I am the great-great-grandson of an American slave, Amanda Gibbs, and the great-grandson of a free black man, Sylvester Wickliff, whose account of his life is among the slave narratives compiled in the 1930s by the WPA Federal Writers' Project. And that's just on my father's side.
My mother's people, who generally were poorer than my father's, were sharecroppers and farm laborers in Louisiana in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and no doubt they and their ancestors were slaves. My mother's father fled Louisiana for East Texas in 1919, to avoid even more trouble with whites who had already jailed him for a year for carrying a gun for self-protection.
My parents migrated northward in the 1950s to find opportunities absent for blacks in their native smalltown Texas.
With that kind of pedigree, imagine my surprise when, during my college years at the University of Notre Dame in the late 1960s, I found that some of the more vocal and militant black fellow students considered me "not black enough."
The reason? I hung out not just with the black students on campus, but also with whites. I even dated a white girl. There probably were other reasons as well - the way I spoke, the fact that I never really was very good at the perpetual angry scowl that was de rigueur for militants in those days of Huey Newton and Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael.
All those memories came floating back to the surface of my mind the other day when I read that some of Russell Wilson's black teammates supposedly don't respect the Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, because he isn't "black enough." I couldn't help but wonder whether he was black enough last year, when he was leading them and their white teammates to those big paydays and contracts that followed the Seahawks' championship season?
And then the irrepressible Charles Barkley weighed in in Wilson's defense, blasting "unintelligent" black people "who don't have success" and who "knock a successful black person down because they're intelligent, they speak well, they do well in school and they're successful."
Perhaps the most poignant part of Barkley's tirade was when he said, "When you are black, you have to deal with so much crap in your life from other black people."
As if to underscore his point, load after load of "crap from other black people" began falling on Barkley immediately - on Facebook, on Twitter and in assorted other venues. But one of the biggest, smelliest loads appeared in The Atlantic, in a piece titled "Charles Barkley and the Plague of 'Unintelligent' Blacks."
The piece was by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a talented young journalist-essayist whose exhaustively reported article, "The Case for Reparations" - published in The Atlantic last June - has turned him into the flavor of the moment in public intellectual circles.
Ignoring completely the issue that provoked Barkley's remarks, Coates quickly assigned them to the genre of "respectability politics," a label that seems designed to accomplish the same thing as saying the speaker is an Uncle Tom without actually using those words.
Then, in a kind of drive-by slander, Coates observed that "there isn't much difference between Barkley's claim that 'there are a lot black people (sic) who are unintelligent' and the claims of a garden-variety racist." Apparently hoping to take the curse off that slander, he quickly added: "I assume that Barkley meant to say something more nuanced."
That "more charitable analysis," he says, is "the notion that black irresponsibility is at least part" of America's "race problem." Barkley shares that view, Coates says, with, among others, one Barack H. Obama, president of the United States.
But both of them - and those who think like them - are engaged in respectability politics.
"Respectability politics is," Coates says, "at its root, the inability to look into the cold dark void of history. For if black people are - as I maintain - not part of the problem, if the problem is 100 percent explained by white supremacy, then we are presented with a set of unfortunate facts about our home."
It's my turn here to be charitable. I won't suggest, as I might, that Coates is one of those guys who has found a hammer - the reparations issue and the history that underlies it - and now views every utterance about black people and the race issue as a nail.
I won't suggest that his assignment of Barkley and Obama to the category of respectability politicians is a cheap shot born of a closed mind.
I won't even contest his assertion that the American race problem is "100 percent explained by white supremacy."
What I will do is remind him of a little aphorism that the Rev. Jesse Jackson used to recite to black audiences back in his heyday. "You may not be responsible for being down," Jackson would say, "but you are responsible for getting up."
And those who want to get up might even find that some of us who are "not black enough" want to and can be helpful to them.
As for those reparations, good luck to you, Brother Coates. Let me know how that's coming.