Monday, September 03, 2007
The End of Blackness Pt. 3
“Once you’ve gotten some education, landed a good job and are raising your kids out in the suburbs, well I don’t consider you to be black anymore.”
That’s a paraphrase of an answer to a question concerning affirmative action I heard some years ago. It was given by a veteran Civil Rights minister in response to a thirty something well educated African-American mother who phoned to ask why her children needed affirmative action since they attended suburban schools, were blessed with parents who graduated from college and all in all would have many of the same opportunities as their white counterparts who lived in the same area. Upon hearing her life situation the minister declared that in his opinion they were no longer black.
The point of this particular post isn’t affirmative action however, but the end of blackness. Debra J. Dickerson has stated that only those African-Americans who’ve descended from West African slaves are “politically and culturally black, as we use the term.” My last post on this subject asserted that the notion of cultural blackness is indeed dead. In this post I want to make the same point concerning political blackness.
To make a long, long story short the conviction of political blackness grew out of the meta-narrative of African-American enslavement and subsequent segregation. Whether it was the actual and legal Jim Crow south or the de facto but all too real John Crow north black folks were viewed, regarded and mistreated as 3rd class citizens. At one point in black history it didn’t matter how brilliant, educated, motivated, patriotic, and godly you were. What mattered was your blackness. For example, I remember talking to an older brother who spoke of his service in WWII. He served as a fire fighter and became quite skilled in doing so. However upon returning to Philadelphia there was no way he could land a job with the city fire dept. Why? Because he was black plain and simple. Up through the 1960’s there was a clear political reality for the vast, vast majority of black people who lived in America. But that reality is a thing of the past for we no longer live in a racist society. By that I mean that being black is not the single overriding factor that determines each and every important aspect of our lives.
In our drive to end segregation did we intend to put blackness to rest too? Yes, we did. We fought for a society in which our children would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Were we ashamed of who we were, where we came from and those who brought us through? Absolutely not. It’s just that we wanted to add the blessing of that strength to America with the hope that we’d be treated like all other Americans. To put it another way, the Civil Rights Movement set out to change the political reality that dominated black people toward the end that we would meld into the body politic of America. Now the consequence (intended or not) of that desire was that African-Americans would no longer be viewed as one monolithic group with one overriding political concern. Instead black people like white people would view their political fortunes based on their own personal circumstances. (I’m not saying that this is the only or proper way to approach politics only that it was one of the aims of the Civil Rights Movement)
What did we want? In one respect we wanted what most other Americans desire out of life. To live without the daily debilitating fear of the private terror that could invade our existence at the whim of any white man, to be treated with the dignity and respect due to everyone created in God’s image, to be given the same opportunities as all other Americans to pursue life, liberty and happiness, to have the hope that our children could one day obtain an education, land a good job, move to the suburbs, and send their children to good integrated schools. Did we mean to trade away our political blackness for this victory? Perhaps not. But all in all it was a small price to pay.
To Him Who Loves Us…