What is a Whiteman? By Andre Austin For Diana Agy JCC Literature 256 April 27, 2006 What is a Whiteman? The color line in America was used by the minds of some white people to set up a binary-opposition between blacks and whites. In the essay of Charles Chesnutt he brilliantly uses the motif of the words “Color Line” more than ten times as a foundation, anchor and metaphor to explain the upside down madness people of color had to live with under the color line. Mr. Chesnutt’s essay was written way back in 1889 fourteen years before the famous W.E. B. Dubois wrote The Souls of Black folk in1903 where the famous lines “The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line”; here Dubois considered the heritage of slavery. Unfortunately, the opening of the 21st Century six years ago didn’t break the chains of the color line legacy that was born in sin when America first decided to use color of skin as the measurement and determining factor of who would be a slave. Slavery was America’s birth defect that produced the abnormal assumptions and regulations of the color line. Even today at this very hour the racial segregation of color lines divides Black and White every Sunday morning. And in Washington DC talk of building a Wall like the ancient Chinese built to keep out undesirables is being debated. The segregated lines of public schools between blacks and whites have slipped back into racial statistics of the 1960’s. I’m going to transition back and forth in time to make the image of these color lines as crystal clear as possible for enlightenment. An effort to make an careful analysis of “What is a whiteman” by Charles Chesnutt’s usage of motifs like the phrase “color lines” shall be broken down into three categories starting with racial lines, psychological lines and some of the horrible effects of these vicious lines on peoples. An exploration of these color lines will explain life in a segregated society. Racial Lines Charles Chesnutt asked the question of “What is a Whiteman?” The answer was anybody who has a single drop of Black blood. Anyone who crossed the racial blood type line was put into racial categories with a division of characters. These characters Chesnutt states consisted of “Negroes , Mulatto’s, Quadroons, Mestizo and Octoroons” (Chessnutt, p.122). The most famous so called Octoroon was Dred Scott who made a vain less plea to the Supreme Court not to be segregated on public transportation because he was only 1/8 black (Octoroon). These racial lines were justified by written law, “customs“, religious theories and so called “natural laws“. The state laws in the United States sustained racial lines, customs reinforced racial lines and religious and natural laws gave racial lines its foundation which was ill founded at its conception. The color line was Slavery’s heritage that was used by customs and religious theory of whites to keep blacks in bondage. White racism of slavery took a parable from an event that happen in the Bible of Noah’s son viewing his fathers nakedness in a homosexual fasion and his offspring of African peoples were to have the sins of their fathers visit upon them in perpetuity in the form of slavery. Chesnutt specifically uses a religious theme and phrase to say to those blacks who look more white are sometimes fortunate not to have “The sins of their fathers are not visited upon the children” by use of the color line (Chesnutt, p.126). White supremacy also took on the notion that it was unnatural for a dog to copulate with a sheep as it was for a Blackman to dare to desire the precious purity of a white woman. One slip across the race line over to a white woman could cause a whole entire black town or neighborhood to go up in smoke with summary executions at the end of a noose. I recall reading some of the works of Mark Twain of how children would draw a line in the dirt and dear their peers to cross it. Its too bad adults kept this game up and forced other human beings to live under their lines either visible or invisible. Psychological racial lines Chesnutt states: “The extension of the color-line to places of public entertainment and resort to inns and public highways, is in most states entirely a matter of custom” (Chesnutt,p.124). The psychological effects of this mistreatment was outlined in 1954 Supreme court case of Brown v. Kansas School board of black kids preferring white dolls over black ones. Modern day research is producing studies that link Schizophrenia to the stresses of racism whether its overt, covert or institutional. The constant exposure to the alienation, “degradation” isolation and lack of “opportunity” with no protection or support against racism enhances victims likelihood of having psychological problems. Blacks people have this illness today at disproportionate rates then they had it worser in 1899 when Chesnutt first wrote this essay when it was legally and morally acceptable to publicly be a bigot openly. A distortion of reality created by white culture who visualize black people as Sambo and the Black Mammy produced the psychological effect of a Double-consciousness which is looking at self through the external mirror of others and not internally being that image. The mirror that whites held up to black people was a distortion of reality, a schizophrenia one that built up their pride of white supremacy. The Binary-opposition of this distorted mirror produces an inferiority complex and a double-consciousness for blacks who are forced to deal with the evils of the color line. Effects of the Racial Line The negative effects of the causes of the mapping out of the racial color line is numerous and sickening. Chesnutt outlines the effects the color line in the form of “hopelessness” of blacks which makes your mind, body and soul have a “disability” (Chesnutt, p.122). Blacks were made to feel like they had no virtue and their offspring were illegitimate. The Constitution gives blacks the right to free association but they couldn’t marry whites and vice versa. Public transportation on steamboats, trains, buses and streetcars were strictly enforced. Hotels, resorts, inns and public highways and public entertainment (Chesnutt, p.124). There are some people still living today who had to sit up in the balcony during movies , plays and courtroom trials because blacks weren’t good enough to equalize themselves to the same level with whites; which is a Binary-opposition. Blacks were set free in 1865 but it took until the 1960’s to reap some of that freedom of being restrained by the color line. We have come along way and still have some more work to do. Conclusion The color line is still here and we must fight it when we see it. Mexicans are good enough to come over here and work and shouldn’t be labeled illegal aliens. A wall and a fence is Americans line for Mexicans. Black people came over here to work but took along time for us to become citizens because we were considered illegal and half-apes and 20% human. Jewish people were called half-apes by Hitler and he drew a line between Germans homosexuals, gypsies, mentally ill and Jewish. If you were caught on the wrong side of Hitler’s line it was a barbed-wire fence and a crematorium would be your future abode. Now Homosexuals couples are made illegal and illegitimate and are given the lines of not being able to marry based on natural laws, customs, and religious theories. History doesn’t repeat itself exactly but it does recycle itself in many ways that showcases man’s inhumanity to man. Chesnutt use of the word “color line” as a motif helped him advocate the elimination of Jim Crow laws in America. A careful examination of contemporary and past historical segregation of dividing up ethic groups by racial lines demonstrated the ill effects of living under the color line. The color line is still here along with other lines designed to hurt and dehumanize people into second class status. Society must make an effort to turn negative lines into bridges of compassion and harmony. Footnote: A group of angry, largely and mainly white people have set up a marketing and lobbying ploy to get voters to send bricks to elected officials in DC. These whites obviously want to use these bricks to create another Berlin/Nazi wall here in America. In 1857 the Supreme Court said in the Dred Scott case denying citizenship to all African-Americans, free or enslaved. In 1868 a constitutional amendment number 14 reverses the Dred Scott case. Charles Chesnutt wrote: “The fourteenth Amendment extended citizenship of the United states in terms to all persons born or naturalized in the country” (Chesnutt, 1911, The Courts and the Negro). It appears that White hatred towards Mexicans giving birth to their babies is producing white hot racism. Racism in the same way it was here in the 1980’s when white Republicans crowned themselves in the Senate and the White House with the name calling of “Welfare Queens” who produced too many babies for the welfare rolls. Strict readings of the constitution of penis envying whites wants limited views on citizenships from the constitution instead of universally humanity. Civil Rights laws had blacks in mind at its conception but its liberty applied to all. I don’t hear any outrage against white corporations using the 14 Amendment to their legal advantages in their briefs. And Bush v. Gore was one of them.