Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Real Black State of the Union Pt. 2

I'm continuing the essay I began with yesterday's post. In picking up on the concern writer Stephen Talty expresses for how his bi-racial son will navigate his heritage he says the following:  
Raising Asher has made me more thoughtful about these things, and more driven too. But it has also made me harder in some ways. When I see young black dudes dressed like thugs and hanging out on local street corners--a rotten cliche, I know, but there really are black kids dressed in thug wear, hanging out on street corners half a mile from where I live--I have a different reaction now. Before, I felt a sting of sympathy for their place in life. I still hope their lives will change, but now what comes first is this thought: Man, my kid will not be standing out there, if I have to drag him off the corner myself. (My wife, I'm sure, will beat me to it.) I can't afford to ignore those young men just because I might otherwise come off as racist. The stakes are too high.
Now I tried to not be too taken aback by this overreaching sentiment. Talty is white and married to what he describes as a "beautiful Haitian woman". So I'll cut him some slack...but only a little. His concerns are worthy of discussion, but his assumption that young Black men = thugged out has me raising my eyebrow. When I was reading Tami's discussion of this she mentioned it as well and I initially didn't agree. There are thugged out young men on corners and I wouldn't want to be around them either. So my contention is that Talty didn't convey an awareness of how poverty and class play just as much of a role in the creation of his "greatest fears" as anything else. His lack of acknowledgment of how class structure, familial expectations and personal motivation operate within individuals is jarring.  He still gets to fall back into his white privilege by being above it all and having a false sympathy. It's as if he's said to himself, "those poor Negros...too bad for the racism and urban blight...maybe they would've done something more with their lives than hanging on the corner block". It's a rather paternalistic response couched in liberal white guilt about what their ancestors may or may not have done to people of color that fails to address any remedies. It's like people with superstitions who have some ritual to ward off the evil eye or something. I suppose he means well for the sake of his children but he still needs to get a clue!

He's confusing pathology with race when the argument would carry more weight within class structure, but is still ultimately lacking. As Tami says:
Racism, marginalization and poverty have ugly consequences, one of which can be self-defeating behavior and beliefs. Those things need to be addressed as surely as their causes. But these negative consequences should be separated from who we are as black people.... 
That's true but since his article opened the door though we can't afford to dismiss how some of that behavior manifests itself and is interpreted by those who do tend to fall into the lower classes. I'm talking about those that attempt to set the bar really low amongst themselves and oppose anyone who disagrees. Speaking standard English and pursuing excellence in education isn’t the single purview of whiteness. Neither is drug-dealing and indiscriminate birth practices solely the behavior of blacks.

Then as a Black woman I'm often discouraged from thinking of my needs as a female because circumstances push me to having to address race first. I'm tired of that. So many of us are automatically taught to think through the prism of race first as if we’re without a gender at all or worse that we aren’t allowed to think about being a woman period. That leans too close to feminism which is viewed as something for discontented white women. I don’t even think many of us question this until we’re put in compromising positions one too many times where the discomfort becomes unbearable. By then we’re usually so angry that it’s hard to sort through where the it ends, where it came from and why we feel so bad. 

Religious practices are also used to subjugate women throughout the world where questioning things is akin to blasphemy. Especially in certain households, the worship of an always humble and self-sacrificing male figurehead is touted as being definition and goal of womanhood. It's almost like a competition to see which female can out-God the Almighty and give up the most for the approval and comfort of others - often other women who've self-sacrificed to their detriment their entire adult lives. It's why so many just say no.

Or worse, there are women who try to overcompensate living in a patriarchal world by being more aggressive than men. Female bosses who are more demanding or young girls who join gangs this behavior is equally as troubling to me because it runs across a spectrum of society. We may be trying to survive it, but we can't quite defeat it by ourselves. Like racism.

There is such a thing as “thug wear”. I used to wonder if I’d internalized some latent racism where I felt the urge to stand apart from Black male youths who wore baggy clothes or roughhoused with each other in public. Now I realize my temperament is such that I feel uncomfortable with any male who displays a certain amount of aggression in public. I also don’t like the “fashion” some take to which we know mimics prison wear. From sneakers with no laces to sagging pants I definitely look askance at males who dress that way. I noticed the difference immediately when I lived in London where the majority of the males – and yes the Black males too - dress impeccably. I could count on one hand the sagging pants, extra large baggy shirt look. I also noticed really nice shoes that were shined and hardly any sneakers and I’m talking about walking around the street and on the Tube (public transportation). There are poorer areas in the UK – their version of the ghettos are referred to as Council Housing – but it’s a lot nicer and not nearly as blighted as it is in the US. 

How you dress can change your entire demeanor and it definitely plays into how you are perceived by people. So if you’re surrounded by people who share your background and interests then you’d notice the person who stood out by making different choices. Likewise when you step outside your comfort zone and area of familiarity with people who don’t know you, you’re making an impression. 

We know there’s this preponderance of thug culture that’s been promoted as Black culture as if every Black person lived their lives in a music video. Yes, we know that’s ridiculous but do other people? When a male rapper writes rhymes that call Black women every name but a Child of the Creator there are consequences. When people dance to these songs and others that would get slapped with an X-Rating if they appeared before the MPAA as a film and we say, “That isn’t about me” aren’t we condoning this message? 

When does the right of an individual trump the collective? This is an ongoing argument. No other group of people puts out music and promote it as a lifestyle brand while claiming it’s all in good humor. Ha-ha, I’m not laughing. Oh and before I forget some of these rap artists also claim “He started it!” when confronted about their role in this degradation. Like a 5 year old who joined in breaking whatever rules they know were set they’re looking for an excuse to do what they want for their own personal profit/fame/endorsements at the expense of everyone else. 

It’s not as if being a knuckle dragging idiot who can’t come up with something original or remotely challenging in its context is impossible. Perhaps it’s more difficult. Perhaps the white men running the “entertainment” industry need to be put on notice that the shucking, jiving and coonery won’t sell. Trust me they’ll move onto something else with a quickness. It’s us who keep supporting these images and the ones that promote them. Of course we’re not going to be perfect and we’re not going to agree what’s tasteful and what’s derogatory all of the time. Usually that litmus test can be resolved by employing the sensibilities of the fabled Big Momma, who at one time would have been at least 25 years your senior at any given time and perhaps socially conservative, but abounded in common sense. 

Oprah talked about how when she went to South Africa on one of her trips, a male greeted her “Whatssup my nigger.” Which kicked her security team into high gear. Apparently they pulled him aside and let him how inappropriate that was. The man thought it was how Black Americans greeted each other. Now that may seem rather far fetched, but once that jackal’s been let out it can’t be put back in the cage. 

Now we can say certain music, style of dress, etc. is a reflection of a deeper pathology not the pathology itself. There’s always been an element of it that has existed, like all the other ills of society because we are human beings, imperfect and with free will to do as we please. There are always consequences, boomerang effects and tangents we aren’t prepared for that will occur however. Just because weeds bloom amongst the flowers doesn’t mean they should be ignored. As they multiply they kill off all the good foliage until there’s nothing but other weeds. Do we want our culture being represented as weeds…becoming weeds? 

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All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

that is the consternation of being more focused on race as opposed to culture. we become like the folks that oppressed us when we do

Anonymous said...

You are fast becoming a daily read of mine lol. You write so well and always on an interesting topic!

As a 24yo white guy from the UK i don't understand fully some of the issues you discuss, having never experienced them ... this site is my little bit of daily education lol ;)

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Torrance: It's what happens when race and culture are thought to be one in the same.

Soul UK: Thanks! I enjoy your blog as well as a musician who enjoy quality tunes. Feel free to use this blog as a starting point. I do have to say I think racism manifests itself differently in the UK and Blacks that live there come from a different cultural experience. There's an absence of the weight of the legacy of slavery in the way it's manifested here in the US.