A schizophrenic post on the civilizing effects of Barack Obama

EDIT: I flubbed Battiata's name little ways down in the post. Nothing deflates your point like misspelling the name of the person you're going after. I try guys. But I'm human. Sloppy, but human.

This is why Obama's Father's Day speech leaves me ultimately cold. To see people whose understanding of hip-hop doesn't extend past a few random viewings of BET,  or their disgust at the handful of black boys they happen to notice on the street or on the train, proffering this idea that Obama will civilize the blacks makes me retch:

Lately I've been wondering what an Obama White House might mean for the future of bling. For the fate of heavy gold, medallions, below-the-butt denim, the whole hip-hop gangsta fashion habit. What if January 20, 2009 turned out to be not just a cultural and clothing pivot point for adults -- a return to the minimalism of sleek, 60s-era sharkskin suits, the containment of golf-ball sized Barbara Bush costume pearls -- but a watershed fashion moment for teenaged boys?

That's Mary Battiata whose ignorance of black kids is revealed by the fact that she's still using the word "bling." The "racial resentment" in her statement is like level 12 on the "Arrogance of Whiteness" scale. I could almost hear the Pat Boone rocking in the background. Battiata then launches into a predictable argument that hip-hop fashion is the real problem in the black community, and that Obama's aspect may create some of sort cultural transition in which black kids think it's cool to walk around in business suits, because everyone knows hip-hop fashion can be summed up in gold teeth, wife-beaters and gaudy jewels. No one in hip-hop wears suits.

Listen man, I don't busy myself perusing the fashions of teenage white boys, but I'm quite certain if I did, I could find some pretty objectionable outfits (ones not ripped off from black people). But black people are the stand-in for poor people in this era, and poor people are always held to a higher moral standard. Battiata seems completely ignorant of the fact that hip-hop's sales have been tumbling for a few years now, that part of that tumbling is the disgust that black youth themselves have expressed with the music. A few key-strokes of google or, heaven forbid, some actual reporting with real live black kids would have given Battiata some grounding. But nuts to that. Better to sit on one's ass and hold forth on the finer points of black youth culture, because, you know, it's only black people.

I'm not suprised to see Mickey Kaus jumping in on this. Kaus can only think of three things when it comes to the blacks--welfare, affirmative action and sista souljah. He isn't even worth a block quote. I'm a little more bothered by Andrew Sullivan (anyone who reads this blog knows I'm a fan) pushing this dumb-ass notion that black kids don't call Obama "'nigger" out of some sort of sign of respect:

Random anecdote: walking the beagles the other day, I bumped into a neighbor who told me that she noticed one word that the young black teens and boys she knows in the neighborhood don't use about Obama. The n-word. Or as Battiata puts it: the suit next time.

First, I'm almost certain that isn't true. I know in moments of levity in my home, I've definitely heard an Obama speech and issued a "Nigger, please."  I know some of you agree with Andrew. You know how I feel. But, more generally, I hate this idea that ALL black teens are somehow interchangable with what a few white bloggers find most objectionable in hip-hop. When you have actual black teens in your family, when you are raising them yourself, when you were one at some point in your life, you understand how this need to make us smaller,  this desire to turn the most troubled amongst us, into all of us, is the cousin of welfare queens and Willie Horton.

A quick aside: I've spent most of my life learning this great craft from two sources--rappers and professional writers, most of them white.  I've been reading The New Republic, The Atlantic, and the New Yorker for most of my life, steady banging Wu-Tang Forever, or Reasonable Doubt the whole time. My Black Panther father put me on to Wall Street Journal when I was in high school, and the New York Observer when I was in college. My heroes in this business are virtually all white (how many black people are doing long-form journalism these days? I'm still stuck on Baldwin) and when I read shit like this and this, I'm left humbled wishing I was smarter and worked harder. And yet so often, these same writers (not literally the ones I linked) whose minds are so nimble and nuanced, go rigor mortis when it comes to black people. I don't get it.

There are many, many tribes of whiteness in America which I don't particularly understand. I didn't get how some white people go off to expensive colleges and then spend their friday nights, french-kissing a keg of the world's cheapest beer, until they're rendered unconscious. I remember the first white parties I went to, in my early twenties, and I was shocked to see people standing around clutching plastic cups, music playing, but no one dancing. It took some time for me to get blue-collar comedy. I'm still not up on cucumber sandwiches--but judging by the diabetes rates here in Harlem, maybe I should be.

We all have our prejudice, but every time I've ever mistaked that prejudice for some sort of insight, I've paid for it. I learned to like going to parties standing around at actually "talking"--I didn't have to worry about some dude forming a Soul Train and forcing me to do my pitiful rendition of the Reebok or the Cabbage Patch. I still don't get the "keg party" shit, but I can be found on Saturdays in September, at half-time, standing on the sidelines, my hand on my son's face-mask, telling him "Get'r done."

Before, I started reading Andrew, I thought all gay people liked the HRC, sort of how a lot of white writers think all black people like the NAACP or Al Sharpton. You live and you learn I guess. I want writers to stop assuming that they know who we are, that black people are so simple as to be summed up in the latest Henry Louis Gates's missive (or Ta-Nehisi Coates missive, for that matter). I want writers to stop wishing that Barack Obama will teach us how to act. As in most things, when discussing us, they've got it exactly backwards.