If there is one thing I'd like my white readers to get out of this blog, it is some sense of the great diversity of opinion and sensibility which exist within black America. One of the most poisonous ideas to emerge out of the cultural wars of the 80s and 90s was this portrait of black America as a hotbed of radical leftists who spend their days berating Jews, demanding reparations, and thinking of new and exciting ways to make white folks feel guilty. I think that image has come to dominate because so many public intellectuals working in the arena of race began to confuse the debates occurring in the sociology departments of elite campuses and in the salons of the Upper West Side, with the debates that rank and file black folks have amongst themselves. No disrespect, but New York City and the Ivy Leagues may be the most distortive influences on the picture of black life, short of BET.
I say that as an avowed liberal and lefty, who has his roots in the black nationalist communities. Obviously I'd love it if large swaths of black America were obsessed with social and racial justice, but take it from someone who spent many a day trying to make that a reality, it just isn't the case. This is important because a key measure of humanity is the right to be wrong, the right to be complicated, to be contradictory. Just as America can at once be the first enlightenment republic and still carry with it a long legacy of white supremacy, black people can be the greatest engine for social change in this country history, and still believe that gay marriage should be banned. I obviously have huge problems with the latter half of that equation, but once you see that, within a group, political views can diverge all kinds of ways, it becomes foolish to define a group strictly by those views.
This leads me to the latest backward attempt to analyze Barack Obama and race. I think the MSM, frankly, needs to just give up on this whole topic, their record is disastrous. First Obama wasn't black enough. Then he was so black that he couldn't win the nomination. Now the question is "How black is too black?" Lemme explain something to you, dog: I just watched a black man carry Iowa and Oregon and then carry roughly nine out of ten black voters. Don't give me that business about Appalachia. You know damn well if I had told you three years ago that a black man would do that you would have laughed at me. With that backdrop I've gotta say, I don't even know what the phrase "too black" means.
One thing I do know, the Times definition of blackness--"a sense of black grievance"--is a joke. And if it weren't Al Sharpton would have dominated the black vote. That sort of flat rendering of black America, keep up this false idea that the most unifying factor of black culture is the ability to make white people feel guilty. Look, I know this is tough to believe, but black people aren't nearly as obsessed with white people, as media would have you think. Fueling that notion is a cheap and easy way to fill some column inches, while not giving a flying fuck about stripping the humanity and complexity away from black folks. I should have known it was over when I saw the headline, but the dead giveway that I was in the midst of a half-hearted effort was here:
Mr. Obama’s campaign so de-emphasized race that for most of the 17-month nomination contest much of the news media became obsessed with the question of whether he was “black enough” to win black votes.
What a crock. Obama emphasized race about as much as most black people on the street emphasize race. What these intellectuals can't see is that the same issues that keep white folks up at night--the war, the economy, health care--are the same damn issues that keep black folks up at night. And I love the tautological bit about the news media obsessing over whether Obama is black enough. DUDE, YOU ARE THE NEWS MEDIA. You obsess over it because you're too lazy to ask the hard questions about Obama and race.
I love that the talking heads now think that they are the arbiters of what is and ain't black. These folks wouldn't be able to do the Electric Slide if you gave them a take-home DVD, can't pick Kenya Moore out of a lineup, ain't never set foot on the campus of an HBCU (don't even know what it stands for), and these cats are gonna tell us what's "too black" and what ain't. Come on man. Humor me a little, at least. Listen to some Isaac Hayes records. Then let's talk.
Commenter Herb offers a solid critique:
Yup, I don't believe in the "white people just don't get it" line of thinking. Half of what I know about black people I learned from white people. I'm talking about Peter Guralnick, Nicholas Lehmann, Kate Boo and Dan Baum. These are cats who treated black folks like actual human beings, who did not sit in apartments or in television studios pontificating and acting like they'd spent time learning the mores of black people, when, at best, all they'd done is read John Ridley's latest in Esquire. This ain't racial at all. I find Juan Williams about as ignorant about the current state of black folks as Pat Buchanan. I also think the author of this "What is too black" piece was black himself.
As for the point about culture, I don't believe in "racial" culture either. But much as Jews exist as a religious group and an ethnic group, blacks exist as a racial group (ugh, as much as race exists) but more importantly as an ethnic group. There is no universal white culture--but there is an Italian-American culture, a Jewish American culture, an Upper West Side culture, a white Southern culture, an Appalachian Scots-Irish culture etc. And all of those are tributaries feeding into the broader American culture. Black folks are the same way. The culture isn't race-based--anybody who spends some time studying, and is equipped with some measure of empathy, can get it. But my problem is people who don't want to put in that time, but then want to go out and make blanket statements about "What Black Is," if I may paraphrase Brother Jay.
It's like, am I not black because I don't sit around thinking about "black grievance"? If blackness is based on "black grievance," how did Barack grab 90 percent of the black vote when he spent most of his time talking about the collective needs of the country? Why is Bill Cosby one of the most popular figures, among black people, in this country? Why did Barack deploy Oprah to South Carolina? Are these people, now, not black?
There is great hypocrisy here: The same mofos who jump on the necks of urban youth for playing the "not black enough" game, will gladly turn the tables and pull the same shit on Barack Obama. If it's pathological for a sixth grader to tease another kid for being "too white," then its equally pathological to bloviate in the Times about whether Barack Obama is "too black."
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