A: It is fortunate that you speak of counterparts because that is a rather useful term.
I have never been, since my highschool days, one to consider white Americans to be a block, and it has always been my experience even as a black nationalist, to understand the difficult work involved in creating an ideological racial unity. Let us take religion for example. My mother grew up Catholic and my father grew up Episcopalian. Neighbors in our all black neighborhood went to different churches, and of course there were heathens as well. Neither of my parents had any religious devotion until the end of their radical politics somewhere around 1968 for my mother and 1972 for my father.. Much as people desired to create and sustain black unity all manner of simple differences among black Americans kept that from happening on a consistent basis.
Nevertheless, you could always find counterparts. When I went to church with my father, I had one set of friends. When I went with my mother, a different set. When I went to Catholic school, I had another set of friends different from those in the neighborhood’s public school. I did not attend school with any white kids until I was 12, for summer school. That was one set. The following fall, I attended a different school with white students. The following summer, I went to a day camp with another set of white kids. Within a year of my 12th birthday I found three different counterparts of white kids my age. I cannot say how common such an experience is, but it was out of the ordinary at the time, and yet I found a great deal in common with other black students with similar experiences. Over my highschool days I was somewhat uncomfortable with my own lack of general popularity like any teen, and yet I got on well enough with the various cliques, swim team, soccer team, computer club, monogram club, national merit kids.
As a big brain but a lousy student, I was well rounded but didn’t understand much at all about American society or what was expected of prep students in any deep way. I had no extended contacts of any sort into the upper middle class or upper class other than the shallow associations of alma mater. I could wear boat shoes but didn’t know anyone with a boat. Soon enough, I was sidelined from college because no money, and I found myself with a union job. New counterparts altogether. Eventually I worked my way through college and got a serious good job and moved into the upscale community that is where I live now, but then I moved at the age of 30 to New York City from LA where I grew up.
By the time I was 30 I perfectly comfortable and used to dealing with people from pretty much all walks of life, but I did so as a particular stripe of black American and spent a lot of time perfecting that image. In doing so, I didn’t really expect any parallels. The best way I could explain it was this: if all Americans were surprised and shocked at the very existence of Denzel Washington and The Cosby Show, and eventually and ultimately Barack Obama, I was the smug one who was living that life all along. To the extent I took any pride in that you could call me a Black American Prince. I don’t think I was such a douchebag, but there are I’m sure plenty folks who might disagree. Like most people with relatively good looks, relatively high IQ and relatively affluent employment, I played the role. This is something akin to what is now called ‘white privilege’, which basically means you act like gangsta rappers and diss everyone else as a sucka, except you do it with precise diction while wearing a tie and boat shoes. In this attitude as well, I had counterparts.
As I matured in my career, got married, had babies and moved to the suburbs, I found various counterparts as well, but finding them became less and less important over time. During my 30s, my ambitions had to do with finding the proper teams and markets to advance my wealth - this outside of pretty much every world generally associated with ‘minorities’.
But I should say something about being black in America which any successful black person will tell you. It’s very much like being Rocky Balboa. Sylvester Stallone is 5′ 9″. It would be ridiculous to try to deal with him as if he were short and every kind of lack in confidence you would think short men have. It’s like trying to punk Henry Kissinger because he wears glasses, or Jay Leno because he has a big chin. You’re just an idiot to assume people think of it as a handicap the way you assume. And that is precisely the idiot position that prejudiced people put themselves into. Do you actually think you’re doing me a favor by not calling me nigger? Do you actually believe I’m psychologically handicapped by something to brain dead obvious? I would literally be shocked if something like that would get to me, not by the racism itself, but the the fact that I’m facing someone so stupid and provincial that they think it would work.
At any rate, I don’t see how anyone who is reasonably successful in America doesn’t figure out a way to identify with their peers and counterparts in all different areas of their lives. It is why I think ‘race relations’ is stupid, rather like I think collective bargaining is stupid. But, having been a union employee back when I was still a teenager, I understand and recognize that there are some people who cannot negotiation with the boss on their own behalf. There are people who would seriously screw themselves over trying to get a raise or air complaints about their job, and they need some agency to work things out for them. Understood and respected, but not for me at all. So I understand that millions of Americans need to feel some confidence that they are being properly represented to The Man. I wish them the best of luck, honestly, but I know that can only get them so far.
These days I endeavor to make deeper connections to my tribes. I belong to many. As well, I make connections to history - to people who are no longer alive, to ideas and traditions deep in Western and non-Western cultures. I have lived long enough to get bored drinking KoolAid, so I’m down with scotch, (and soju and cachaça.)
About a decade ago, a lot of Americans liked to think they were living at the beginning of a ‘post-racial’ era, which makes about as much sense as saying that once you’ve been accepted to Stanford you are living in ‘post-stupid’ era or once you make six figures you are living in a ‘post-poverty’ era. No. You’re just working with a different set of counterparts, for the time being.
I suppose I should add as a final note that as the Jedi said, “There’s always a bigger fish.” I don’t waste time or energy worrying myself about the existence of people who are not actually my counterparts but are clearly my superiors, wherever they may be in life or in history. My own ambition is quite enough work for me, thanks.
There was a young man whose name I cannot remember, a colleague of mine. We were out drinking in the late 90s somewhere in Federal Way, WA. We were working together trying to land a deal with Boeing. He was talking about his background and a particular difficulty he had. As the conversation went on, I suddenly realized as he described his family background that I was very much like his father. Perhaps that was the reason we got along. Economically speaking, he had certain advantages that I never had being the son of social workers. He understood money and business in a way that seemed natural to me, whereas I would have to consciously discipline myself to be as financially scrupulous as he. He had good money habits and I did not.
Some years after that, I began to think about generational capabilities of economic development. It wasn't the first time, but this time (around 2003?) I did so outside of the context of demand but in supply. People often say that minorities do not succeed in various areas because of prejudices against them on the demand side. "Nobody wants to watch movies with black stars outside of America" or "There's a glass ceiling and nobody wants black CEOs". But starting after the LA Riots, I thought, nobody black I know studying business wants to run a grocery store like Koreans do. Nobody black wants to be a craft brewer. What is the shape of black ambition to begin with, and what legacies do they create to make that easy? Well that's an interesting economic study, but it is often ignored when people like to make broad comparisons between 'black' and 'white' income and wealth. Next time you hear such a discussion, ask a black person if they would like to be a cotton farmer. If you manage not to be rudely accosted, the honest answer will likely be that the thought never occurred. Black Americans may have had at one point in time, every skill but no opportunity to master the cotton industry. When the color bar was lifted, ambitions pointed in another direction. The Great Migration depleted the South of its sharecroppers.