I take Zumba class, which is basically a fancy exercise dance that's pretty much like when I took Jazzercise in the 80s only now you wear black yoga pants instead of a matching ensemble of hot pink and turquoise leotard, tights, legwarmers and headbands. And there is Beyonce (recorded) and rap instead of Bangles and Debbie Gibson.
I'm not bad at it. I can keep with the rhythm even though I am new to the routines. The teacher is a young African-American hip-hop dancer, and although the class is full of primarily middle-aged white women, he dances like we are all in the club. I love this, mainly because I never get to actually be in the club. It's why I like the class. It doesn't feel like exercise, it feels like fun and the time flies.
My theory about why I am good hip-hop dancing is that I maybe might be just a tiny bit black. I remembered some vague story my mom told me long ago about a possible scandal involving my great grandmother, who had 13 children, one of them my grandfather. I felt a good time to bring this up was Thanksgiving dinner, because this is when dysfunctional families talk about important things like who is in rehab or mysteries involving your family's race.
Me: "Mom, didn't you tell me one time that we might be a little bit black?" (Stunned faces on my five siblings; it’s the first they’ve heard of the possibility from Mom, who is very casual about our questionable racial heritage.) Mom: "Oh, you might be, honey." (Audible sibling gasps.) "There was always a rumor about your great grandmother and the train porter. If you look at a picture of my dad, he looks just like the black train porters they had back in those days."
This makes absolutely no sense to me, that train porters would look a certain way, but no one hopes more than I do that my great grandmother has a sordid affair with her train porter a hundred years ago.
I have always liked black people way better than whites. I love everything about them: their kind-hearted spirits, their music, their church, where I once was fortunate to be invited to speak during my brief political career and was very moved. God, and I so do not mean for any of this to be racist. It's not. Or if it is, it's unintentional and because I’m stupid, not mean. Trust me when I tell you that I'm saying black people are better than white people so if I am racist against anyone it's against my own lame race full of douchebags.
In America, we're all mutts. My family is no exception. I have a grandmother who was born in Ireland, a grandfather from Poland, another grandmother who was British and German. Mutts. Another family rumor is that my dad’s family were part of the Molly Maguires, which was some kind of Irish union mafia. I've always thought of myself as a gypsy mutt.
My grandfather is Cajun French, from Louisiana, and I remember him making jambalaya. He had a thick accent, but he didn't really look black, and all of us are pretty white looking. Still, I hold hope. I was having coffee with a friend of mine and she mentioned she is octoroon, which means she is legit 1/8th black. I was insanely jealous. I told her I might be a little bit black and she sort of smirked at me, like yeah right, and I was all no, really, my mom said my great grandmother might've had a black boyfriend a hundred years ago. And she's all smirk and I'm all whatever and suddenly we’re arguing over who is blacker and it's kind of ridiculous so we just start cracking up.
There's obviously no way to know what the deal was a century ago with my great grandmother, her involvement with transportation personnel and the origins of her 13 children. But on the Zumba dance floor, when I am busting a move and shaking it like I just don't care, a part of me hopes that maybe, even though I’m a very white-looking Irish girl, I am just a little bit black.