Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Message from the Average Black Person

From AlterNet:

I can't possibly express to you the different types of Black people that exist. We neither move as an entity, nor do we move as three or four entities. For every Sharpton, there's a Steele. And for every Sharpton and Steele there are a hundred folks in the middle. What we share is a past, which on occasion helps shape our view on things. Also? Obama is not a unicorn. Please stop acting like Obama and his family are magical in the Black community. Just because some of you may not have seen a Negro like this doesn't mean they don't exist. Lots of smart black folk living with their smart mates and their cute smart kids. So please remember. Obama? Not a unicorn. Black people? Not one voice: I don't care what the supposed Black leaders try to claim.


After reading this, the next time you talk to a Black person you can feel comfortable in now knowing with every fiber of your being that you have no clue what they think or feel based on their skin color.

More here.


This is so utterly obvious to anybody who thinks about it for like five seconds, that it seems barely worth mentioning. Everyone is, after all, an individual. Everyone is a product of the circumstances from which they spring, their geographic location, their socioeconomic status, their gender, their sexual orientation, the era in which they came up, the kind of family into which they were born, their education, and on and on and on. This mix, when coupled with one's own personal perspective, makes everyone see the world and their place in it a bit differently from everybody else. Years ago when I was teaching, I once had my nose rubbed deeply into one particular Pentecostal preacher's own sense of black individuality: like the above linked essay asserts, never assume that you understand where somebody is coming from simply because you know his skin color.

However, there are differences between black people and white people, culturally speaking, and, even though there are myriad opinions and views within both the black and white communities, it would be psychotic to avoid discussing such differences for fear of offending contrarians who dare to part with the conventional wisdoms of their respective cultures. I mean, the whole "color blind" philosophy, which is positive enough for the purposes of judging people "by the content of their character," has otherwise gotten us into trouble by making us all try to pretend that there are no differences between white and black hopes, fears, dreams, and values.

If we're ever going to achieve any realistic sense of racial harmony, we've got to figure out how to really do diversity, rather than paying it lip service. And we just can't do diversity if we keep telling ourselves that we're all the same. That means recognizing and discussing ethnic difference in the United States. Surely there must be some kind of rhetorical approach allowing for broad discussion of ethnicity and culture while recognizing that everybody's an individual.

It's probably not much more difficult than changing, for instance, the phrase "African Americans are like..." to something along the lines of "African American culture tends to value..." But then, white people are pretty crazy on the topic of race, so maybe that's too much to expect.

Sorry. What I meant to say is that white American culture tends to be pretty crazy on the topic of race, so...