It’s been fifty, maybe sixty years since a number of American white ladies began being absorbed into the African American population, and despite whatever contributions we’ve made that may be of some relative value (or did you vote for McCain?) we have no voice whatsoever, no standing whatsoever, it’s as if we aren’t even here.  It’s as if we’re invisible.

But an impulse to find invisibility was not what motivated me.  Transcendence. That’s what was going on that brought me here — pulled that little alleged white girl across that color line to the black side all those years ago, in the Sixties.  But it went back further than that.  Way back.  Even further than 1912 when grandma came to America and passed for white, or I should say, passed for poor white trash, all that being uncannily analogous to passing for Croatian. It all translates to perfection.  That was such a huge step up for her. You can’t even imagine.

I know what village we came from.

I know where we got our name.

There are none of us left there.

They’ve finally cleansed themselves of us.

I don’t know any more specifics, insofar as my own family goes. The one person who could tell me is either dead, or I’ve shut her down asking about it.roknicboyfortiesI have a picture of some cousin. My father’s first cousin. A very, very handsome boy. Not to be boasting, but he is an incredibly similar iteration of my son. My son’s biracial and only 1/8th Serbian, but now we know he could have just gotten off that boat. Something about conquered remnant Illyrian women with dominant head shapes. Watch out for those remnants.

Great Aunt Sarah had 15 children and lost eight of them in WWII. We were Krajina (pronounced krayina, j’s are always y’s) Serbs living in Croatia. Before that war we were 18% of the population.  Afterwards we were twelve.   Since the war in the 90’s we’re only four.

Some of us escaped, on our very own Trail of Tears.  You may have caught some of it on the evening news.

That’s what the 20th century was like for us in our very own Serbian Holocaust, a mil or so obliterated as racial undesirables every 30 years, starting with WWI when a mil disappeared and the popular rhyme, “SRBE NA VERBE!” was coined.  (You must write that in all caps with an exclamation point, or it’s considered misspelled in Serbia.)  That’s “Lynch the Serb from the willow tree.” There must be a lot of willow trees over there. It’s still a popular rhyme.  You can buy coffee cups with it online.

So our cousin is wearing a Croatian WWII uniform. Over there it was always incredibly easy to pass. All you had to do . . .  why am I using the past tense? Nothing has changed. The US is backing a Croatian government that’s revived the Croatian Nazi flag, and swallowed a whole lot of propaganda generated by neo-fascists amongst them. Anyway, all you have to do is convert to their religion — and the difference between Catholic and Serbian Orthodox churches would seem trifling to us — all you have to do is convert, and then, if need be, betray your own flesh and blood to the point of genocide, and you’re in. The Founding Father of Croatian genocidal hatred of Serbs was half Serb. Under that Klan hood was a mulatto. There are statues of him all over Croatia.

So what was my cousin doing, wearing a Croatian uniform? The Croatian military had a Master Plan for us ethnic Serbs well before they ever hooked up with Hitler. Germans approached genocide as an industrial science. Croatians approached it as an art form. Auschwitz commandants called for an investigation of their Croatian colleagues. I guess they were appalled with Croatian crimes against humanity.

Things like beheading people with saws, or cremating people alive.  I’m sure you don’t stay alive long inside a brick kiln inferno, maybe just ten, twenty seconds, as your subhuman ass is sucked up into the white hot glow of a kiln, be you a man, woman, child, infant, but still, that’s what came first, the cremation.  That’s the kiln’s chimney pictured in the banner.

The plan was to outright kill two/thirds of the Serbs living in Croatia, and convert the rest to Catholicism, thereby making them Croatians. Sounds like that handsome boy was on the smaller A list. How many of his siblings were on the other list? What was the story for them? For him?  What was he sucked up into?

But wait up. All this happened after grandma left. So what I want to know is, what was happening to her family?  Her husband was an ethnic Hungarian.  It was Austro-Hungarians enslaving Croatia.  So why did my grandparents have a marriage basically identical to the type found in the Upper South for the past several hundred years well into the 20th century, wherein a white man had two wives, one white, the other a wench?

So why was grandma a wench? I guess all you really have to do is google ‘Ottoman abuse of Serbs.’ That was for 500 years till just before the 20th century, a generation before she was born. In 1389 we got kidnapped to another Continent and held captive by people who did whatever they wanted to us.  Actually we hadn’t gone anywhere, the border had just shifted and we weren’t in Europe anymore. We were at the bottom of the Ottoman Empire. The rock bottom. And since we refused to convert to Islam, though I doubt they ever asked us nicely — after all they did need some untouchables — that’s where we stayed for 500 years. So we were the natives in a primitive Third World Colony. And the longer that went on, the more primitive we got.

And honestly, it wasn’t any better for the Croatians. There are stories of Hungarian (really Austrians lord, the Hungarian people were going through their own hell)  chasing naked Croatians with dogs for sport. What later became Croatian hatred of us Serbs, was really self-hatred. They went through the same kind of process immigrants to America went through when the first word they learned was the word, ‘nigger.’  The only real difference between them and us is that they were owned by Europeans, and we weren’t. So, of course, that just made them infinitely better than us. So who would know better than they how disgusting we are? Who else would want to kill us with such a passion?

And that’s why it’s been so much worse over there. It’s the people who are the most like you who are going to abuse you the most. It’s only when they can see themselves in you that they become irrationally hateful. Serbs know about that real good.

So what’s that about transcendence?

We were cut adrift over here. Grandma, at grandpa’s behest I’m sure, said we were Croatian, and said nothing about what was happening to her family. In the remote district we lived in, there were about 5,000 Serbian souls.  In the course of the war, 1,200 of them were lost to fascists, most in unimaginably sadistic ways.   I know of four Roknic cousins who perished at Jacenovac.

Being Croatian meant that we were superior people, but all the while, we could tell from the way grandpa treated grandma and the way she resigned herself to it, that she was most certainly not one of them. Neither was my dad. And dad was making sure I wasn’t either, imparting his daily catechism on how stupid and worthless I was. A standard to bear.

White America tried to convert him, seducing him with the illusion that if he pointed his finger at somebody else, and called them the nigger, he’d be free. And he worked so hard at it, rehearsed it over and over and over again throughout the waking day. LOL. He had such an incredible hot button going that any child would irresistibly push it. And all I had to do was make one smarmy comment about nice colored people, what was I, six or seven? And it was like a shot had gone off that reversed the polarity of the planet. Me and my imaginary friend, Martin, had a field day with that man.

He transcended himself. There was one moment in every one of those dreary days, while I endured that insipid catechism, when he’d stand me up on that stool, so he could see me from over the top of that podium, when there it was in his eyes again. I saw it, I saw it, I saw it. He thought I was awesome.linda4yoEvery day it would be the same thing, the same argument, with him ranting about the Negroes, and me getting the last word with the same rebuttal, “That’s not true! We’re perfectly nice people!” Every day he refused to believe it, argued against it vehemently, but he wanted to hear it said again and again, addicted to the identification I’d made, that reversed the projection he’d made, thereby negating our own inferiority.  He kept pushing me further and further out, till by adolescence he’d pushed me into a proper Serbian Nationalist remix — his genuine, if unconscious, political stance. It’s true. That old bigot raised me to be a black militant. But it wasn’t until I was grown and gone and had run that gauntlet in the real world, had gone all the way with it, that he believed me.

And found peace.

So that’s how I ended up crossing back over that color line to where I belonged. Although it was just like before in the Old Country. I hadn’t gone anywhere, the borders had just shifted again. And I found myself in a minority population of Serbs, at just the right density, totally in my element. Who says you can’t go home again?

And no matter how ill a relationship might go, how bitter I might get, when I cry out from the depths of despair, “Is this all I get for all my trouble?  For all the rascist persecution I’ve endured for breaking that taboo and crossing that line, what do I have to show for it?” to which there is only one answer, which reduces me to a fit of abject hilarity. I got a bunch of Serbians — exactly what I was looking for, worth absolutely anything.

That all happened because me and dad, and it was surely dad setting me up for this, saw something going on over here that would slam take your breath away like nothing else possibly could.

People getting themselves emancipated instead of exterminated.

What a concept. What a beautiful, brilliant concept that would require an unimaginably magnificent master stroke to pull off. Nobody on the planet can possibly appreciate African Americans the way Serbians innately do. Definitely not African Americans, LOL. Some days they get down-right Croatian. Never mind, I didn’t say that.

So, it’s like the lion’s share of an adult lifetime and I’m still wondering, where’s this transcendence?  In my time, which is considerable, giving away my age, I’ve had a relationship or two that was just like the one my grandma had.  Somebody went Croatian on me.  Why’d I let that happen? How did it happen?

Truth be told, we just hook each other by our patterns and we run with them. Or rather, they run us. Like me, seriously, I mean seriously, underestimating my worth, and feeling like I was lucky with crumbs. Giving everything I had, I mean, it didn’t matter at all how downright genius I might be about something, it had no value.

That’s the Serbian national spirit — despair — sheer, blinding despair. It doesn’t matter what you do. You can suffer horrible abuse like a saint for centuries until you finally break down and lash out during your gangsta’ phase, and that’s all anyone will hear about, care about, or judge you by. It doesn’t matter what happens, no one will ever care. You’ll never be worth anything.

This has to mean more than that. It does mean more than that. It means the world to a whole world. Everybody who’s been a child has belonged to a social class whose rights can be horribly mangled.  How do you know what that child is seeing in you?

Tell me, how many times, in the history of the world, has it happened that anyone serving as a symbol of rank inferiority turns that symbolism around 180 degrees, without becoming oppressors themselves?  How often has a pure transcendence like that occurred?  If you can’t see it, you’re just too close. The rest of the world sees it, except maybe a few fools who don’t count. And if you can’t see that, you’re still too close. And that’s the point. There’s a position to respect. An incredible position. It exists in the world, in public.

When is it coming home?

3 thoughts on “Transcendence”

  1. a most informtive read… it reminded me of one of my former pupil and my best chess team player,who came to me with a lunch problem.he requested something other than pork that was the main meal, that day.No one would belive he was a muslim….i had to inform the cook yes he is white and a serb muslim the cook gave me a long stare and agree to make him a none pork meal…. your wording position to respect… i have position my self in that of the rogue,corsair,privateer… i ask not for respect….i comand respect…..asking is as to grovel….. my stay in canada is to rid of the latent cast system of the good old usa

  2. Thanks for sharing that story, Millard, though most Serbs are even more atypical, everything is even more reversed, as we were a Christian population (Serbian Orthodox church) subjugated by Muslims (Turks of the Ottoman Empire). Generally,it was the Bosnians who were Muslims derived from the larger Serbian population. If your student’s family lived in Serbia proper they probably had a long history of distrust from their neighbors as “sell-outs”. The Serb violence against the Bosnians was portrayed as fascist aggression in the US media, when more correctly, it was more akin to a “native” uprising. (Though I should note, it’s argued which came first, but the ethnic Serb population in Croatia, including the village where my kin breathed their last, was undergoing severe genocide themselves.) The similarities in the dynamics of the Bosnian conflict were virtually identical to what was going on at roughly the same time in Rwanda. “It was the culmination of longstanding ethnic competition and tensions between the minority Tutsi, who had controlled power for centuries, and the majority Hutu peoples, who had come to power in the rebellion of 1959–62” (Wiki) The Serb’s role would have been analogous to that of the Hutu.

  3. I’m really sorry to learn some of the hard lessons you’ve learned along the way about race and identity. it’s a complex issue. For what it’s worth I do agree that black men seem to understimate some of the racial dynamics in the rest of the world… many of them seem to think they’re the only ones suffering from discrimination. For the record, I am a black man and have always suspected so but your blog really helped put the subject to more light. knowledge is critical to bridging misunderstandings. thank you for sharing your thoughts

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