Wednesday, August 22, 2007
The End of Blackness Part 2
Our fellow elder has asked a good question of me. Is the idea of ‘blackness’ dying? The short answer is yes. But before we delve into how, why and who or what’s responsible let’s get a working definition for what ‘blackness’ is. I use such a definition not because it is in any way exhaustive, but to highlight the point I began with the post ‘On Being Black and Reformed’: namely defining blackness is about as elusive as Barry Sanders was during his prime. But for better for worse here it is. According the Debra J. Dickerson (the author of The End of Blackness "Black," in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves. Voluntary immigrants of African descent (even those descended from West Indian slaves) are just that, voluntary immigrants of African descent with markedly different outlooks on the role of race in their lives and in politics. At a minimum, it can't be assumed that a Nigerian cabdriver and a third-generation Harlemite have more in common than the fact a cop won't bother to make the distinction. They're both "black" as a matter of skin color and DNA, but only the Harlemite, for better or worse, is politically and culturally black, as we use the term.”
This was the definition Ms. Dickerson employed when answering the question is Barack Obama black or black enough. Based on that definition Obama is not black. Granted he may have dark skin, true he is a member of a black church, yes he spent significant time as a community organizer working for issues that mainly affect poor black people, and the brother (let’s keep it real folks) married a black woman. Adding insult to injury brother Barack doesn’t even have a ‘slave name’. But for all that according to some Barack just ain’t black dawg! Not that Ms. Dickerson has anything against Senator Obama it’s just that he’s been weighed in the black balances and found wanting.
Back to our definition. Ms. Dickerson asserts that blackness is the purview of those who are descended from West African slaves and have a certain outlook on the role race plays in our lives and politics. Though the Nigerian cab drive, third generation Harlemite and Senator Obama are black as a matter of skin color and DNA only the Harlemite can claim to be politically and culturally black. It’s here that we have to make a significant distinction.
Ms. Dickerson states that there is a political and cultural blackness that Senator Obama cannot lay claim to regardless of his other qualities. Her definition however by default must accept that rapper 50 Cent is indeed very much black. In fact I’m quite positive that if you polled blacks in Harlem, Brooklyn, Compton and West Philly 50 Cent would trounce Senator Obama in a straight up blackness contest. Remember those things I said about Senator Obama earlier. As far as I know few if any would apply to 50 Cent. Now follow me closely. What if we were able to put the lifestyles and salient characteristics of Senator Obama and 50 Cent side by side and asked another group of black people about their supposed ‘blackness’? Tell me who would sisters Tubman, Truth and Wells say is black? Who would brothers Douglass, Dubois and Washington pick for their example of blackness? After listening to a 50 Cent CD and an Obama speech what would Malcolm and Martin make of them?
But that’s not the end of it. While many African-Americans are uncomfortable with the kind of blackness and lifestyle portrayed by some rappers, athletes and other entertainers few if any dare say that they and what they stand for are not black. In fact it appears that this is the new blackness, one that prizes and promotes violence, gross self-centeredness, grotesque pride, hyper-sexuality a frightening disregard for women and careless lack of concern for the black community. I could use a few other examples but I hope you get the point from this one. Blackness is dead. At least the blackness of Wheatley, Crummell, Garnet, Allen, Shadd, Bethune, Walker, Randolph, Evers, Robeson, Robinson and Hamer.
Blackness is dead. And we who pulled the trigger can now only stand over its corpse and wonder what’s next.
To Him Who Loves Us…