Home > Transformation > Uncle Remus Denies the Ethnographer

Uncle Remus Denies the Ethnographer

August 5, 2008

Don’t come round here honey asking such non
sense. I don’t know about us all being
Africans but I know we was once all
black. In fact I told that little boy that
way back. He ask “Uncle Remus why your
palms so white? They’re like my own!  Why’d God leave
you incomplete? He run out of color?”
Now it’s not as if our palms were snow white.
He was a boy and had dirt in the crease.
I was a man with work: these fingers darned
my own coat, resoled shoes, twisted and waxed
shoe thread, twined boar hair to a thread, weaved bark
into horse collars, and this palm whetted
my own knife, and yes it’s white. It didn’t
always used to be white just as white folks
used to be black—blacker than black, blacker
than me. I done been living ‘mong white folk
so long that I been bleached out.  But back then
in the old neighborhood when we was all
black there was a municipal pool called
the Old Pond and one spring before they ope’
up a brer climbed the fence and skinny
dipped and lord have mercy he come out white,
whiter than a white girl from Jersey. So
when folks seen this they rush the pool like those
old folks in that Cocoon movie and they
all come out whiter than white. You tell me
why would folks want to run off and all change
their color? Ain’t nothing wrong with black skin
in the first place, but when the neighborhood
saw the white folk a larger mob broke down
the fence and jumped in the pool and they was
such a number they damn well nearly splashed
all the water out. The second comers
got only half the punch, so they all came
out mulatto-Chinese and Indian
and Hispanic. And just as nowadays
there are those who catch wind of things a bit
late, and those who know better than to go
diving headfirst into untried waters,
of those latecomers who dared to paddle
in the puddle—for a puddle was all
we had left to wade in—only the soles
of our feet and the palms of our hands turned
white. You know, down at the beauty parlor
I see sisters straightening their kinky
hair and I think if only I would have
bottled some of that water—when the folk
who became Chinese waded in there was
still enough to straighten their hair. That pool
never opened, no sir, and there was no
way to reverse the effect. White stayed white.
But just the other day I was sitting
up in my chair watching that Benny Hill
show on BBC and they had a black
and white segment. Mars Hill he played this type—
nerdy conservative—the kind with thick
glasses and an oily complexion,
and his guest was this black fella. Well Mars
Hill goes on talking ‘bout race relations,
how he likes his darkie gardener, then
they flip a switch like, and what was white turns
black and what was black turns white. Suddenly
Mars Hill is black and his professor-esque
diction goes all dialect and urban
and his guest the black chap he’s now all white
and he speaks mighty eloquent no more
yessir, thas right. It was like a photo,
you know those reversed tone image strips that
come in the packet, negatives they call
them. I know it’s a trick but what a trick
to reverse your color! Anyway, hope
you got what you want, honey. Oh I love
this song. You know that group de la Soul? Sing
with me, People think they diss my person
by stating I am darkly packed, I know
this so I point at Q-Tip and he states,
“Black is Black.’ Ain’t no black as black as that.

by Matthew Hittinger

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  1. Ivy
    August 5, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Wow, gorgeous. Thank you.

  2. August 6, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    This is brilliant–and fits transformation perfectly.

  3. Erin
    August 7, 2008 at 7:38 am

    I love this poem. Perfect!

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