Posts Tagged ‘Identity’

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A series, inspired by the CNN special, dedicated to race related identity issues concerning Black people in America.

The Story

The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan used the concept of the gaze as a way to describe the psychological effects of an individual becoming aware that they have an external that is created from a perspective that is not one’s own. In discussions of oppression and disenfranchised groups, the gaze comes into the conversation to express the thoughts and beliefs of the perspective which – despite having no direct understanding of them as a group- shapes their oppression.

What The Gaze Has Taught

Sun-Tzu-3

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
– Sun Tzo, The Art of War

In the battle against oppression there is only one way to guarantee victory: know yourself and your enemy. Often there can be found texts that deal with Black identity and the effects of of oppression on the Black identity. Conversely; there are texa that deal with the systems of oppression under which Black people suffer. It is most important to the struggle that always information from both are presented parallel – if not simultaneously- to ensure a wholistic view of the situation.

There was a time when Black people understood the gaze that oppressed them. They knew that it was imperialistic, white supremacist, and capitalistic. They were able to understand that a gaze grounded in those ideologies would frame them as barbaric, inferior, and poor. From that understanding Black people were able to understand that in order to navigate American society that they would have to combat such notions. That is how it came to be important to Black people to own land, get an education, and to be articulate.

Often in contemporary Black culture we have forgotten the necessity and the significance of these coping strategies. We have developed a level of pride for the progress that we have made as a culture. That pride has made us arrogant and ignorant about the history behind these coping strategies (even those now deemed counter productive).

The Strategiesdu-bois-dialectic

A few months ago I engaged in a debate with several HBCU students. These students were incited when I suggested that Black could benefit from learning to codeswitch. That thought, to them, spelled giving in to oppression. As I listened to their points of view I realized that philosophically they were on point. Their passion and ideals were in the right place. However the problem was that they were making no attempt to reconcile those ideals with the opposing reality they were living in. They felt that because what they believed was right that their work stopped at believing in those ideals and arguing with anyone who didn’t. But what good is that argument without a platform that offers an audience to affect and influence? And what a dangerous thing it is for a Black person in America to forget their Blackness and disassociate from the truth of what that means for their experience in this country. Because inevitably that moment will come when America will remind them of their Blackness and what the imperialistic, white-supremacist, capitalist thinking of this country has framed that to mean. The psychic trauma that will be caused by having that reality forced upon them- than coming into the realization willingly- can be devastating.

I have seen a number of Black people that I went to school graduate and fall into a stasis of consciousness that paralyzed them from going forward with the dreams and ambitions of their undergraduate years. They eventually settle for the peace and comfort of flying under the radar, which amounts to nothing more than mediocrity.

Those Black people who would engage the struggle today often begin with a judgment of the strategies of our forefathers. We somehow assert that since these strategies did not yield the desired results or because they did not progress the struggle, that they are useless or support the systems of oppression. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These strategies are significant simply because they reflect an understanding of the gaze which created the framework for the systems that now bind us. When examining these strategies we cannot simply look at the results in order to judge their merit. We have to examine how and why they were created. On this angle we will find the most critical information for shaping our own resistance strategies.

slide-sun-tzu-battle-won-before-fought-001-450x200The Problem

In contemporary Black culture, however, the understanding of the gaze has become neglected. Many young Black people have grown up without the experience of Jim Crow and blatant discrimination. So they lack a conceptual understanding of that experience. It is easy from the vantage point of post civil rights era privilege to declare that we would have all been freedom fighters had we lived during that time. In truth, some of us -just like some of them- would have sought survival first and would adopt practices that did not support the movement but did save their lives and their lineage (which may include some of us). In war every battle cannot be won through a charging assault. Sometimes you have to be covert. Sometimes you have to lie low and gather intel. Sometimes you have to just save yourself and live to fight another day.

The Point

Now that prejudice has become more insidious it has become harder to identify the gaze. The truth is the gaze has not changed. It is the same imperialistic, white supremacist, capitalist gaze that it has always been. The problem is that we have lost touch with our understanding of the gaze. This leaves us powerless to invent and innovate the ways in which to combat the oppression it causes. We would do well to not forget that which our forefathers knew-as uttered by James Baldwin-“The world has more than one way of keeping you a nigger.”

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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This series seeks to help create a body of resistance literature that will chronicle the collective radicalization of a Black Masculinity movement that seeks to decolonize our minds and invent identities, in resistance, that transcend stereotypes. We will speak up and force the world to deal with us. Let the Black Masculinity movement begin.

The Story

In Black Masculinity studies there is a term called cool pose. This term was used by Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson in a book called “Cool Pose.” Cool pose is a coping mechanism created by Black Men in order to deal with the oppression of white-supremacy. Majors and Billson define cool pose as “the presentation of self many black males use to establish their male identity.”

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Birth of The Cool

It’s no secret that the horrors of slavery created an environment where Black people had to shroud their feelings. Whether to keep their oppressors from seeing their hatred of them, their will to escape, or being able to identify those that they loved (in order to use that love against them), there was not an emotion that could be safely expressed by an enslaved Black person. For Black men this was especially significant because they were often tortured through their loved ones. They degraded and humiliated by having to witness their wives and children battered, raped, and killed. This was done to strip them of what would make them a man in the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy of America.

African-American men have defined manhood in terms familiar to white men, however, blacks have not had consistent access to the same means to fulfill their dreams of masculinity and success.
– Majors and Billson, Cool Pose

Through the patriarchal definition of America, a man provides, protects, and cares for his family; a man earns a living that offers him the opportunity to climb the socioeconomic ladder; a man dominates and never submits. Even after the abolishment of slavery, It was ensured that the Black man would never be able to measure up to that definition. In order to survive, Black men created cool.

malcolmxCool Pose

It is no secret that poverty and stress degrade mental health; however, it is very rarely discussed the ways in which our society creates and perpetuates these environmental conditions. On the other side, there are rarely programs and initiatives that have an objective to reach those who are suffering from mental illness such as depression or debilitating psychological stress caused by poverty. Even Black men with less extreme personal situations deal with the psychological pain of being Black and male in America. The systemic disenfranchisement and limitations on opportunity are enough to drive a man crazy.

It is like the myth of Sisyphus, the greek character who is eternally forced to push a boulder uphill and just as he is reaching the top, the boulder falls away and rolls back down the hill. Imagine that as a daily life. To be promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the moment you get anywhere near achieving it, some law, rule, doctrine, or requirement is used to push your dream back downhill. It is true that there is a stigma related to therapy and mental health issues in the Black community. However, what is just as significant is how the lack of adequate healthcare and/or finances hinders Black people from being able to obtain the clinical health assistance needed to deal with their psychic stress. Without these resources it is only natural that a group of afflicted people will find coping mechanisms and ways to survive without them.LL+Cool+J++1986

Cool pose is about how Black men have learned to deal the stress of the world around them. It is about a psychological framework from which Black men can view and interact with the world safely in spite of the many psychological assaults that they face daily.

The black man’s cultural signature is his cool. It is sometimes the only source of pride, dignity, and worth in the absence of the outward status symbols of materialism and title that mark success in American culture.”

– Majors and Billson, Cool Pose

Black men created cool as a persona by which to interact with the world. It places a space between the external and the internal. For Black men this safe space leaves room for the variety of messages that they encounter. Cool is what makes it possible for a Black man to enter an elevator with a woman, have her clutch her purse, and he not internalize the humiliation of being treated like a criminal by a complete stranger. Cool is what allows a Black man to be stopped repeatedly without cause by police officers, condescended while interrogated, slapped with whatever charges the officers think might stick, and continue to get behind the wheel of his car everyday. Cool is what allows a Black man to step outside his project apartment and witness death and desperation all around him and continue to believe that he can change his circumstance.

19.-Tupac-Shakur-7295328-630x630The Flaws of Cool Pose Theory

Beyond Majors and Billson’s study of cool pose a number of individuals have studied this theory. However there is a flaw in almost all of the theories about cool pose including Majors and Billson’s). In some attempt at diplomacy, these theories have explored the negative affects of cool pose. There is nothing wrong with objective analysis; however, these conclusions are not actual conclusions but over-reaching presumptions.

For example, in Majors and Billson’s descriptions of the negative effects of cool pose they describe aspects such as how “many black males are unable to mainstream or evolve other forms of consciousness” and the “negative interpretation of various cool behaviors by white males who observe blacks being emotionless, fearless, aloof, or macho.”

I have some severe issues with these thoughts. The first is that these factors are not negative aspects of cool, they are negative consequences of being Black, period. Whether expressing cool or not Black men have obstacles to being “mainstream.” That is because in of the mainstream the Black man has never been a factor to consider nor has his identity and values been incorporated. To the other point I am actually disgusted that these intelligent researchers are blind to their own intellectual hubris: colonization. Because Majors and Billson still view “mainstream” (which is a code word for American majority which would be code for White America) as the ultimate goal, they use it as a standard by which to measure Black male behavior. This will never yield truthful, insightful, progressive thoughts regarding Black men. It is these mild flaws in their research which has led to study of cool to be skewed egregiously.9431_method_man

Researchers have sought to use cool pose try to explain Black male violence, Black male drop-out rates and under achievement in education, and any other negative impression they create with their statistics. Most of the work written on cool pose seeks to use it as a way of diagnosing all the ills of Black manhood. What is most despicable is that while they explain cool as a naturally instinctive defense to oppression, they criticize Black men for allowing this defense to keep them from submitting to the oppression.

Unfortunately, many black males are unable to mainstream or evolve other forms of consciousness. The cool front leads the black male to reject mainstream norms, aesthetics, mannerisms, values, etiquette, or information networks that could help him overcome the problems caused by white racism.

– Majors and Billson, Cool Pose

So in essence Majors and Billson see the negative aspects of cool pose to be the fact that it begins a decolonization of the Black male mind. What they are suggesting is that Black men would be better of accepting societal norms (such as racism and discrimination) and submit to the mainstream that is attacking them. I believe they mean well but they cannot see that this is evidence of a major problem in Black Masculinity studies: choosing the wrong gaze.

The Problem

Choosing the wrong gaze from which to observe and research any minority group in inherently problematic. The gaze is a psychoanalytical concept that describes the perspective by which something is viewed. In Black Masculinity studies we often choose the gaze of the mainstream, popular, societal belief. This is exactly the sort of thing that we must not do we analyzing an underprivileged group. Any underprivileged group does not have the same reality as that of the mainstream and, therefore, cannot be measured by the standards of the mainstream.

In Black Masculinity studies, as exemplified in studies of cool pose, it is evident that researchers have chosen the wrong gaze. Instead of viewing cool as a Black male cultural phenomenon specific to the Black male American experience, they measure it against the mainstream experience (that no Black person has ever fully experienced).

In that view cool becomes an issue that needs to be rectified. It implies to Black men that there is something wrong with the way they are. This is much the way in another post I discussed how the label of hypermasculine is placed on Black men because their natural behavior is viewed externally and objectified against the mainstream. The mainstream defines the cool of Black men as hypermasculine and problematic when it is simply natural and culturally specific.

We cannot enter the struggle as objects to later become subjects.

– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

If it is Black male behavior that we are seeking to understand, then Black men must be the subject and the behavior the object and not the other way around. And the mainstream cannot be the standard.

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The Point

In the study of Black masculinity and the Black male identity, Black men must be the subject What is discovered cannot be measured against the mainstream because the mainstream was not created in consideration of the Black male perspective. It may seem reasonable to suggest that Black men have in many ways turned mainstream values, ethics, and ideologies, but, in fact, they were never included. It is the mainstream that has turned its back on Black men; Black men just found a way to redefine themselves outside of the mainstream. Furthermore, with all the flaws and issues inherent within mainstream culture and ideologies it would behoove us not encourage anyone to assimilate into the dominant culture. If anything mainstream culture needs to be penetrated and expanded to include more perspectives.

The Black man’s creation of cool is one that does not need to be embraced by the mainstream as it is culturally specific to Black men. Cool must be respected and validated before the flaws within can be addressed. Cool must be seen as more than a diagnosis for negative Black male behavior. Cool must be seen as more than just a defense mechanism. Cool is  a part of the Black male identity. The point of creating that identity is not to assimilate into mainstream culture; the point is to survive it.

Osiris Come Together.

An Angry Black Man

References

Friere, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury, 1970.

Majors, Richard and Billson, Janet Mancini. Cool Pose. New York: Lexington, 1992.              

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A series, inspired by the CNN special, dedicated to race related identity issues concerning Black people in America.
The Story

For too long Black people have moved throughout the American public space with no real identity except that which is projected onto us. When our public figures, intellectuals, politicians, and celebrities speak out in regards to the general view of Black people, they do so either in resistance to or as an embodiment of an image that has been created (most often not by us).

Collective Identities and Stereotypes

Let me stop for a moment to debunk the idea that all stereotypes are bad; they are not. They are just stereotypes: a collection of ideas and known facts about a particular group. In many cultural groups there is a collective identity that the group finds acceptable as a sort of standard of describing, viewing, or relating to their group. This identity is in fact a stereotype; however, it is one that the group can live with. For instance their is a stereotype about New York Italians; they have strong accents, a history of mafia and mob culture, and they tend to be very outspoken. There is a stereotype about Jewish people: they are money conscious, business savvy, and they tend to favor entrepreneurship. There is a stereotype about Muslims: they are disciplined, socially conscious, and they have stringent expectation of women. None of these qualities describes every person that may fit into that group. Nor does any of these qualities denigrate the individuals within that group. They are generalities that one might use as a foundation for interacting with or getting to know individuals who identify with these groups. At any time one could meet someone who identifies with one of these groups for whom none of these presumed qualities is true. That’s okay. The problem is when the qualities assigned to a group are used to depict them in a generally harmful way.

For Black people there is an excessive amount of qualities associated with our group that are socially unacceptable or unfavorable. This is because many of these qualities are chosen by individuals not within the group or are individual qualities that do not at all describe the majority.

Andrew J. Young;Julian Bond

The Problem

Black people usually describe the Black identity in the negative. They describe what we are not or how the image that currently exists is inaccurate. There’s nothing wrong with that; however, the problem is that these individuals rarely offer a suggestion to fill the empty slot of that which they decry.

One cannot define ones self in the negative. If we were asked the question: what color is the sky? And we proceeding to list all the colors it is not. We would get to the end of the list and find that we still had not answered the question of what color it is. This only leaves the questioner in confusion and forces them to make assumptions. They would have to decide what color was not named and assume that color is what color we are saying the sky is. God help us if we forget a color that it is not because then the questioner may inadvertently choose that color (because we didn’t name it) and assume that we meant that the sky is that color. So they go forward saying that we said the sky is that color. This is most often what has happened when Black people have attempted to describe the collective Black identity.

The Point

It is a dangerous thing to merge to identities with someone who has no identity. As America staggers to move forward and create a unified American identity that will no doubt be multicultural, Black people are at risk. We risk having negative presumptions projected upon us. We risk losing ourselves and the feeling of ownership for who we are. We risk losing the ability to control that which we want most: freedom and equality. In order to combat that we have to prepare for this merging by creating ourselves for ourselves. So that whatever merging occurs in multiculturalism, it will have some reflection of the Black identity.

In a previous post I began to think upon what it means to be Black (in a very poetic and abstract manner). I endeavored to think of what Blackness is instead of what it is not. I would like us to think very tangibly about the definition of what Black people are like. I believe that we should think on these things that are specific to our identity and let that be the guiding language we use to define ourselves. We need a collective imagining for what it means to be a Black person. We have no time to waste. It is an urgent need. If we do not accomplish this task, the future will engulf us and we will be forever lost.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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After having several recent discussions regarding Black Masculinity, I was impassioned to take up the subject for rigorous research and intellectual thought. I was dismayed by what I found to be a severe lack of Black male voices speaking new ideas on the subject. Most often Black men were responding to that which was already stated, whether true or untrue. A perfect example is a seminar I attended that was given by a local activist group led by Black men. In the group discussion several of the Black men brought up concerns about the way Black men are portrayed in the media and how often those images are derived from and covertly reinforce historical stereotypes. One brotha said he wanted to discuss why Black men are frequently displayed as hypermasculine savages and brutes when there are other forms of Black masculinity. The first thing that came to my mind was the fact that he was using language and adjectives that we, Black men, never created or dictated as being relative to us. This is where I discovered the problem that has birthed this series and will in effect support a movement for Black men.

Black males who resist categorization are rare, for the price of visibility in the contemporary world of white supremacy is that black male identity be defined in relation to the stereotype either by embodying it or seeking to to be other than it.

– Bell Hooks, We Real Cool

One major problem is that as Black men we don’t often offer the world alternative thoughts, interpretations for those notions that exist that do relate to us as Black men and we do not create original images, archetypes, and terms that accurately describe us as Black men. Like the brotha in the group, we take those terms, stereotypes and adjectives that have been created from outside the Black male populace and we either approve or reject them. This is called being reactive. It will only get us so far. We have to redefine those existing notions, stereotypes, and adjectives as well as create new ones of our own. In short, we have to lead the discussion on the subject of Black masculinity and the Black masculine identity. We cannot allow others to define us for us or we will forever be relegated to a backseat in a discussion about ourselves and will always be reacting rather than creating.

I have often pondered why no body of resistance literature has emerged from black males even though they actually own magazines and publishing houses. They have control over mass media, however relative. The failure lies with the lack of collective radicalization on the part of black men (most powerful black men in media are conservatives who support patriarchal thinking). Individual charismatic black male leaders with a radical consciousness often become so enamored with their unique status as the black man who is different that they fail to share the good news with other black men. Or they allow themselves to be co-opted — seduced by the promise of greater monetary rewards and access to mainstream power that are the payoffs for pushing a less radical message.

– Bell Hooks, We Real Cool

This series seeks to help create a body of resistance literature that will chronicle the collective radicalization of a Black Masculinity movement that seeks to decolonize our minds and invent identities, in resistance, that transcend stereotypes.

All you are ever told about being black is that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be. Now, in order to survive this, you have to really dig down into yourself and re-create yourself, really, according to no image that yet exists in America. You have to impose, in fact — this may sound very strange — you have to decide who you are, and force the world to deal with you, not with it’s idea of you.

– James Baldwin, Studs Terkel Interview

Brothas assemble. We are not going quietly into a future that has reserved no space for us in a world that has feared and never loved us. We will speak up and force the world to deal with us. Let the Black Masculinity movement begin.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

References

The Myth of Osiris

Pratt, Louis H. & Standley, Fred L. An Interview with James Baldwin Studs Terkel. Conversations with James Baldwin. University Press of Mississippi. 1989

Hooks, Bell. We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. Rutledge Publishing. 2004.

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A series, inspired by the CNN special, dedicated to race related identity issues concerning Black people in America.

In lieu of the recent controversy about Paula Deen ‘s confession to the use of the word “nigger” in her deposition and Rachel Jeantel’s recounting Trayvon Martin’s use of the word “cracker,” CNN did a special on “the N-word.” In this special anchor, Don Lemon, explored the feelings behind the use of the word “nigger” as well as words like “cracker,” and “honkey.”I noticed was that the panel kept saying that the word “nigger” is now being used as a term of endearment as the word “nigga.”

As a follow up to my previous post responding to the CNN special on the N-word, this post reflects on the word “nigga.” Many people assert that the word “nigger” has been adopted as term of endearment in the Black community. It has also been stated that usually when this is done the word is spelled with an -a rather -er at the end.

The Story

There was a time when I thought that the best way to describe how Black people use the word “nigger” with one another (without it being derogatory) was to call it a term of endearment. However, in contemporary discussions that concept has begun to fail to explain the complicated nature of using the word “nigger/nigga” in the Black community.

In accepting the usage of the word “nigger/nigga.” It is now being questioned why, then, can’t a White person use the word with their Black friends? They find their Black friends endearing and the Black people call each other that, what’s so wrong if a White person (who has no racial prejudices) uses the word? Then there are Black people who do not find the word endearing and, therefore, object to the term of endearment argument. These objections undervalue the real concept of what it means when Black people use the word “nigger/nigga” with each other. And that is because the term of endearment argument fails to capture the essence of using the word “nigger/nigga” in the Black community.

Playing the Dozens

The Dirty Dozens is part of the Black oral tradition. It is a game of wit, verbal ability, and self-control. The dozens consists of two people verbally sparring with one another through insults. The idea is to outwit and insult your opponent without losing your cool (evidenced by the laughter or oohs and ahhs of the audience surrounding the event. The dozens has a number of slang references such as “snapping,” “cracking,” “ratting,” “dissing, and “joningOne of the most well known examples of the dozens is telling “yo’ mama jokes.”

It is believed that the Dozens has its root in African oral games such as Ikocha Nkocha. These games are played by adolescents who verbally duel with one another (often including talking about each other’s mothers). It is believed that slaves brought this tradition to America. It became known as the dozens, so it is speculated, because sick, infirm, or disabled slaves were sold by the dozens instead of individually. Therefore, the dozens is a term for the lowest blow. It is also speculated that possibly the slaves engaged in this verbal insulting to degrade each other and prove that they were not lowest of the low.

However it began and despite how it came to be, it is a well-known aspect of Black American culture. In America the Dozens was played by kids in the days before computers and video games when children went outside to play. Children would form circles around the two children who were battling one another. Often this was a way of releasing tension or aggression towards each other. The game would continue until someone was crying, fighting, or walking away.

Some research I have seen claim the game is played by “low class” children or by children in “urban communities.” The dozens, however, is not relegated to only the low class or to children. The Dozens is played by adults and the wealthy as well. In fact, the Dozens is more of a Black social concept than a game.

The Dozens

The Dozens, when examined as a social concept, can be seen as serving a number of purposes for Black Americans. The Dozens can be seen as a way of coping with adversity such as bullying, racism and oppression. Theorists who believe this posit that because Black people could not express their anger with their oppressors, they took the aggression out through banter such as the dozens. It is also suggested that this game taught Black youth how to deal with adversity and verbal aggression (since historically a Black person could lose their life for losing their cool with someone who antagonizes them. I believe both are true.

When the Dozens is played by adults it is used as a self-defense mechanism for nervousness, insecurity, or passive aggression. It is then that the Dozens becomes its most malicious because the idea is to verbally strike below the belt and belittle the other individual and express superiority.

“A thing is funny when — in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening — it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution.”
– George Orwell

The Dozens being played by adults led to its incorporation into Black comedy. Comedians such as Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Redd Fox, Paul Mooney, Moms Mabley, and Eddie Murphy. All these comedians incorporated the concept of the Dozens in their humor.

The Dozens being played by adults also led to its incorporation into music such as the blues and, of course, rap.

The Point

The dozens is 1part humor, 1 part defense mechanism, 1 part catharsis, and 1 part revolution for Black people. Playing the dozens is humorous in a very dry, witty way. It does allow us (especially at the young age that it is first practiced) to prepare ourselves for a world outside of our mothers’ homes where we will find the most vicious criticism and exploitation of our weaknesses. It forces us to come to terms with our flaws and short comings, and it allows us to upset the balance of political correctness and expose the world for what it is.

One of the most important nuances about playing the dozens is that it is very contextual. Due to the use of insult and exploitation of flaws, the dozens can very easily become an argument or a physical fight. This depends on the context. When the dozens is played before a strange audience or a group of people who are completely connected to one party, this takes the game into a malicious context where it can be interpreted that the party with all the support is grandstanding or trying to embarrass the other individual. Another context that takes the dozens into malicious territory is the kind of insult used and the way it is used. The dozens has served as the foundation for two other aspects of Black culture: comedy and music. It is a well known fact that the term “nigger/nigga” was used in a derogatory manner to insult Black people in America. It is no wonder, then, that the word was often used in playing the dozens.

For this reason, when we see Black people use the word “nigger/nigga” it is acceptable because of the context in which it is used. A person using a word that is derogatory to people like themselves cannot be considered being racist. It is a privilege reserved for having found a way to co-exist with the hatred against what you can’t help that you are. It is a privilege, like White privilege in America: you can’t always explain why it’s there — but it is — and until the whole world changes, neither will the privilege.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin,’

An Angry Black Man

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A series, inspired by the CNN special, dedicated to race related identity issues concerning Black people in America.
The Story

It’s that time of the year when high schools celebrate their matriculating students. I saw an article that discussed what today’s Black graduates need to know. It was a short list; however, one thing stood out on the list. The author stated that black students needed help “defining themselves for themselves.” I think the author missed a great portion of how significant this thought is.

When I think back to my own high school graduation, I remember feeling relieved that i could finally get away from the pressures of having to be a certain thing. it seemed all through my high school years someone was wanting me to be something. my parents wanted me to be an honor student, my friends wanted me (as well as themselves) to be popular and trendy, and my teacher’s wanted me to be at my full potential all the time. Me, i just wanted to be me –whoever that was — and to be accepted and respected as such. What I wanted most at that time of graduation was to no longer be defined by what group I hung with, the clothes that I wore, the grades that I made, or the sports that I played. I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone’s idea of what I should be. What I needed was to create myself.

The Problem

Black youth in America receive a number of indirect messages about what it means to be Who they are. What they will find is that no one category can completely define an individual. Maybe they are a great athlete, but maybe you don’t want to play in the NBA. Maybe they are extremely intelligent, but maybe they don’t want to go to college. Every person is unique. It’s one of the most beautiful things I have discovered in the world; one can meet a thousand people and find no two exactly the same. If there is anything Black high school graduates — or Black people in general — need, it is the courage to explore one’s self and create an identity.

One of the greatest failures of the Black community has been our indifference to the creation of our own identity. We have too often allowed ourselves to be defined externally by our environment, our socioeconomic status, our social class, our religion, our wardrobe, our hairstyles. We are quick to allow external things which may be an extension or expression of our identity to become our sole persona.

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The Menace of Blackness

The menace of Blackness is born of self ignorance and self indifference. it is what happens when what it means to be Black is defined by things external to the individual. When I use the term “menace of Blackness” I am not speaking of authentic Blackness. I am referring to the ideas and stereotypes about Blackness.

As individuals we are menaced by these notions because they do not comprehensively define any two of Black people. Everyday becomes a struggle. To find, know, and be an individual while everything else is pushing us to be like someone else. Without knowledge of our own individual identity we find ourselves plagued by the images and ideas being projected onto us. Some stick and some do not. We may mixed feelings about the ones that do apply and have no idea what to do with the ones that do not.

However, we become fixated on the ones that are not like us. We rail against the notions: berating and denouncing the very idea that all Black people — including us — are like that. We neglect the fact that somewhere there probably are some Black people like that and our vicious aversion is an offense to their identity. We find ourselves in careless contention against members of our own community. The worst part is that what we do describe as our identity is founded not on who are, but who we are not. We can tear down every idea or stereotype we hate but cannot articulate what, then, should replace them. Creation cannot occur in destruction.

The Point

“All you are ever told in this country about being black is that it is a terrible, terrible thing. In order to survive this you have to really dig down into yourself and re-create yourself, really, according to no image which yet exists in America. You have to impose, in fact –this may sound very strange — you have to decide who you are and force the world to deal you and not with its idea of you”
– James Baldwin

. It is of no importance whether anyone is interested in what you find, or whether or not they like what you find, or whether or not what you find is the same as what others have found. This is personal. This isn’t about being admired, desired, or loved. This is about loving yourself. If you don’t, know one else is likely to either.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man