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…
Pastor Lance


wwdunc said...

These are some very interesting thoughts, Lance--some things I've never thought about before.

Having grown up with Black folks who were born between 1895 and 1920, I do know things have changed greatly for Black people. Certainly, I didn't grow up in the same world that my grandparents and great-grandparents did. But, what really demonstrates to me that things have changed is looking at my sons. Whereas I grew up in an all-Black neighborhood where just about everyone over a certain age was born "down south", where just about everyone was a member of some Christian church (Baptist, Methodist or Pentecostal), my sons are growing up in a racially and religiously integrated neighborhood. They are growing up with vastly different views of themselves and the world about them than I had at their age. For the most part, I think, that's good. There has been much social progress in America. Also, my sons have spent 7 of their 14 & 11 years in a predominantly white, evangelical church. Needless to say, their religious experience is vastly different from mine at their age. Again, I think this has been a good thing.

So, these are some interesting thoughts you raise. Thanks for making us think.


Graham said...

Thanks, Lance, for this perspective into 'the end of blackness.' All three of your posts were very helpful to me.

Yet I come away with questions. As a white man who has taught in a black public school in Brooklyn (and lived in the neighborhood), I had the sense that blackness is very strong. I heard the (black) administration preach "proud to be black", and at least sometimes they traced roots back to the slavery era. Is that just an urban phenomenon? Or is this a "new" blackness based on a new situation?

I'm also intrigued by your statement that " . . . 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." Having lived in black Brooklyn for 5 years, my perception is that we do live in a racist society (and I am one of the guilty perpetuators), and that for my students their cultural identity [not color] as black is the single overriding factor that determines every important aspect of their lives. To turn away from their culture was to "sell out" or "play white." Moreover, if they retain their black cultural identity, they won't get the time of day in the culture of power. Am I confusing color and culture? Or am I misunderstanding you? Or is it something else?

Pastor Lance said...

yo dudes,

good thoughts from both of you. since I was planning to deal with these issues in further posts I'll not spend a long time responding to them here.

brother wyeth - both my children faced the same issues. in fact once we began attending a mainly black church (during one of my internships) my daughter was often accused of 'acting white'. yet in many ways she seemed to be blacker (in a more historical sense) than many of her counterparts.

graham - I suppose it would depend on if the teachers and students defined 'blackness' the same. my sense is that the teachers would identify more with the 'blackness of Obama, while the students might side up with 50 Cent. but you were there so what's your take.

re: racism. we no longer live in a society where racism is legal and given moral support by the church. i do believe that we live in a racialized society in which the economic, social, emotional and psychological benefits are weighted to the dominant culture.

the issue is what is the best and wisest way for black folks to respond to such a situation?

Graham said...

I'm not sure what kind of blackness the teachers would advocate, but the kids would certainly side with 50 cent.

And I appreciate your distinction between legalized racism, and a racialized society. And I agree that in this situation the pressing question is: What is the wisest and best way for black and white folks to respond to such a situation?

I look forward to reading more of your answers!

Jim Pemberton said...

This is a very thoughtful series, Pastor Lance. I was upset in the first paragraph that "blackness" would be considered by a minister to be a bad thing. I understand it has been that way and that some still hold such a vile sentiment. On top of this, the proposed solution was to adopt a no less corrupted human culture ("whiteness" as it were) as something that is to be aspired to.

However, inasmuch as whiteness is anti-blackness and blackness is anti-whiteness, such must be set aside. We as Christians certainly must understand that we are part of a transcendent culture, that of the kingdom of heaven, into which we are adopted immediately, but that demands us to continue to become more than what we are in this world and that demands us to live with one another according to our spiritual kinship. And this is after the pattern of Christ who submitted to our need sacrificially. Therefore, as Paul teaches, we must each strive to bear our own burden as well as bear the burdens of others - and this sacrificially.