Tag Archives: blackness

Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? Me, Kinda.

I’m teaching a Black Politics course this summer, and I’m using Toure’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What it Means to Be Black Now as the primary textbook. Initially, I planned to take the traditional route – lecturing from works by the usual suspects: Manning Marable, Michael Dawson, Cornel West. But I decided in the end that I wanted to discuss race in a contemporary way, and Toure’s work allows me that freedom.

My class starts like Toure’s book does, with questions about the nature of identity. What exactly is Blackness in 2012? 50 years ago, varying shades of brown skin were sufficient determinations. If you couldn’t pass a brown paper bag test, then you were Black enough to experience the struggle, and on some level, you probably knew it personally. It was that – the struggle, the trauma narrative – of the Black American experience that was the rallying cry of Black Americans.

In 2012, however, with a biracial President of the United States who has chosen to identify culturally as Black, what now is the rallying cry? What now is the reason to rally for the race? Toure’s book argues that Blackness is multifaceted. Struggle, trauma, oppression, and racism are no longer qualifying characteristics of living while Black in America. Scholar and Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates explains it this way: if there are 40 million Black Americans, then there are 40 million ways to be Black. Thus, poor, oppressed, and powerless is but one reality of Blackness. There are 40 million other ways to “do” it.

Last week, I asked my class to write a short paper about the way(s) they express Blackness. I wondered if it was fair for me to have the same expectation of my non-Black students. But I figured, fuck it. Writing the paper required all of them to soul search. They’d have figure out for themselves what it means to be Black and how they, as individuals, fit into that narrative. It’s an opportunity to process through a different prism.

In the beginning of Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness, Touré lists his interview questions. There are some good ones designed to move the windmills of your mind and to jump-start dialogue. Touré asks: What does being Black mean to you? Does being Black mean something different today than it did 40 years ago? Would you feel comfortable eating fried chicken or watermelon around white people? My students and I talk about these questions, and we try to answer them too. I’ve noticed that the younger ones always respond in post-Black, individualistic ways. And the older students often answer from a collective perspective.

It always starts this way though. No one likes to admit that they still subscribe to a trauma narrative about the Black American experience. That they still wear “the struggle,” and are still caught up in it. Post-Blackness gives folks license to slough off that trauma, and move on. In a way, it’s like a second Emancipation Proclamation. This time though, Blacks are liberated from an imposed responsibility for advancing the race. You get to just “do you,” without worrying about whether it helps or hurts Us-at-large. “Us” is not your priority; you are. Post-Blackness allows Blackness to be embraced in a continuum, where Clarence Thomas-types can be at one end and Angela Davis-types can be at the other. And it’s all the same. Angela Davis hasn’t kept it real, and Clarence Thomas hasn’t sold out. Each of them performs Blackness in their own way, and each expression of Blackness is as legitimate, and as authentic as the other.

Post-Blackness represents the freedom to be an individual. To that end, it’s possible no one embodies the Post-Black pathology ideology quite like Dave Chappelle. “Chappelle Show” was absolutely fearless in the way it handled the social and cultural constructions of race in America. The third chapter of Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness is titled “The Rise and Fall of a Post-Black King”. In it, Touré presents several of Chappelle’s most hilarious, most provocative, and most brilliant comedy sketches cum social commentaries on race. But they’re so much better in video. See for yourself.

The Niggar Family

Frontline – Clayton Bigsby, Black White Supremacist

These sketches worked because they made it seem like we could actually be evolved and mature in discussing race – so conscious, as it were, that we could even be irreverent about it.

Roots Outtakes

But alas, as I mentioned, Chapter 3 of ‘Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness’ is titled “The Rise and Fall of a Post-Black King.” Remember, Dave Chappelle walked away from “Chappelle’s Show” and away from his $50 million contract with Comedy Central because he felt like folks no longer laughed with him. Whereas initially, the point was to be funny and if somewhere along the way, a sentient message about race relations emerged, that was even better. But in the end, Chappelle felt more responsibility than that. In other words, the irreverence for Blackness that Post-Blackness encourages and excuses is cool until it’s not – that is, honestly, until white folks laugh a little too hard at depictions of slavery, or get too comfortable misunderstanding nigga/nigger. “You start to realize that these sketches, in the wrong hands, are dangerous.”

The history of race relations in America makes discussions of race slippery and uncomfortable. Being able to laugh about it certainly lightens things up, but the sore still festers if we really aren’t yet evolved and mature enough to also recognize the blues of it all.

The blues of the Black American experience are still palpable for a good number of folks because, although some of us have managed to exorcise ourselves from the charge of race consciousness by standing proudly as Post-Black, the world in which we live, unfortunately, isn’t so evolved.

Clever. Renege is spelled differently, but I’m sure they already knew that.

Post-Blackness, in the wrong hands, is also dangerous. And in the Trayvon Martin case, I think Touré saw that too.

“F*ck yo couch, n*gga!”

Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s uncomfortable seeing it in the public square. Deal with it though. Let me get there.

I’ve thought a lot about language lately — its evolution and fluidity, given the context of time and space. In 2010, in an interconnected universe where cats don’t speak English, but have mastered American pop culture swag, the term could become too mainstream, too commonplace, too “popular” to remain offensive. You have to grapple with the possibility that white folks might get the gumption to test out “post-racial America” theory, and take the term out for a spin. Now, I’m not saying such a decision might cause trouble for an adventurous, thrill-seeking lad. I’m merely acknowledging the risk — as should said adventurous, thrill-seeking lad.

Nevertheless, we say it don’t we? And not only in the streets either, but at home, in our elite, educated gatherings we let it slip. Or we don’t let it slip. We sometimes consciously, purposely, and with much emphasis prefer nigga(s) to friend, young man/woman, group of people. Around the spades table, cats don’t decry cats who renege. They decry niggas that renege! I’m not saying it’s right; I’m merely saying it is . I’m not even saying that “we” is all of us. Or even all us . Just that I hear it. Everywhere I go.

In recent years I’ve noticed that the folks I kick it with on a regular basis cuss like a pack-o-sailors. And God love em! You see, I appreciate and encourage colorfully conjugated “fucks” and strategically placed “hoes” in conversation. I bristle instantly at one’s usage of darn over damn, shoot instead of shit. Judgmental finger wagging and head shaking instead of a stern, “Muthafucka, what!?” No seriously, you gotta cuss a nigga out sometimes; Folk need to know they have to respect your anger.

Lame tongues have argued for years that a profanity-full vocabulary is a sure sign of some conversation/self-expression deficiency. I would counter that it’s quite the contrary; the successful cusser is intelligent enough to do so colorfully, allowing a carefully and cleverly constructed stream of expletives to bask in their own glory. In that regard, a profanophile* like myself seeks merely to add a certain flavor to the sitcheeation. I believe it’s embedded in my Blackness. Really, me and my “muhfukkas” don’t mean no harm.

Brother Bernie explains it better than me, tho.

I suspect that those of us who toss “nigga” around leisurely do so in earnest — without malice or disregard for its historical significance. Instead, they we recognize that language isn’t a national historic artifact, to be preserved as is for all time. It evolves just like we do. That other previously maligned ethnic groups haven’t re-defined their negative monikers should be of no concern to us. However, I recognize that that’s Black folks though…always tryna keep up with the Levy’s.

Finally, our linguistic freedoms notwithstanding, there are rules to this shit. No cussing around old folks and babies. And be sure to tell your white friends that: no. “nigga” liberties do. not. apply to them…And tell em not to get fucked up making the arguments that I have here. Some niggas ain’t get that post-racial memo. And some shit will just never be ok. And so it’s really best to leave that one be.

You ever watch a Quentin Tarantino film? This is what language looks and feels like sans the Puritan filter. I much, much prefer it.

The end, bitches.
Profanophile: So I made it up. I’m a fuckin PhD-to-be. I’m entitled to this shit.

For Girls.

I haven’t been a big fan of Tyler Perry in the last few years. In fact, I was kind of on the ‘you may be doing more harm than good, homie” bandwagon. Despite basking in the blessings of luminary figures such as Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, and Cicely Stretchedmouth Tyson, I’ve always felt that Perry’s movies severely lacked depth. His characters, while sensational, were often static and flat, saved by some religious proclamation or an ‘i’m too blessed to be stressed” type rhetoric.   It was simple, formulaic, and sub-par.

Still, what I’ve liked about Tyler Perry is his steadfast allegiance to the life he knows. As a born and bred southerner with a family full of matriarchs, I get Madea; I get the Black ass life that Perry often seeks to portray; it’s sincere than a mug. I just always thought he could and should do it better.  Inasmuch as we appreciate a humble beginning, the big screen is a long way away from the chitlin’ circuit. And as much as I respect the brother’s craft, I’m kinda good on a bunch of shuckin’ and jivin’ and signifyin all over my AMC theater. Not that such content is incapable of making for a decent movie.  It’s just that the listlessness of Tyler Perry scripts to date simply couldn’t be overlooked — no matter how much I could “relate” to the characters, nor how marginally funny they were.

I’m happy to say, however, that I didn’t walk away from ‘For Colored Girls’ feeling like I wanted my money back. Although I suspect that the depth of story and dialogue in the film is mostly attributed to Ntozake Shange’s brilliant original work, Perry certainly held his own. I mean, Tyler Perry is kinda gay Tyler Perry, and so there is always that element of over-the-top-ness. Remember when he had them black ass angels suspended in the air playing harps in Madea’s Family Reunion? No? Trust me, they was there. In any case, in the context of ‘For Colored Girls,’ the shock of what you see does help to make the overarching point. Which is embodied in one of the last lines of Shange’s work and Perry’s movie: “i found god in myself. & i loved her/ i loved her fiercely.”

Before we proceed, please spend a lil time with my disclaimer:

I acknowledge, without reservation, the legions of great men in great relationships, who take care of their women and their children. We know you’re out there, and we support you. And we love you, and we believe in you.  In other words, if you aint fuckin up or haven’t fucked up some woman’s head, then this aint about you.

That being said, I’ve heard the same complaint over and over about how, once again, Tyler Perry has skewered black men.  I disagree completely.  ‘For Colored Girls’ is probably the first film since ‘The Color Purple’ to address Black women’s issues, and indeed women’s issues in general, from a Black woman’s perspective.    And so, while I praise men who do the right thing, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge also that a great many have made life as a woman difficult to bear.  For centuries, men have controlled the means of production, and thus, the message which was produced and distributed.

The mainstream conception of femininty pits beauty and desirability against intelligence/ambition/independence.  Thus, our worth is often determined by our measurements, our attractiveness, our degree of assertiveness–wherein much is too much, and little can be just right. Cats like the idea of a Michelle Obama, but may prefer Laura Bush in reality. They like a strong woman in theory, but like to be “the man”, too. And in the absence of common sense, at some point those two concepts become incompatible, equating the “independent woman” with the slippery slope to the emasculated man.

Moreover, I believe there exists a kind of continuum which describes the schizophrenia of male behaviors. It’s an interplay between masculinity and predation. The masculinity is what we love — the opening of the doors, walking and talking real strong, lifting the heavy shit, and defending our honor. Predation, on the other hand, is masculinity gone horribly awry. It’s the feeling of being stared at and whistled at by a group of men you don’t know, and then being called a “bitch” when you fail to swoon at their ineloquent advances. It’s that moment when you’re engaged in the freaky deaky with the dude from the dance, and you realize that he realizes just how much stronger he is than you. And then uses it to his advantage.  It’s Uncle so-and-so being a little too chummy in too weird a way with his niece — or nephew.  It’s embedded in the questions, “well, did you lead him on? was your dress that short?” It’s even evident in the snide shit that men say about the intelligence of women, intimating that our emotions make us incapable of exercising reason and logic — long considered male/masculine traits.

Adding credibility to this last piece though, is how we go equally as batshit over attention from dudes who treat us right, and dudes who don’t. You ever seen two men fight over a woman who’s playing them both? Chances are, no. Because women have been led to believe that it’s all about having the guy. No matter if you’re successful in all other aspects of life, you aint shit unless you got a man.

But at what cost? Do you forego the full breadth of your ambition to snag or keep the guy? Some of us do. Because the statistics dictate that the higher up the socioeconomic ladder we climb, the more likely we are to remain single. Why should we settle, though? Of course, all men aren’t shitty men. However, a lot more of ’em could be doing a hell of a lot better.  While the statistics are what they are, with gradations and explanations for why they are, the fact remains that many men are being outpaced. And for women’s attempts at self-empowerment, they are rewarded with “I mean, yeah, but you aint got no man. You can’t keep no man. And so…”

For me, ‘For Colored Girls’ filled in that blank. “So…what!? Although I’m only a woman, I am still enough. By. My. Self.’ This is the message that most women, regardless of race, frequently miss. Worth is not determined by who or how many “want” you, or how attractive they think you are.  Nor is it defined by the perfect breast-to-waist-to-ass ratio. I mean, do you really want a dude who wants a bobble head doll with a bangin body? What does that say about him?   More importantly, what does it say about you?  He merely stated his choice; you chose to be his bobble head doll.

What I mean is, I think men and women have to figure out what our roles are in this new millennium.     Somehow, it’s gotten all screwed up.  Because women can pay for shit, and don’t necessarily need a man for stability or security, then men don’t seem to know what to do with themselves, and in turn, women seem to have the damnedest time dropping dead weight.  In other words, the quality of being male isn’t enough to seal the deal anymore.  We don’t need you to validate us.  Rather, understand and acknowledge that it is possible both to complement and to lead, as the partnership is the very essence of the relationship.

In this regard, I suppose the first step is ours — women’s.  It is looking in the mirror and loving and respecting the reflection that glares back — in all its glory, with all its flaws.  It lies in affirming the God in us, and never, ever allowing anyone the power to sever that relationship.  The second step is to read Ntozake Shange’s poem, or see Tyler Perry’s movie.  Tragedy is triumph on deck — and the message, in my opinion, of both works is that loving yourself enough makes you strong enough to weather any storm.  No matter how cute, or charming he appears is.