Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Black in America: the Remix!

Of course the title is ironic. That's the point. Remix, which likely brings connotation of rap music, is one of those quick associations with black. That's what I'm here to talk about.

I decided to write this because I was so inspired; it came from within. Just kidding, I watched "So You Think You Can Dance" earlier and I'm channeling the wrong show. What I'm watching now, and not particularly taken by, is CNN's "Black in America."

Now I'm not here to bash CNN for the cream puff of Journalism that it actually is (does that count as bashing?). I don't really know what my evaluation of their program is, and I really also don't know what their whole point is. Are they trying to act as social catalyts or just going for the coveted Emmy? I don't have the answer. What I do have are some observations.


It's five letters, but very powerful. It doesn't have as much anger as nigger, but yet it's a bit more organic than African American. What does African American even mean? What about European American?

Those five letters, however, are at the centre of a great nation's struggle. That in itself is a problem. While "black" is this great nation's problem, it is also the predicament of a great continent, and that is often not recognized enough by the aforementioned great nation, and many others around the world. Nevertheless, I will continue hypocritically and focus on the struggle of "black" in said great nation.

What I noticed watching this little "special" is that "black" is so poorly handled in this great nation. The report was at times patronizing, and not only to black people I might add. Instead of providing superior journalism, they engaged in Carrie Bradshaw topics such as being a succesful woman trying to get married. Oh wait, this was "Black in America," so it was Joan Clayton topics. Silly me. Anyway, I think there could be more substantial topics. Other topics ranged from Aids, Violence, and Interracial families.

Now I'm a bit reluctant to put forward this criticism because I might be labeled a complacent black man, but how is a black person supposed to watch that and feel good about themselves with those uplifting topics? Of course there are problems, and I wouldn't want to diminish them, but it's also linked to what I think might be the most significant thing about being "Black in America."


Now any competent anthropologist or maybe even scientist will tell you skin colour is just one trait that doesn't do very much else in determining the rest of your characteristics, so it's a bit silly the way people are grouped through skin colour. It is what it is though. In terms of being black, the biggest bond I think comes through history. A history of struggle, a history of subjugation, and a history of feeling inferior. It would be irresponsible of me not to point out that if one explores pre-colonial times this history would be much more varied. However, in an American context - expanded here to include north, south and central - black history is one that's quite battle scarred. Every black person is aware of that and likely cannot shed it.

The black identity isn't all bad though. There's strength; there's pride; there's solidarity; there's culture; there's athleticism. The good comes with the bad, but unfortunately what I think must be realized is that these are definitions that come from outside. They come from families instituting black identities. They come from soceities seeing you as black. They come from socialising agents such as school and churches, but quite often it doesn't come from one's own invention. Granted, very little comes from one's own invention because we're all socialised, but I guess the point is how.

From a young age, a black individual is aware of their blackness for all the good and bad, and likewise for many other ethnicities. What's the difference with blacks? Is it their position as "second class" in the world's dominant cultural and economic power? Perhaps it's their ever-present devastation from colonialism. I don't completely have that answer. What I do know is that any individual only lives up to the potential that you give them.

My issue then with "Black in America," and quite a large number of these discussions about blackness performed by those from all parts of every spectrum is that they make the label of black more pervasive for all its good and its bad. Arguably, compared to other ethnicities, the difference between the percieved good and bad attributes of black is less divergent than that of other ethnicities. Hence, the predicament of blacks in that great nation.

What's the solution? Well I don't have one. I'm not nearly that presumptuous about my intellect, but from my experience I would conclude that blacks don't have to be black. Now don't get all Johnny Cochrane on me because I'm not suggesting anyone go all "Uncle Tom." My perspective is that for anyone, beyond race or any other identifiable traits, power and potential lies in creating your own image of yourself. Don't give in to the image of how to act, how to speak, how to dress, and importantly how and what to achieve. Don't accept what people think you should amount to, just view yourself based on your own merits. So, I'm Oprah now?

Now of course I'm not naive. There will always be ghettos, and there will always be blacks in ghettos, so there's no panacea forthcoming. Nevertheless, regardless of the rhetoric in this endless discussion, black parents need to promote the notion of black kids not limiting themselves to the perception of black. It's not easy, and it's not simple. It might, however, produce some slow changes. Perhaps, just perhaps, that's why many black people so wholeheartedly support one Mr. Obama. Afterall, he's half white, so he couldn't be limited as just black. Could he?

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