What does the First Family’s vacation destination reveal about the limits of integration and class within the black community? A whole lot, at least according to Touré, whose NEW YORK magazine article, “Black and White on Martha’s Vineyard” is still sparking fireworks.
For generations, high-achieving African Americans who exist in elite, all-white environments during the rest of the year have flocked to the Oak Bluffs section of Martha’s Vineyard in order to mingle with other “Only Ones.” There, folks like Spike and Tanya Lee, Vernon Jordan and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., don’t have to explain themselves or defend their achievements. A shared understanding of the Only One pressure creates a bond that Touré interprets as“self-segregation.”
Similar levels of achievement certainly make for cozy and memorable moments. But should the Obamas stay in Oak Bluff? Sure, the first family are truly Only Ones, like the rest of the Oak Bluff community. But at least one unnamed resident considers Michelle Obama a “ghetto girl,” who wouldn’t fit in. It's this “ghetto girl” comment that has attracted the steadiest stream of commentary on the article, and it also speaks to a viable, if absurd strain of thinking among African Americans.
See, according to some Oak Bluff old-timers, not all Only Ones are created equal. Generational depth and affluence remain the line in the sand for some within the black elite. Whether it is skin color, counting generations of college graduates or tracing the family lineage back to free people, some highly accomplished African Americans seem more welcome in Oak Bluffs than others. Despite all of the progress, and all of the barriers that African Americans have transcended, it seems like some folks are still stuck debating the difference between the right and wrong kind of black people.
And in that sense, Martha's Vineyard and its clan of Only Ones represent the unhealthy, competitive underside of integration. Obama should take a page from Vernon Jordan and skip the drama altogether.
Jennifer Baszile is the author of The Black Girl Next Door.