Whaddup, my Asiatic kings and Nubian queens? Or niggas and bitches. We’ve come a long way, huh. To what, I don’t know but we’re here.
First, let me help you out with something. In my Letter to White People I mentioned that most of my friends and social scene, such as it is, have often been white. Here are a few things that will come up when interacting with others.
THE QUESTION: What is Blackness?
Why do African Americans have their own award shows? History month? Colleges? National associations and organizations?
Some believe that we live in a race neutral society. (These people obviously don’t pay attention to the news and/or reality and don’t read the comments beneath news articles re: Pres. Obama. Selective sensory perception, apparently.) Some even imply that there’s some form of racism or polarizing politically correct race baiting involved when African American functions are held. Favoritism. Pandering. Discriminating against white people.
They are wrong. But some who ask these questions are curious and sincere. Some are ignorant in the dictionary definition of the word. Some are straight up racist asshats who use this question to foment a smug sense of pseudo-righteous indignation and claims of reverse racism/discrimination.
Here’s the deal. The problem with this is that we’re all thinking about race. Race, race, race. We’re stuck on it and Black/White race relations — well, there’s kind of a history there. BUT being Black is not about race. It’s about ethnicity. African-American was coined for a reason even though it’s not 100% accurate.
Let me put it this way.
It’s a treat to go to Little Italy where Italian Americans carved out a niche for themselves in Baltimore. There are Chinatowns in every major city around the world. On St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll see a lot of “Kiss me! I’m Irish” T-shirts. Great food and colors at the Caribbean Festival. Oktoberfest. Huh? Crazy beery goodness.
Blackness is also an ethnicity. Due to the abuses of slavery, most of us don’t know what country in Africa our ancestors come from. We were beaten, tortured or sold when we tried to acknowledge our African culture or speak our native language. Culture, language, borders. That’s what defines an ethnicity. A regional shared experience. We came out of American historical Hell with a new collective identity. We went from nigger to negro to colored to black to Afro-American to African American to who knows what.
Every other ethnicity is encouraged to proudly celebrate and to invite everyone else to enjoy the contributions and offerings of their culture.
I was at the African American Heritage Festival yesterday and there were very, very few people there who weren’t Black. And why not? It was a nice outing, perfect weather, good music and food, beautiful women. No drama.
We have our own award shows because the majority American culture doesn’t reflect African American culture. Just because white folks like rap music and catchy phrases … that’s not quite the same. For one, we need shows, events and media where women who don’t pass the paper bag test are considered beautiful, too. And don’t have their complexions lightened in Photoshop on magazine covers.
Historically Black Universities are HISTORICALLY black. They don’t discriminate. Anyone can go. They’re historically black because black people weren’t allowed to go to every other $#@! university. So they started their own in an era of brutal racism and segregation and did a hell of a job.
Why are these kinds of things so difficult to convey to people of other races and ethnicities?
If you do not sound like Mushmouth and if you can read and write and conjugate verbs; if you don’t carry a firearm to a concert and if you don’t rap; if you don’t think all women are bitches and hos who exist for the sole purpose of jiggling their asses for your sexual gratification … then you aren’t a real black man. In fact, you will be considered white by white people who don’t really know any black people other than the guys they’re afraid of at school or passing on the street. Michael Rappaport wannabes will declare themselves as being more Black than you are.
People who don’t know (m)any black people have a very narrow definition of blackness. We call them stereotypes. Apparently, Black manhood is defined by young, black thugs. Of course, when I think of Blackness I think of my family. My light-skinned maternal grandmother and my grandfather who birthed and raised a diaspora rainbow of seven good, kind, educated, dignified children. All of them corrected us whenever we used the word “ain’t” or any diction that would reinforce stereotypes. All of them worked hard to get educated and make a life for themselves and provide for their kids. And the same, pretty much, on my father’s side of the family. Grandma Brooks, my stepfather’s mother, who was a single parent in Baltimore City.
I think of the generation that kept a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. somewhere in the house. They struggled for respect and dignity and acceptance from society.
My relatives that served in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Merchant Marines, Navy, Army. My relatives serving the community and leading fights against corporations who are bent on exploiting a relatively poor Black community while trying to help protect the poor White communities, too.
I think of my own identity and social struggles that were, in hindsight, painful and alienating. I think of the time some greasy haired punk called me and my mother niggers when she braked hard for him as he was crossing in the middle of the street. Have you ever seen someone look at your mother with hate — like she’s less than human — because of the color of her skin? I think of all the times I was called nigger or racially slurred, chased, threatened. I think of the times my white friends would sometimes ignore me if they were with a group of their white friends.
And then an oblivious Caucasian co-worker will come along and make jokes to the point of harrassment about how “white” I am, grinning with self-congratulatory glee at his cleverness.
Do you remember how you felt after you watched “Roots” or “Rosewood”? That’s the feeling. I have to take a few breaths, maybe walk away and tell myself, he doesn’t know any better.
This is racism. Not the ugly, violent hate filled racism of the old days, but the uninformed hurtful benign cancer form of racism that is too prevalent today. If you state your case rationally and in a well thought out way, you’ll only have to deal with it once. Or a few times. The response goes something like this:
If you assume that I “act” white because I’m educated, speak decent English and have a good job, that implies that you equate education and success with Whiteness. That means that you, at a profound level, think that Black people are ignorant, lazy or incompetent and inferior.
On the other hand, I once bought a Dead Prez CD. I had heard a song on KPFA that I liked so I bought it. I was in my car headed up to hang with a friend in Burlingame listening to M-1 rap about how holistic he is: eating vegetables, drinking fresh orange juice and smoking weed in the morning and … what? Wait. Okay, nevermind. Let me check out another track. And he says…
“And to all you educated Negroes, f— you!”
When I got to my destination, I ejected the CD, got out of the car and snapped the CD in half.
My Black family, if you don’t value education you are lost. I do realize that the public school system doesn’t seem relevant to some aspects of Black life. Some ‘hoods are a world unto themselves. Education is sometimes sub par when you get into minority communities or places with low property taxes, right. But we are living in the Information Age. Computers are ubiquitous. Technology has made it possible to send jobs to other countries while paying a fraction of the money for the same services/product. Immigrants are willing to bust their humps doing manual labor of all sorts.
If you are going to compete in this world, you have got to get educated. Many employers won’t even look at you if you don’t have a college degree. The market forces are changing. Black(wo)man, don’t get left behind. There are community colleges, trade schools, online schools, programs. You are not obsolete. Stay in the game.
If you equate education with Whiteness, then what does that say about you?
Let me tell you something. Every other immigrant and ethnic community that comes to America, they hop on board, they gain traction and they’re off. Have you noticed that all of these kids winning spelling bees and geography bees are from Asia Minor?
Railing against “the White Man” or “the system” isn’t a valid reason anymore. It may be historically relevant and accurate but that won’t help you excel. That won’t get you opportunities or advancement.
I’ve got to take a little break here and collect my thoughts. Pace myself. How bout a little trivia?
You probably know about the Rosewood Massacre, right? Do you know how the GAP Band got its name? From Wikipedia:
Growing up with a Pentecostal minister father, the Wilson brothers formed the Greenwood, Archer, and Pine Street Band in 1967, with Tuck Andress (later of Tuck and Patti). The name was chosen to honor the tragic but affirming memory of the streets (Greenwood Ave., Archer St., Pine St.) that formed the African American business district of Tulsa, Oklahoma also called Black Wall Street. The Greenwood district was the site of one of the most violent racially motivated attacks in United States history. The complete destruction of the community was the result of the Tulsa Race Riot.
TO THE BLACK WOMAN
I’ve got one thing to say here. Raise your standards, ladies. Just … come on. Respect is important, especially when it comes from self. I got carry-out from Famous Dave’s the other day. Group of black women or teenagers in the waiting area. I didn’t really look because I’m shy and self-conscious. But on the way out I scanned and my immediate reaction — I thought they were strippers or prostitutes. Beautiful women, if not Hollywood beautiful.
If you put your bust and ass on display like that, you’ll attract certain types of people.
If you, in public (like on the Metro), are loud and cursing, you will repel certain types of people.
I have a theory that black men and women hate each other. It’s a shame but there’s so much anger and mistrust for one another. Still, a man can’t be the man he’s meant to be without your love, support and companionship. If you’re looking for a man and you find one, regardless of race or ethnicity, you go for yours.
Anyway, you’re carrying more than your share of the load. Getting educated, working, raising kids, taking care of business. Keep your chin up.
TO THE BLACK MAN
Okay. Let me level. I’m not the best person to be addressing Black men. I’m not from the ‘hood. I’m not up on the latest trends. I don’t like the dreds and oversized baseball cap look. I think those saggy jeans that you have to hold on to or hike up every 12 seconds make you look like a f’in’ idiot. Gold teeth? The overall effect is clownish. My opinion. I don’t like most rap because it’s shallow, destructive and ignorant. I shouldn’t say “most”, but the stuff that plays on the radio — I ain’t tryin’ to hear dat. The artform is brilliant. The content is too often trash.
I have feelings of inadequacy as a Black man. I had a friend once. White woman from the UK. Of course I had the hots for her. Who don’t I have a crush on. One of her boyfriends in the time I’ve known her was black, which annoyed me because hey, I’m black, too. What really got to me, though, is that he was like a “real” version of me. I’m kind of thick and muscular; he was tall and built like a bodybuilder. I had an SUV; he had a big ol’ manly pickup with fat tires. I have a Shepherd mix; he had two Rottweilers. I’m a web software designer/developer; he was a cop … with a gun. You ever feel like the Fates are having fun at your expense?
So I don’t have current Blackman credentials, is what I’m saying. But it needs to be said. Respectfully.
What the f— are you doing?
Did you know that black women are alone? They, single, are adopting babies. They can’t find men to marry and start a family with. They’re going to college and you’re not there. I saw three black teenage boys freestyle the other week an improvised song of insults against black girls.
Three hundred something young black dudes killed in one city per year. By young black dudes. What are you doing? For what? Drugs, money, territory? Hustling is what they call a glamor industry, meaning very few make good on it. The rest struggle and in this game die or go to prison. You are not an animal, Black Man.
You are strong, resilient, creative, brilliant, formidable warriors at whatever you choose to do. White people once said that black people weren’t smart enough to be entertainers. Then they said they weren’t good enough to play basketball. Then baseball. Then football. Then they said that black men don’t have the mental faculty to be quarterbacks. Then tennis and golf. Doctors, surgeons.
When they try to tell you what you can’t do? They. Are. Always. Wrong.
Look. The state of Black America is a microcosm of America. What happens in our community inevitably happens in the country as a whole. We’re all connected. Whether it’s an epidemic of drugs and disease, economic upheaval, or cultural renaissance it will ripple outward. When we get our s— together and tighten up our family unit, that will be the start of stability and success for the country.
It’s for real.