Someone once said that had the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin (1799-1836) been born in New York instead of St. Petersburg, he would not have been able to aspire to anything more than a Broadway shoe-shiner career. This may or many not be an exaggeration. Pushkin’s maternal great-grandfather was African. Pushkin himself had African features that would have been sufficient to bar him from “proper” New York society where fellow poets, as well as editors and critics, mingled in the 1820’s and ’30’s. (Let us remember that slavery was only outlawed in New York in 1836, the year of Pushkin’s death; and let us remember also that, when all is said and done, Pushkin’s owed his excellent education and professional success to his membership in the Russian aristocracy).
Pushkin’s contemporary and namesake best asian brothel melbourne Alexandre Dumas (the author of the Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte-Cristo) was a “quadroon” (his grandfather was black) and it showed. In New York, he would have had to choose between the career of a house servant and a street performer (at best), and would have run the risk of being abducted and sold to a Southern planter – intriguing options for the most successful historical adventure author to date.
Racial issues (all of them) have more to do with TRADITIONAL OUTLOOKS than actual laws, or with history, for that matter. Mass perception is always slow to change; outlooks transcend generations despite the well-meaning (and oftentimes harmful) efforts of activists and politicians to “educate” the public.
What nearly all Americans have in common is the skewed perception of race we have inherited from the past centuries. Few of us are even aware of how skewed it is, and how humiliating for everyone involved.
Think about it – whether you’re black or white, or Asian, or have some other ancestry – what the world “black” means – to an American of ANY RACE – to you. A “black” person is a person with ANY DEGREE of African heritage so long as he or she has ANY perceptible African features (both Pushkin and Dumas qualify). Now ask yourself what “white” means. A white person is a person all of whose features are Caucasian (no African or Asian admixtures whatever).
The common perception (casually accepted by both races as a matter of course) is that African blood is some sort of contaminating agent; one drop of it makes a person “black”; while Caucasian blood is so pure and gentle, it can only affect a person’s racial classification if no other kind of blood flows through his or her veins. This is, of course, perfectly absurd; and yet, I repeat, most of the Republic’s population subscribes to this view, appreciates it, and takes it for granted.