A thought-provoking book about discrimination and family history
Kristl Tyler seems to like more blacks than whites. She always sees blacks as victims and blames only the whites for racism and discrimination. It looks like she believes in the noble savage theory, but I think that it would be more correct the one about homo homini lupus. Every human being can be intolerant and cruel, not only those with a white skin.
Every human being can oppress the others if given the opportunity and if black people were victims of the slave trade it was because the whites had a more advanced technology in the past. We shouldn’t forget that many Africans were sold to the whites by other black people. Moreover it’s difficult to talk only of blacks and whites after so many decades of interracial intercourses. In the USA the majority of the so called black people have also a considerable amount of white ancestry and this can be easily proved with a DNA test.
The author talks about the land the government gave to the whites, but she seems to disregard that it belonged to Native Americans. The United States of America after their independence from Great Britain continued to occupy new territories.
Kristl Tyler married a black man who was homeless and crack addicted when she met him. Even if she won’t admit it, I think she doesn’t like the concept of personal responsibility because she will never accept that her husband was to blame for his own problems, so she preferred to investigate the history of discrimination in the USA in the last 150 years in order to find a more suitable culprit.
After the preface, The Wheat Money begins to analyze the social changes that occurred when all the black slaves became free people in 1865. The Southern States lost the Civil War so they had to renounce to their slave system which exploited the black people in the cotton fields. But I don’t think that all the Northerners were disinterested in their benevolence. The economy of the Northern States was indeed based on industry and they could easily pay a cheap wage to their workers thus avoiding the necessity of directly giving them food and housing.
Kristl Tyler is proud of her pioneer ancestors, but for me it’s inevitable to think that the lands given to the white settlers belonged to the Native Americans, so I don’t care about the pioneer sufferings due to the difficulties of having a good crop in the dry plains and each time I watch a Western movie I’m happy when a white settler is killed by a Native American.
I also hate censorship, so I didn’t like to see the blurred face of a black man on a flyer about the Freedmen’s Bureau. The author says that she did this because “the features depicted are exaggerated versions of some West African groups’ features”. I found the original image on the internet and yes, what she says it’s true, but I still think that we shouldn’t hide history even if it can be unpleasant. It’s like the covering of ancient Greek statues which were considered immoral by Christian society.
In 1883 Kristl Tyler’s great-grandfather Ai moved to the Washington Territory and for the first time the author acknowledges that also other ethnic groups were victims of exploitations and discrimination like Native Americans and the Chinese community. Chinese immigrants had arrived to work on the railroads, but the whites didn’t want them to start their own businesses.
The author underlines the fact that her great-grandfather Ai became a rich man thanks to the Homestead Act, while Tolliver and Jemima were poor and worked as sharecroppers. Their daughter Videlia, who was her husband’s great-grandmother, didn’t go to school. According to Kristl Tyler, their different economic condition was due to the color of their skin, but we should remember that not all white people in the world were or are rich. My great-grandparents were sharecroppers and my grandparents couldn’t attend school on a regular basis because they had to help them. And this happened in the 1930s and 1940s. They hadn’t any food to eat during their school break, so the only thing they could do was watching the richer children eating their own. They noted that they had more food because in their families there weren’t so many kids. This is why when they got married my maternal grandparents decided to have only two children.
Ai was an exceptional businessman: he started up a livery stable, took over a general store and started up buying acres and acres of land from deeply indebted white farmers. He later bought a hotel and founded a bank. In the early 1900s he began to use his land for commercial wheat farming: The Wheat Money, now I understand the title of the book.
In 1912, Videlia gave birth to her only child, Beatrice. She was a single mother and the father of her daughter was probably a young man who in the census listed his occupation as “odd jobs”. Also Videlia’s brothers reported their occupation as “odd jobs”, while their father Tolliver continued to sharecrop. At this point Kristl Tyler assumes that all these black men were exploited by the convict leasing system, a terrible practice that involved accusing black people of false crimes to oblige them to work for free, but in reality she doesn’t know if her husband’s relatives were being obliged to work or if they chose to abandon sharecropping to improve their economic conditions. A few years before World War I, one of my great-grandparents emigrated to the United States and worked there for seven years as a railroad laborer before coming back to Italy.
During that war, many black men signed up to serve their country with great enthusiasm to prove their worthiness for equal treatment. Videlia’s brother General Sherman Eugene Young was one of them. He worked as a laborer for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Kristl Tyler doesn’t know if he was ever called up, but she devotes some pages to the description of the unfair treatment received by the black soldiers who weren’t sent overseas and then compares their war experience with that of her grandfather Otto who was discharged just thirty-nine days after he had enlisted. He was assigned to a camp in Texas, but he was soon told to prepare for a trip to New Jersey for discharge. The war was over.
In those years many blacks were recruited by rich white Northerners to work in their factories, since a lot of white men had gone to fight overseas. Unfortunately it was perfectly legal to pay blacks lower wages. On the one hand the arrival of so many blacks in the Northern cities put out of work or reduced the pay of poor whites. On the other hand black people were understandably happy to live in cities where there was no segregation for them like in the Southern states. Why does everything seem so familiar? Maybe it’s because many governments have just decided to flood Europe with an incredible amount of immigrants hiding their real purposes behind humanitarian reasons.
Jemima, who was already a widow, died in the 1920s and her granddaughter Beatrice was adopted by another black woman. The girl worked as a farm laborer. We don’t know what happened to her mother. Kristl Tyler couldn’t find her in the 1920 census.
The author’s grandfather Otto got married in 1921 and had two boys in the first years of his marriage, while the author’s mother would come only in 1943. They lived in Whitman County, Washington and their land was destined to wheat farming. During the harvesting season they hired several white laborers because they lived in an exclusively white community.
In 1941 the US declared war on Japan. Otto and Leah put their eldest son in charge of the farm, so he was given an exemption, but their second son Leland was sent to Italy and died in 1943 during the landing at Salerno.
In the 1940s Beatrice married Sampson Tyler. He was fifteen years older than her and had been a soldier during World War I, thus qualifying for veteran’s benefits.
The Wheat Money uncovers many dark pages of US history like the creation of black neighborhoods and the use of dozens of black men to study syphilis without letting them know they were ill. They thus spread the infection to their wives who in turn gave birth to infected children.
Kay Joy, the author’s mother, had a happy youth. Her parents had a boat and she also spent some time in Hawaii. She attended college, but she dropped out when she got engaged. Kay Joy had fulfilled her main purpose, that is finding a college-educated husband. It seems that unfortunately this was a very common practice at that time as it is possible to see in the Mona Lisa Smile movie with Julia Roberts. Kay Joy got married in 1965. Kristl Tyler’s father finished his master’s degree in the same year and then the couple moved to Texas so that he could study for his PhD. Kristl Tyler was born in Texas, in 1968. That was the same year her father completed his PhD and accepted a job as a professor.
In 1963 Bill, the father of Kristl Tyler’s husband fell in love with a thirteen-year-old girl. Diane became pregnant, and Kristl’s husband was born in 1964. Bill was eighteen years old at the time and tried to make a living repairing cars for other black people who often couldn’t pay him. Their son William was seven years old when they moved to Denver, Colorado. Diane had an aunt who lived there. Bill already knew how to repair a car, but he attended classes at the Ford Motor Technology Institute hoping to find better job opportunities. It was very disappointing for him to realize that auto shops wanted to hire him only as a janitor. Bill couldn’t prove there was any racial discrimination, but he thought this was the problem. Before long, her wife gave birth to their fourth child. After a few years Bill decided to go back to Louisiana, but Diane didn’t follow him because she had found work as a teacher’s aide. The wage was low and she continued to qualify for government assistance.
Diane began dating a white man who had just returned from prison. William had asthma attacks and his mother gave him weed and whiskey as a remedy. William liked going to school, but he also enjoyed stealing bikes and cars to have a ride. It’s really upsetting reading how Kristl Tyler is always ready to justify her future husband’s bad deeds. Coming from a working class family doesn’t mean that you are entitled to steal. I learned that the world is unfair when I was still a child, but I didn’t steal my neighbor’s moped only because she received one from her parents despite the fact that she had bad marks at school while mine didn’t buy me one even if I was the best student in my class. Something similar happens in the Easter rabbit episode when Kristl Tyler invites her black best friend to her house and after the girl leaves, the author finds out that she had taken away her plush rabbit leaving a plastic and cheaper one in its place. Another neighbor of mine had a bedroom full of wonderful toys I didn’t have, but I never stole anything from her.
Kristl Tyler criticizes the zero tolerance policies at school, but she should consider that also 100% tolerance policies can be very detrimental for the students that start bullying the teachers with the support of their parents and of the school directors whose only interest is to please misbehaving students and menacing parents to avoid losing students and therefore government funds like it’s happening here in Italy where teachers are forced to give higher marks and pass undeserving students.
In the chapter about the 1980s Kristl Tyler talks about her first jobs delivering newspapers and as a babysitter. She was a bad student, but she was admitted to the same college where her father had studied for his PhD because she was the daughter of a former student. I really appreciated her words against legacy admissions which grant undeserved privileges. During her teenage years, Kristl dated some black boys and Mexican guys. Her mother lost her job as a substitute teacher because the school principals were against mixed relationships. Kristl loved everything black and justified even a black girl who picked up her purse telling that she wasn’t a criminal, but just a kid and that she had been silly to leave her purse unattended while she was at school. It just sounds as terrible as justifying a woman’s rape only because she was wearing a miniskirt! Kristl believed that blacks did everything right and whites did everything wrong. She believed they could never be racist, since they were victims of discrimination. Her blindness is appalling. Kristl Tyler dropped out of college after the first semester. When she realized she was pregnant she decided to have an abortion. Her former boyfriend had been cheating on her and she wasn’t ready to be a mother.
In those same years her future husband continued to steal and sell things after being kicked out of high school. In the past he had been arrested and released several times because he was too young for prison, then he was sentenced to a group home and finally to seven years of jail. He was released four years later and became addicted to crack. He used to smoke weed, but he didn’t know that the dealers were now selling marijuana joints with crack. When he found out what was really smoking he began to use rocks and glass pipes and he continued to commit property crimes to appease his addiction. He was so different from the good black boys Kristl had been dating, but in 1988 she read in Malcolm X’s biography the absurdity that every educated black man who marries a white woman reduces the pool of black men available to educated black women. As if a black woman couldn’t choose her husband also among white men.
In the 1990s William spent the entire decade going in and out of jail. He was also addicted to alcohol and even his mother didn’t have any room for him in her house. In the meanwhile it was only when she turned 22 years old that Kristl Tyler realized that she was ready to start college again. She moved to Colorado because her father had just accepted a job as a professor there. Kristl was interested in educational video production and she was offered a summer internship in a company owned by a friend of her father. Just before her graduation in 1993 she received a job offer from the same educational video company. Kristl worked there for a year then she looked for a graduate school because she wanted to learn how to create educational software. After the graduation from her master’s program in Arizona she moved to Washington DC and worked for a company there. On campus at Colorado State Kristl Tyler for the first time met with open rejection from her beloved black people, so she dated brown-skinned men of other heritages instead of American black men. Her first boyfriend in college was a dark-skinned Jew. At the beginning Kristl thought he was of Palestinian descent and she was disappointed to learn he was Jewish (the oppressors of the Palestinians). In retrospect the author realizes that the two most important criteria she had in mind when selecting a boyfriend were dark skin and a history of oppression. During her years of college she dated also a Somali, an Indian from Tamil Nadu and a Colombian.
In Washington DC Kristl Tyler saw many black people who held high positions in different federal agencies. They no longer needed her to save them or protect them from mean white people, so she could feel free of guilt. He knew a former NFL player who was divorced. She felt comfortable with him because she didn’t want to get married and become a stay-at-home mom. In 1999 Kristl returned to Denver after finding a job in computer consulting. A few years before she had begun to move away from educational software and toward more technical work as a database developer.
Back in Denver, Kristl enjoyed her job and spent the weekends with her niece and nephew. They were half black, but the author didn’t have any contact with poor blacks in that period. Her favorite population of oppressed people had always been American blacks and it was very important for her to get the approval of black women. During a period of recession, Kristl lost her job and went to live with her parents. Six months later she was no longer unemployed and she decided to move to downtown Denver. The author had always enjoyed living in situations of contrived suffering because she felt guilty for her whiteness and her privileged middle-class life. She felt she would be selling her soul, if she married a white middle-class man.
In 2005 she purposely chose to purchase a house in a low-income neighborhood where she was one of very few whites. The neighborhood of Cole, in downtown Denver, was full of homeless and addicted people, but Kristl Tyler wanted to be around poor black and brown people. In that place she felt important because she could give life advice and money to the kids who lived there, while middle-class and educated black people wouldn’t accept her intrusion so easily. One day William introduced himself. He was looking for a job and offered to help her with the lawn. Kristl said no, but then she saw his backpack in her shed. Under the backpack there was a sleeping bag. Kristl reaction is really shocking because instead of getting angry, she tells him he can sleep in the shed. She had realized he was homeless.
On June 7th, Kristl turned 37 years old and she suddenly decided she wanted to be a mother. She was so desperate that she sent a text message to the Jewish guy she had dated when she first started back to college. She asked him to be her sperm donor, but of course he didn’t take the inquiry seriously. Kristl then turned to William and asked him if he was addicted to crack. He answered that he was not a crackhead, but he admitted to be a crack server, that is a middle-man between users and dealers. William didn’t seem interested in the white lady and invited another woman to sleep with him in Kristl’s garden.
At the beginning of July William was arrested for drug possession. He was released about a month later and Kristl decided to ask him to be her sperm donor. Twenty days after she was pregnant. My reaction after reading this? I thought she was absolutely crazy. How could you choose to have a child with a homeless felon involved with crack?
Soon after that, Kristl Tyler found out that William was also addicted to crack. He was now living with her and she set up a hidden camera in the house. Instead of being worried, Kristl was sure she could help him overcome his addiction. She thought that alcohol and drug addictions were diseases of the brain. She didn’t agree with those people who continued to judge addicts as if it was entirely a matter of self-discipline. Justifying, justifying what should be blamed. That is the essence of her behavior.
Kristl helped William to find several jobs, but as soon as he received his first paycheck, he would use it to buy crack. Kristl got angry and shouted at him because he had to decide whether he wanted to just be a sperm donor or a father. Wait, wait! Didn’t she say at the beginning that she just wanted a sperm donor? Who was tricking who?
William was arrested again and she asked him to marry her while he was still in prison. He was released on June 15th, 2006. Leah would be born two weeks after that. When William relapsed after getting clean in prison, Kristl decided to leave the inner city and move out to the suburbs. William racked up some impressively long stretches of sobriety, but he wasn’t cured.
After so many attempts over so many years, Kristl Tyler is defeated, but she still refuses to consider divorce because he is part of her family. She doesn’t even consider protecting her daughter. For Kristl it is enough to confine him in the garage when he tries to sell the electronic devices he can find at home.
Kristl Tyler is really proud of being the mother of a black woman, but her daughter’s skin is so light that she looks more white than black and if she marries a white man she will have children who will surely look 100% white.
What can I say to conclude such a long review? Many times I don’t agree with Kristl Tyler’s point of view, but I certainly appreciate her extensive research work and I found both the topics treated and the personal history of her daughter’s ancestors extremely interesting.
I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.