Say It Loud!

Uncle Sam's Cabin beat me to the punch. I've been planning to write about Blackness for a good little while now, but I've been trying to think about what I wanted to say. For the last couple of weeks, I've been wishing there could be some kinda brain typer that lets your thoughts go straight from brain to computer, where you can then edit them into some type of coherence. Come to think of it, it would hot to see what people are thinking as they think it. Not for the purpose of being nosy, but just to look at the way people think. For instance, I believe that some people think in words while some other people think in pictures. Then too, I think it's just wild to see what stimulus triggers what thought. But I'm getting way off topic. Sam writes, "Blacks in the Americas have a new heritage born on the shores to the New World. To ignore it while pining over what was left behind in Africa generations ago is a dishonor to those who survived and thrived in the New World." Word. Now I'm 'bout to add some. W.E.B. DuBois wrote about what he called "double consciousness" 100 years ago. A hundred. Think about that for a minute. One hundred years. Sadly, many chapters in Souls of Black Folk are still relavant today. (Anybody who hasn't read it needs to leave this page and hop down to the used book store and get a copy. You don't hafta agree with everything he said, but you should at least have read it to know what you do or don't agree with.) Most problematic is that notion of double-consciousness. I, however, don't see it as many black Conservatives do. I don't think it's an anachronism to recognize the difference between my Blackness and the fact that I'm American. I don't think they're necessarily incongruent, and really, I don't even think they're all that different in concept. Black people who demand that other Blacks "toe the line" are actually no different than various factions who seem to believe that in order to be a real American one must espouse certain ideals or forgo any other identity. It's the same stuff. The ideologies may sound radically different, but it's really the same demand. "Give up that other business and take your place among us, your real people." That's why so much of what I hear and read gets on my nerves, people don't even recognize that they're saying the exact same thing they're ridiculing other people from saying. Some of the same people who say that Black people embrace their Blackness to the exclusion of their Americanness are just as busy embracing their American identity while trying to distance themselves from their Blackness. What is an American? Is it somebody who flies the flag? Is it somebody who thinks everything America does is right? Am I not a "real" American if I question the war in Iraq? (Just to pick an issue.) If I think all that God talk in the country's founding documents is just talk and had no relavance to the way people actually lived, then what? Would I be less of an American if I used a hyphen? Of course not. Some people might think so, but who are they to tell me that I'm not American? It reminds me of an exchange between Archie and Meathead on All In The Family. If I remember correctly, they were arguing about the war in Vietnam, when Archie broke out singing "God Bless America." Meathead was trying to talk over him, explaining how he protested, not because he hated America, but because he loved it; because he wanted to see America live up to its ideals. I think this is the unfortunate point we're getting to now. For some people, the only way to love America and therefore be a real American is to cosign on anything America does...as long as your party dictated it. Same thing goes for Blackness. What is Blackness? I know what "black" skin looks like...sort of. I think Jason Kidd is "black," but I'm not sure. I know some Italian cats darker than him. My usual litmus test is Jet magazine. If a person shows up in Jet, then he or she must be Black or at least black. Of course, melanin can't be the only determinant. There's some Indians out there blacker than me, (and that ain't all that easy to be) but that doesn't mean they're Black. They're just dark. So what other phenotypes can we plug in? Big nose? Full lips? Other "racial" groups have that. Nappy hair? Well, that's fairly unique, but is the ability to grow an Afro the only determining factor? That's pretty shaky. It's obviously not just physical. On "Welcome To The Terrordome," Chuck D said, "Every brother ain't a brother/cuz a black hand squeezed on Malcom X the man." So what's Black? Well, even as I'm saying that Blackness isn't just physical, it's obviously a big part of it. Otherwise, why fuss at/about Clarence Thomas? Many people who claim Black would deny that to Justice Thomas, but I don't hear those people talking about how Black Justice Scalia ain't. So this example leads us to the idea that Blackness has something to do with political ideology. But what? Is it solidarity for solidarity's sake? "Black people" think such-and-such, so I think it?" That makes no sense. At this point, we've pretty much moved past skin color as a divisive factor in the Black community. Not all the way, of course, but we don't deny light-skinned people their Blackness. Nowadays, the paper bag test is political or ideological, I guess. If a person doesn't see their connection to other Black people, or if they don't believe in some litmus test policy (Affirmative Action, anyone?), then they're not really Black. That's why black Conservatives get branded as race-traitors or whatever. Which is, of course, retarded. Just because a person doesn't believe in Affirmative Action doesn't mean they don't have Black people's best interests at heart. I know a couple friends of mine, pro-Black to the core, think that Affirmative Action has generally outlived its usefulness. So what, are they not Black because of it? Then there's the cultural element. This is probably the most liquid of all the definitions, because whatever "Black" culture is is quickly soaked into "American" culture. Really, they're indistinguishable from each other. "...the popular music that all Americans cherish, sing, and dance to today would not exist of Africans had not been brought to this country," John McWhorter writes in Authentically Black. A person doesn't hafta be Black to talk "black" or even better yet, sing "black." Ever heard of Teena Marie? Or to give a personal example, I remember when Lisa Stansfield first came out with "All Around The World," it didn't even occur to me that she might not be Black. A couple times, my mom and I tried to figure out her complexion, weight, and hairstyle. Needless to say, when I finally saw the video I was dumbfounded. Yet, we wouldn't call Lisa Stansfield or Teena Marie Black because they can sang. So what's the deal, then? I guess the first level of Blackness is some measure vis a vis physical appearance. Not that any of that is valid, of course. I'm not really critiquing it yet, I'm just trying to break it down into something manageable. Next time (next time I write about this, not next time I write) I'll see what's the deal with "wanting to be white." Is there really such a thing, and if so, what are the symptoms?