Combating Dystopia.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Absolute Blackness (of Souls, Skin and Intent).

Joe. My. God.: Fischer: Herman Cain Is Authentically Black, President Obama Isn't

Well, two dizzyingly bigoted screeds from the man in the same day. And here I'd thought one couldn't stoop to levels of putridness this often consecutively. The man does like to outdo himself it would seem.

So here's the jist: Because the President of the United States is visiting Ireland (much to the pleasure of the Irish themselves, the fanfare is pretty endearing) and honors and respects the ancestry of his grandparents- who raised him, he's less convincing as "a black person". Fischer then goes on to trumpet the new GOP darling, who...apparently is somehow more black because he's allegedly of "purer" black parentage?

Interestingly enough, I'm willing to bet Fischer and his ilk categorize President Obama as black every other time it serves their purposes. To now go out of one's way to use the idea that he's "not black enough" to be authentic is...both galling, and a troubling line of thought that has permeated African-American culture for generations.

Thats the funny thing about "blackness" (tm). Its subjective. Blackness (much like jewishness or being hispanic) can be ethnic, racial,or some variation inbetween, as I can consider myself black, merely because my ancestry is denoted as such, or because I ascribe to various cultural norms associated with the group. People often associate norms of an ethnic group with the belonging to the racial status. I am black by proxy of having black ancestry. I'm also a suburban brat with a vocabulary on steroids, musical and literary tastes that verge on the grungy/indie rock and seldom conform to the more generic of the sub-cultural cliches we're told are valid if we're to act the part. People very annoyingly remark that I don't "act black" or "sound black"...and that I somehow need to convince them that I am. Its funny, whenever I'm in environments where the likes of Fisher feel comofrtable I'm always ACUTELY aware of how black I am, regardless of how I act or speak. One is punished/judged for belonging to the "deviant" outgroup of black WELL before performance of blackness even comes into play.

Brian Fischer is likely as disconnected about racial issues as he is about gender and sexuality, make no mistake, but what he's done here is beneath contempt. President Obama is the antithesis of everything Christian Conservatives stand for (regardless of them sharing a religious vantage- despite how loathe most conservatives are to admit this)and the rejection out of hand is seldom merely just about political divides. To conjure this argument that a white old conservative can be the arbiter of "blackness" is no different than it was in the antebellum south when the house and field slaves were routed into distinct classes, with one having more "privileges" than the other. In order to simplify the act of judging what place to put black folk in, the "One Drop Rule" became the rule of thumb for "determining" how strictly, how rigidly to stratify an individual under scrutiny. One drop of "black blood" (however this was measured in the early days of the 1900s)was enough to banish you to seperate-but-equalville. Many a fairer person of African-American ancestry have experienced the ethnicity v. racial complexity of blackness in the act of "passing" during more despicable periods of Southern history. The film "An Imitation of Life" deftly explores the concept; the marginalized tragic mulatto internalizes a world of contempt and comes to reject the family that cannot renegotiate their racial identities similarly. Under normal circumstances, white powerholding arbiters of racial hierarchy favored the "white makes right" ideology, currying incremental favors upon their biracial slaves while still holding them at arms length vis a vis the one drop rule.

On the other end of the spectrum, judging the authentically of blackness are those of the African-American community who would disdain members who don't neatly conform to the expectations established by other arbiters. To be deemed "not black enough" is to be judged unworthy of membership in the group because of a performance not up to snuff. The problem becomes being scorned by racists within the dominant culture, who will gladly write off black people merely for being racially "other", and being treated as suspect by the minority culture you belong to for not prescribing to cultural adherents. To be seen as insufficient by the group others are punishing you for being part of, ironically. A lifetime of otherness.

It reminds me of an experience I had in high school, where a pithy girl I once knew asked with a wry smile on her lips if I felt "any less black for living in the suburbs." The implications stung me and I found myself both saddened and angry. I thought on it a bit and turned to her and said "No, I still get called a N***** enough on the off chance I was to forget." And the truth of such ignorance is the sorrier thing. We are whatever race we've been parceled into by accident of birth and social prescription. The cultural and much of the behavioral are environmental factors, that when it comes to blackness we begrudge when people don't meet the standards (usually low) we expect of other black people. I act like a boy from the suburbs with overly cerebral parents, and I've never once forgotten myself. Why would I? Much like President Obama there are scores of people out in the world that are more than willing to remind us, should this come to pass.


  1. I'm most struck by how people think you don't act or sound like you're black. I hear "you don't look gay" or "you don't act gay" from plenty of people. The idea that stereotypes are always true is annoyingly pervasive in American culture.

  2. Confirmation biases are one of American culture's bigger problems when it comes to identity issues. Whenever someone of a particular group does conform to our expectations (a black person being criminal, or a gay person being effete perhaps) "Well of course its always so!" The odd side effect of this phenomenon is that people who are in fact black or gay or belong to another minority group are scrutinized even more carefully should the NOT adhere to the social expectations (both from the in-group & the out group). Its alienating and rather depersonalizing on its best day.

  3. I cannot speak on the "black" or "partly black" experience in any way, shape, or form, but I can speak on the bi-racial experience that is touched on in your introduction. I have a one part plea for perspective, and one part declarative statement:

    A. What do you feel about people who are overwhelmingly (insert race here), but take every conversational opportunity to belabor a marginal sliver of Native American ancestry as a result of a one person "deviation" from European descent that is generations up their family tree? I am already consciously foregoing the fact that the very nature of this entire comment places too emphasis on race, realizing it as a caveat in order to speak in depth. But as a "50/50, my mother's second language is English" bi-racial, I haven't been able to help the fact that it smacks to me as a plea for "street cred" or integrity, as I see its frame evident in these peoples art, opinions, or other methods of expression. But I can't help but wonder if my own frame is indicative of my own closed mind. I am friends with many of these people and the ones I keep around me are open minded, articulate, technically proficient, etc, and that's more than enough to garner my respect as a human being, so on a good day, I take this nuance of their thought process as them working out their own individual identity, (a task that the most open-mided of us never see to completion). But on a bad day, (more honesty street here), I also can't help my initial thought being a ponderance that this statistical outlier is a result of (quite delicately) rape.

    B. Again referencing the split nature of my heritage: I am baffled, though not surprised, when any information distribution outlet, (usually entertainment news, the least superficial & most layered of all reporting), presents the conundrum of "What is Obama, Tyrese, Keanu Reeves, Tiger Woods..." AND PRESENTS IT AS A BINARY CHOICE. While the specifically multi-racial aspect of anyone's life experiences is in a large part determined by the cultural parts of the sum, the experience as a whole is its own unique one. For me this means slightly confusing some members of one half of my culture, and traveling to the geographic origination of my other and not being accepted at all; both by way of appearance. Because the multi-racial experience is its own beast, it doesn't matter the parts, I feel a connection to anyone to has had the experience of watching others racially vivisect them. I'll never understand how these uni-faceted "debates" aren't destroyed with a swift "both."
    Most pervasive evidence of this: The #2 pencil standardized test. Having a quick and strong grasp of new knowledge, the [question] that usually stumps me is the "Fill in race" one. I understand and accept the fundamentals of this for sociological data collection, and have no reservations on voluntarily filling 2 circles. But I believe we've all come across the ones that stipulate "fill in only one." Again to put it quite delicately: What the fuck is all that about? I don't think "other" is helping anyone refine their data sets.

    Once again apologizing the massive length of my comments, but you deserve our full attention and unabridged input. Keep releasing the info, opinions, and perspective into the universe, G. You are doing good in the world.


  4. C.P- First, thank you for taking the time to post so robustly. I really appreciate the attention and am glad this resonates.

    Now an attempt to tackle some of the points you push forward:

    A.) I know exactly what you're getting at here, and its interesting. If I recall the stats correctly (and I'll look) a large percentage of Caucasians in our culture cop to having native ancestry. A site I just stumbled onto, that I think I'll keep track of (it seems pretty neatly presented) covers this well:

    The point you make here is similar. White people do tend to embrace their multi-ethnic backgrounds...provided they aren't too black. It reminds me of an exchange I've had with a neighbor of mine, who leans conservative and from time to time informs me that her grandmother was black. I remember the information had some weight intitially, only because I don't think I'd ever heard someone who for all intents and purposes seemed (and thats the operative term when it comes to racial percption/behavior) white willingly admit to ancestry that didn't link them to Europe in some way. I see what you say about "cred", and yes, it does offput the idea that the speaker is somehow a racial purist when they insert the "somewhere down my family tree I'm one eight Cherokee". The unfortunate implications you mention, sadly have a ring of truth to them. The manifest destiny mantra Americans used in co-opting Native lands, also assimilated Native peoples. One of the reasons Native geneology is so prevalent American ancestry is because to a degree Native cultures and native persons had much less choice over whether or not they were to remain culturally autonomous. On some level, it speaks to the utter lack of power Native Americans and African Americans had to have their own separate cultures aside from when it was convenient for the dominant culture to allow it, i.e-Reservations after the fact. Slaves were literally disalowed to recall or use any aspect of their former lives and cultures. Native children were in some cases forced into White Caucasian households in order to accultrate them, send them back to their families and "civilize" the so-called heathens.

    (I'd have an easier time citing these things in the post proper, but bare with me)

    More to follow.

  5. C.P- B.) This I think is a fairly recurring theme in modern life, the tendency to pair everything of any real complexity to binary choice. Social research tells us that sexual orientation ranges along a bell curve beyond 0s and 6s (purely heterosexual and homosexual) and yet, the majority of people when regarding the topic treat bisexuality or the idea that sexual orientation is and can be fluid over time as a wivestale. I'd suggest that we treat race and gender similarly. President Obama cannot, rationally, celebrate other aspects of his racial heritage as society has already dictated or understood his master status to be "black". A lot of this can be understood through master statuses. We get to express our identites in various ways, but often our cultures dictate which statuses are most important and garner certain rights and values (being male v. female for instance). When it comes to race, society wants very earnestly to keep it simple. Dumb it down and keep it to one choice, when it comes at the cost of various parts of our cultural/ethnic identity. I think the only way to change that is to be able to dissect the implications of what Fischer and many many others suggest when they insist on dictating the terms.

  6. Explanation accepted. Leveling up.

    I wish the Pulitzer committee would hurry up and contact you.