Saturday, August 8, 2020

Complications of Race in America

From a review of Life of a Klansman by Edward Ball, which focuses on his nineteenth-century ancestor Constant Lecorgne:

Near the end of his book, Ball makes a fascinating digression. It involves a prominent person of color who lived in New Orleans at the same time as Lecorgne. Louis Charles Roudanez was a medical doctor, trained in France and at Dartmouth, who published The New Orleans Tribune, a daily newspaper for the Black community. An homme de couleur libre, Roudanez married a free woman of color. While researching his own family, Ball decided to look for the descendants of the Roudanez family.

He finds one of the physician-publisher’s great-great-grandchildren, named Mark Roudané, living in a leafy subdivision of St. Paul, Minn. “He was raised white, and he appears white,” Ball writes of Roudané. “In middle age he learned that according to the one-drop rule of blackness, he was not white.” Roudané did not know the tale of his father’s ancestors, or even the Roudanez spelling of his family name, until he stumbled across some family documents when he was 55. As happened with Ball, the discovery of a bit of family history leads Roudané on a quest. “When my father died, in 2005, I was going through his papers and throwing stuff away, and I found an unmarked binder,” Roudané tells Ball. It contained papers showing how his father, who was designated as “colored” on his birth certificate, had forsaken his distinguished roots, changed the spelling of his name as a young man, gone to Tulane by passing as white and then moved to the Midwest. Despite this history, or perhaps because of it, he became a resentful white racist. “When it came to talking about Black people,” Mark Roudané told Ball, “all this venom would come out. I thought, ‘Why is my dad being ugly?’ I didn’t understand it.”

This reminds me of something I read recently, that after emancipation many American octaroons headed for the west coast, telling their black relations, "don't write us, we'll write you."

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