Friday's passing of Gertrude Baines at the age of 115 makes the case for reparations. It turns out she was the daughter of ex-slaves.
I'm not generally in favor of reparations, especially since I feel like the free market works in its own reparations. (I haven't bought an album by a white artist since 1989. What do you think R & B stands for? Reparations for Black people! Seriously, you've got white people everywhere buying up hip-hop and rap albums -- what do you think "rap" is short for? Raparations!)
But on the other hand, a common argument against reparations is that there are no living ex-slaves or their children to pay those reparations to. "How do we know?" I always ask in response. "Do you know how long black women live?"
No one had to tell me that Gertrude Baines was black. In fact, before Gertrude, the oldest person was a black woman named Lizzie Bolden, who died in 2006 at 116. And yet for some reason, it's a Jewish tradition to tell people on their birthdays, "May you live to 120!" When the relatives say this to me, I reply, "What -- do I look black to you?"
My people only say it; black people actually do it.
A few weeks ago the oldest dog, Chanel, died at the age of 21. That's 147 in dog years. Sure enough, the white dachshund belonged to a black woman!
Seriously, though, I've never heard of a black woman dying of old age or age-exacerbated conditions before turning 95. And I've often wondered if this has to do with how well black women age. When they're 40, they look 25; when they're 60, they start to look 40; when they're 80, you can tell they're at least 50. You don't know a black woman has aged -- until the funeral. At which point you lean into the casket and exclaim, "Oh no -- what happened? A car accident?"
"No--she was 108 years old!"
Even in the early 2000s, when black disco stars from the 70s were portrayed in film, the producers never had to find actors to play them -- they got the actual recording artists to play themselves. Because they looked essentially the same.
And take Nell Carter. Did she ever look any older from the way she did on "Gimme a Break"? Tragically, Carter died an untimely death in 2003 from diabetes-related heart disease at the age of 54 (that's 32 in black years). But I contend that her chances would have been better if she hadn't become Jewish. (And Republican on top of it, in case Jewishness wasn't stressful enough.)
In college I waited tables with a black girl named Regina, who was the first to point out to me that black women age better than white women. "Even women from some Hispanic cultures age better than white women," she added.
"Well that makes sense," I answered.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
I explained that if you think about it, black people are only expected to worry about other black people, mostly dealing with problems that afflict their communities. Hispanics look out for other Hispanics, and Asians take care of their own too. But white people have to think about everybody, and feel guilty about everything that happens to every kind of body. So who's gonna get the wrinkles?
You don't see the NAACP starting up a collection for poor Russian Jews. Puerto Ricans aren't trying to empower trailer park communities. There's no For the Wasps Foundation. It's white people who have to keep everyone happy. Why do you think we're so pale? Notice how hippies age the worst of anyone. Because they're so busy caring about everything, whether or not it needs caring about.
Come to think of it, I have a friend named Terri who's also my family's realtor. She's black, but one time I caught her putting brown foundation on her hands. I asked her why she was doing that and she told me she had a skin condition in which her skin changes color when she's under a lot of stress.
"To what color?" I asked.
So, Gertrude Baines, may you rest in peace. Being both Jewish and Republican, I certainly won't be able to do so down here. In fact, I'll probably make it only as far as my fellow Jewish Republican Nell Carter did, and will be coming to join you soon enough.