The following is based mostly on an excellent article in New York magazine by Toure: “Black and White on Martha’s Vineyard”.
Martha’s Vineyard is an island where the Kennedys and Clintons go for their summer holiday. This summer it seems likely the Obamas will be there too.
But as liberal as Martha’s Vineyard is, it is still divided by race. But not for the reasons you might think. As one black person put it: “On the racial stress test, I’d put the Vineyard at Canadian.”
The blacks there largely keep to themselves, not because they hate whites or because the whites will not accept them, but because they spend the rest of the year being Only Ones, as in the only one who is black. They are, Toure says:
black professional and social elites who travel in worlds where they’re often the only black person in the room. The Only Ones typically break into fields or companies that admit few blacks, move into neighborhoods where few blacks live, and send their kids to mostly white schools. They are not running from their own – they’re chasing after the best they can get. They aren’t assimilationist; they’re ascensionist.
In the rest of America they are too black for the whites and not “black enough” for the blacks. Martha’s Vineyard is the one place where they, and especially their children, can be themselves and feel good about being black. Life as it should be.
The centre of Only-One life in Martha’s Vineyard is Oak Bluffs. Their bit of the shore is called the Inkwell. Paul Robeson and Martin Luther King, Jr were there. These days you can see the likes of Lani Guinier, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Carole Simpson, Spike Lee and Reggie Hudlin. But not all the blacks of the Vineyard go there. Vernon Jordan, for one.
The question is, where do the Obamas fit in? Last time they went, in 2007, they largely avoided the Only Ones. One Vineyarder noticed:
He doesn’t seem to identify with affluent black people. His wife definitely doesn’t; she is basically a ghetto girl. That’s what she says – I’m just being sociological. She grew up in the same place Jennifer Hudson did. She hasn’t reached out to the social community of Washington, and people are waiting to see what they’ll do about that.
The Obamas, for all their education, money and ascension, are not Only Ones. They both knew Only Ones at university and wanted to be nothing like them.
Barack, brought up by the white side of his family, and in Hawaii of all places, felt utterly rootless. He was black but had no where in Black America to call home. Part of what drew him to Michelle was her rootedness.
Michelle, for her part, studied what became of black Princetonians and found that most of them disappeared into the white world, cut off from blacks – the Only Ones. The very people who now show up at Martha’s Vineyard.