Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blackness Defined

Recently Governor Rod Blagojevich ruffled some feathers and basically proved he’s an ass by claiming he should be considered “blacker" than President Obama because he grew up poor and once shined shoes to make money. Since Obama’s election there have been a number of similarly foolish and controversial remarks, such as Harry Reid’s “negro dialect” commentary when noting that the absence of one (except when convenient to turn it on) plus having light rather than dark brown skin made Obama more electable. Reid’s statement was poorly phrased but I wouldn’t argue its accuracy. After the President’s state of the union address Chris Matthews proceeded to state on air that while listening to it he forgot for an hour that Barack Obama is black. Although he may have wanted to phrase that a bit more eloquently, I’m not especially bothered by Matthews' temporary amnesia. Forgetting someone’s race for an hour is certainly no sin. In fact it’s something most people probably need to do more often, and not just where the President is concerned. Each of these statements and others, while insulting to varying degrees, have been illuminating. They demonstrate that preconceived notions of what it means to be an African American stubbornly persist, that this nation is anything but post racial yet. We’ve come a long way, especially of late, and we’ll go further still in the years to come. I echo what the President said in his latest speech. I too have never been more hopeful about this country, even while frequently shaking my head as prominent individuals continue to express absurd, antiquated notions about their fellow man. Following is a stream of tweets inspired by the absurdity.

Lets face it, both white AND black people need to come up with a better definition of "black person" if insistence on defining continues.

Is someone black because of refusal to adhere to rules of standard grammar? Darkness of skin? Darkness of mate's skin? Size of bank account?

Is black defined by taste in music (hip hop hell yes, classical or country heck no)? Taste in literature (why the hell should I read, I'm keeping it real)?

Is black defined by handling skills of a basketball? Number of children by women you didn't marry? Wardrobe? Zip code? Dietary preferances?

I had intended to leave phallic dimensions out of this, but no definition of blackness would be complete without it I suppose.

Somebody please tell me if I'm black? If so, why? If not, why not? Otherwise I have no idea whether to get grilled or fried chicken for lunch.

And no, I will not be providing penis photo (Greg Oden may be accomodating though) or my SAT score to help you answer. You'll need to guesstimate.

I must say though that I have a hard time staying mad at white people (or those of other races) for holding stereotypical views of me if black people do so as well.

Upon further reflection, I'm more annoyed to be judged in a monolithic manner based on ridiculous criteria by someone of my same race who should know better.

If someone from Tibet judges me unfairly I can rationalize they probably don't encounter many brothas over there. Ignorant by lack of exposure.

But when judgment comes from random black guy/gal who lives two towns over from me - WTF, expand your horizons just a tad why don't you?

Now that we have a black man in the oval office, many African Americans hold race based expectations of him. I don't expect Obama to "fix" all so called black issues any more than I expected every prior POTUS to focus on fixing all things white.

Obama has an ambitious agenda but like any POTUS will only accomplish so much. Economic slowdown, healthcare reform & ending war are his main priorities. Between those three issues he might have little opportunity to deal with much else.

If he does pull off his 3 most pressing agendas, Obama's presidency will be a major success no matter how much else people hoped he might have done. Previous black firsts (Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Charles Drew, Madame C.J. Walker, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sidney Poitier, Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, etc.) all excelled so I expect Obama, within the confines of realistic expectations, to do just fine. If he goes beyond those 3 and pulls off the neat trick of reforming education and expanding who in this country can afford to obtain it beyond high school, he'll become the stuff of legend, worthy to have his mug on a coin or dollar bill.

And regardless of how some people may choose to see him, he surely sees himself as President of USA, not just Prez of Black America. Giant job.

Last guy in office provided Obama with a perfect template for what NOT to do. This plus several other factors makes me quite optimistic.
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p.s. - Although it has absolutely nothing to do with blackness (because remarkably not everything does), RIP J.D. Salinger

1 comment:

  1. "Reid’s statement was poorly phrased but I wouldn’t argue its accuracy."

    True, and it was said a long time ago, plus he's no spring chicken and speaks the language of his era. Most people ticked off about what he said don't even know when he said it and what prompted to him to say the same thing some black people have said, perhaps phrased differently, behind closed doors.