and neither of us are. It’s easy to know the guidelines and rules of what people can and can’t say when your biracial. You can test limits and break boundaries, you can check the black box and the white both, and go ahead and check a few other boxes too, cuz who knows ur ancestry when your an african american.

  2. I don’t know where Senna classifies all whites as believing one certain thing, maybe you saw a personal interview or something that I missed, but nowhere in Caucasia does she say that all whites are racist or that they are all ANYTHING, and if you do find something in there that hints towards it, then remember the book was writen in Birdie’s point of view so you can’t judge her by that. Maybe I don’t understand where you are coming from, but I think maybe you are taking it the wrong way. Email me about it.

  3. It’s interesting that you say that Brandeis makes freshman read “Caucasia”. Here they make them read “A Brave New World.” I don’t think the professors here (small, liberal arts college in western illinois) could handle Caucasia because it would go over their heads.

  4. does somebody has a resume of this book “caucasia”? because I have an exam this friday and I haven’t read the book yet …

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