Q: What sucks the most about being a black American?
A: The presumption against black diversity.
There is a loud and vocal minority of black Americans who think that they represent all black Americans. They don’t. But because the news media is accustomed to having these people at hand, they continue something that is not quite stereotyping, but stereotyping anyway.
Say it. “Black Diversity.”
Have you ever heard that phrase before? It’s something everybody knows is true, but hardly ever talks about. Everybody knows a black person who is nothing like the black people on TV or in movies or wherever.
One of the consequences is that many Americans think they are doing all black people a favor in fighting racism against some black people. That would be perfect if any racism destroyed most black people. But the fact of the matter is, all black America has survived and thrived despite all racism. But really you can’t say much of anything about all black America. I mean anything you say will be true for some fraction.
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On the other side of this is black American expectation of unity from other black Americans. Chuck D said it best. “Every brother ain’t a brother.” Or as De La Soul said “They call it the ‘hood’ because nobody’s neighbors.” Black communities have mostly been ghettoes, meaning forced places for black Americans to live. Few people chose to be among the people they lived with. And that seriously broke up in the 80s, physically and culturally. There is no singular ‘black community,’ and black Americans think and feel differently about themselves and each other.
Of course there is still affinity. It’s difficult to define the affinity between black Americans. I like to say that I come from a small town called Black. It’s a well-known place, but that was a long time ago. Now it’s practically a myth. Yet it’s a fairly useful mythology that all Americans share. The trick of course is to separate myth from reality.
It doesn’t suck to be black in America.
It’s a challenge that we all understand, and the overwhelming majority of us rise, face, and beat. In 1960, there were 20 million Negroes in America and the majority of them lived in poverty. Today there are more than 42 million (that was 2010) and the majority of them live in the middle class. That’s the reality. “I am Trayvon Martin” is the myth.
Now what’s important to know about all of these observations and perspectives about black American is that you can pretty much predict who wants to hear the good news and who wants to hear the bad news. In my experience, it has been black folks on the political Right who are much more comfortable with a lack of black unity.
When I grew up, it was common to hear the comment “There goes your people.” whenever some black person was acting out. My parent’s response would always be “I didn’t raise them.” Today we hear people’s stomach sink when they hear about somebody getting shot on the street. Those people are hoping the shooter is not black. Why? Because you accept collective guilt for the race of people you don’t know and didn’t raise? It’s sad that some people are so desperate for racial unity that they refuse to pick and choose which black Americans are ‘their people’. Racial unity is a losing strategy. It kills individual initiative and judgement. My mama didn’t raise no fool, so I’ll keep my initiative and judgement thank you very much.
Unlike multiculturalists, I am not pretending that race = culture.
I know very well that there is a great deal of cultural diversity within black America. Again, the presumption is that all of us are what? Southern Baptists? No religious diversity? Why would anyone presume that we all put hot sauce on our eggs? So believe me, I speak up for my cultural distinction as everyone should. Don’t make the presumption that I’m trying to speak for my race, that’s a red flag right there.
So let me add one more jab, because it’s a current affair. There is perhaps nothing more kooky and dangerous than the presumption that everyone in America needs some new racial theory shoved down their necks. It is the most ass-backwards idea in a long time, especially when it comes to teaching such things to kids. The answer to the question should be loud and clear: presume nothing. All anybody has to do is have an honest accounting of the history of America. Quite frankly if you did enough study of black Americans during black history month, you’d see the intellectual, spiritual, cultural and geographic diversity plain and simple.
It doesn’t suck to be black in America. It sucks not to be identified by name. Black like me is the place to be. I hope we get to know each other better.
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