Blue-Eyed Son of Africa

I just finished reading The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, A Search for Family. Beautifully written and thoroughly captivating, it recounts the journeys of a reporter across the United States and to Africa to trace and uncover the African roots of his family tree.

Fiddler on Pantico RunJoe Mozingo, a writer with the Los Angeles Times, always doubted the various explanations given by his relatives pertaining to the origin of his surname Mozingo. A chance meeting with a black journalist with a similar name compelled him to look beyond the family rumors and legends that recounted ancestral roots in Spain or Italy. His curiosity led him to discover its connections to the African continent and to the earliest settlers in Virginia. His search for his ancestors also revealed an inconvenient truth many of his relatives refused to recognize or accept. It is a truth of which countless “whites” in the USA remain ignorant: their lost, hidden, or forgotten “black” ancestry.

How many so-called “blacks” crossed the colorline or were crossed by it during the course of our history as a British colony and then as the United States remains unknown and therefore unquantifiable. The phenomenon of “passing,” however, is well documented. A plethora of anecdotal evidence exists and stories similar to Joe Mozingo’s are receiving renewed attention and interest. None of this history should surprise anyone in the US. The mixing of Africans, Europeans, and Amerindians began as soon as the groups came in contact with each other. However, it is with the racialization of slavery and the advent of the colorline in the late 17th century that “whiteness” becomes a definable and desirable status and commodity. The value of “whiteness” increased with the importance of slavery to the US economy, and with the imposition of an apartheid regime of legal discrimination based on skin color after emancipation. Driven by the virulent antiblack racism of US culture, many women and men of African ancestry decided it served their best interests to obey the two principles of white supremacy: (1) Be “white”; and (2) Don’t be “black.” They ignored the social and legal restrictions sanctioned and imposed by the so-called “one drop rule” and purchased their “whiteness” with their feet. They walked or jumped across the colorline and disappeared into “white” America most often without notice. Their decision and choice reveals both the pervasive nature of racism in the US and its tragic absurdity.

Joe Mozingo writes with a keyboard and a machete. Like a field hand cutting cane, he slices through the tangle of dissimulation that comprises his family’s history and the history of the founding of the United States. The narrative path he carves out of time exposes the essential role of indentured Europeans, enslaved Africans, and disenfranchised Amerindians in building this nation and at whose expense and exploitation others could claim and achieve the American Dream. Realism trumps romance on every page of this book. Although Mozingo constantly imagines and re-imagines the life of Edward Mozingo, his African ancestor, and what it could mean for him and his family centuries later, he seldom loses perspective in his quest of self-discovery. Edward Mozingo thus remains more a mystery than a found object to be fetishized and worshiped. What emerges in the end is the story of a man whose family history typifies the American experience while challenging and contesting the status quo and meaning of American identity.

From The Fiddler on Pantico Run

As I listened to the dry rasp of the elephant grass, I gazed out over the Kingdom of Kom. A narrow gorge threaded through the lush terrain below, opening into a smoky blue chasm in the distance, the Valley of Too Many Bends. . . . This belt of fertile savannah in western Cameroon rested at a terrible crossroads, with no forest to hide in when the marauders arrived. The kings may have been safe in their fortified isolation, but their people were not. They were taken first by Arab invaders in the Sudan in the north, and then by the southern peoples who found that humans were the commodity Europeans most desired. . . .

Those who survived had been handed from tribe to tribe, through too many hostile foreign territories to dream of escaping and returning home. And then off they went, into the sea.

High on a ridge, three hundred miles by road from the Atlantic, I sat at the headwaters of that outward movement, imagining the people flowing away like the rivers below. I pictured a boy, gazing down into that blue mountain cradle, the grass dry-swishing in the breeze, the drums coming up in the night. A boy suddenly pulled into the current and scrambling to reach the bank. A boy unable to imagine the ocean and sickly white men in big wooden ships and the swampy, malarial settlement called Jamestown where he would be sold to a planter in the year of their lord 1644.

This is the beginning, I said to myself. The beginning of my family’s story, the point just after which my forebears obscured the truth—and nearly buried it forever.

Joe Mozingo

Joe Mozingo

See also:

The invention of the Color Line: 1691

Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line

One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets

The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s