UPDATE: Cosby hyperlink fixt.
I caught this down in the Clinton thread from a commenter:
I've noticed, TNC, that in lieu of fighting some of the fights on the subject of obvious racism, you have a tendency to just want to squash it and say "aw shucks, what are we so mad about anyways?"
I get this a lot--especially from my older African-American readers. The answer here is kind of complicated. It's easy, I think, to confuse people who deny racism exists with those who aren't particularly interested in always talking about it. I think some of this personal. I came up under a loving mother and very iconoclastic father (just this weekend he was agreeing with Newt Gingrich anti-bailout argument. two minutes later he proceeded to explain the significance of Cynthia Mckinney. it was all very beautiful and logical, actually).
The history and culture of black people was the air in my house. Not in that "Do you know who invented the straightening comb?" sort of way. But in that serious "read this book," "read that book" sort of way. My house was almost literally a library filled with books, about 75 percent of them about black people. Given that background, you might easily conclude that we spent our days around the dinner table discussing the evils of The White Man. But actually no. My folks had a very practical--almost conservative--approach to race and racism. They believe that, at the end of the day, black people had to compete. I'm not sure on this, but I never got that they held much regard for people who, say, would gather for the 25th anniversary of March on Washington, or even for people who gave gifts during Kwanzaa.
When those Malcolm X shirts became big in the early 90s my Dad refused to let me wear the one with Malcolm peering out the window with a gun. Now, Malcolm X was, in my house, about as close to Jesus as you could get. But Pops had a visceral aversion to Malcolm as a fashion statement, and basically believed that if you were committed to black folks you didn't wear it on a shirt, you didn't talk about it, you went out and did it. You didn't litter in your community. You didn't stand on the corner shit-talking. You raised your kids. You read the paper. You always had a book. You went to school and worked. Then you went in business for yourself--not for someone else--and worked some more. I remember Dad cornering me about that Malcolm shirt like it was yesterday, "Why are you so eager to tell everyone who you are?"I was, like, 14 at the time. But that one stuck with me.
My parents were very, very Conscious, but were almost saw white racism as a sort of side-note. They had a deep abiding belief that if black folks could cultivate a culture of "Do For Self" then white racism would basically be beside the point. There is a level of naivete in that, which I've grappled with throughout my whole journalistic career. (Check out this piece I did on Bill Cosby to see it on full display.) How do you create a "Do For Self" culture when black people are, basically, Americans, and Americans, themselves, are increasingly not "Doing For Self"? I was listening to Andrew Bacevich the other day, thinking, "Damn, he sounds like my Pops talking about black people."
Look, at the end of the day, I'm a liberal. I'm Pro-choice. I think government should ensure that all people are able to compete. I detest jingoism and think that talk of "American Exceptionalism" is self-deluding and moronic. I think creationism and science-denial is suicidal. But perhaps most importantly, I think the modern GOP--and thus much of political conservatism--springs from a group that has a nasty tradition of blaming black people for the larger country's own moral failings. They are cowards and bullies of the worst order, and I have no use for them.
And despite all of that, a specifically organic black conservative outlook is the closest thing I have to religion. It's just what I believe. This is real talk for you: If you're frustrated by my reluctance to engage in a fight over whether something is racist or not, or whether proven racism matters or not, I understand. But it really boils down to this--I'm not very interested in trying to show racist white people, and non-racist white people who defend them, the error of their ways. As a black person, I'm just kind of "Meh." I do it from time to time, but by in large I think we make a huge mistake when we continually view the fate of black folks through the prism of "what are white people thinking?" And then there's this idea that we're supposed to be the ones to cure white racism. So columnists keep calling on Obama to get racists to vote for him, but I rarely read those same columnists contemplating what it means, that at this late hour, people are so stupid as to vote purely based on skin-color. In other words, they want Obama to purify them, while doing nothing to purify themselves. In fact they make excuses for it--calling it "white resentment" or making up stupid stats like the "not comfortable with you marrying my daughter" index.
I'd much rather grapple with increasing black turnout for this election to
Australian levels, than grapple with some dude whose primary concern is
keeping Barack Obama from enacting reperations. That just ain't my fight. I strongly believe that just like knowledge, in and of itself, has it's own rewards, ignorance has its own penalties. If folks can't see that then that's their problem. Frankly, my hands are full right here in Harlem. Every day I walk out and see the same pack of hoppers sitting on the stoop. They're there in the afternoon and the evening, damn near oblivious to what's happening up here. My concern is them. It's a very weird thing--as an American, and as a human being, I'm deeply concerned about racial reconciliation. But as a black person, I don't much care. What does that mean? How did I get that way? Do any other black people feel that split?
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