From Salon.com, an article about Randall Kennedy’s new book “Sellout,” which is about, ahem, black heretics in America. Namely Clarence Thomas among others, including a chapter on forgotten blacks from American history who were forgotten because they were known for screwing over their fellow slaves/militants/freedom fighters because, I don’t know, they believed they deserved to be slaves? Believed blacks were, in fact, inferior? Were assholes? I don’t know. But since Kennedy is trying to defend the right for black people to question some of the cornerstones or tenets of black political thought, he’s going out there in a dangerous, racial no man’s land.
I thought it was an interesting article. Maybe I’ll read the book when it makes it to the local library. Don’t know if I’d want to spend actual money on it, much like with Clarence Thomas’ memoir, which I checked out for my father because he was dying to read it after seeing Thomas’ now legendary “60 Minutes” interview. He was surprised by Thomas’ extreme anger at everyone. Black people who call him a sellout. White people, in general. Democrats and, to some extent, Republicans. Political institutions. Affirmative Action. You name it, Clarence was pissed.
Needless to say, the book was pretty revealing to the fact that he’s, well, quite frankly unbalanced at best. Nutso at worst. He suffers from a bad case of unresolved issues. It’s like he took his sui generis life and decided to apply it to everyone. His world is, quite literally, black & white. You’re either a good person, or an awful person. And despite his dislike, even jealous thoughts towards white people, he usually worked extremely hard to win them over and never, never assumed that the reason why he got paid so much less than the other lawyers at former Senator John Danforth’s firm in Missouri was because he was black. And he also turned into the person his grandfather, whom he admired so much, hated. A coward who did not take care of his responsibilities. This happened when, during Clarence’s untreated alcoholism phase of his life, abandoned his first wife and child.
In his article on Kennedy’s book James Hannaham writes briefly about the rigidness of black thought and black politics and compared being black to Communism. And relayed the notion that taking certain political stances or airing out the dirty laundry of blackness in public can get you kicked out or shunned by other blacks. Hannaham doesn’t explain WHY this is so. The rigidness of black identity politics was created out of shared human suffering, i.e. racism/slavery. It was adopted to survive. It is, quite literally, akin to Harriet Tubman packing heat on the Underground Railroad, threatening to kill any slave on her route who chose to go back and possibly rat them all out. The stakes were too high for any dissenters.
When I was living in California I interviewed a Mexican-American comic and we got in a long conversation about race and the guy was agitated at Hispanics because he felt they didn’t support each other, especially when it came to the arts. He griped that when the film “Chasing Papi” came out hardly anyone went to see it and those who did complained. He pointed at the fact that any black comedy could open in theaters and there would be an audience. Then he griped about George Lopez who then had a television show on ABC and about how Lopez did not employ enough Latino comics and actors on his show. He then pointed out how if you see a black comedy or movie there will be a thousand other black comics and actors in it. He couldn’t understand why blacks backed each other and Latinos did not.
I laughed, because blacks are critical of each other. And I didn’t meet many black people who were pleased with “Norbit,” but I told him that if there were any allusions of black togetherness, if we did sometimes appear monolithic Latinos could have that too if they did just one thing — live together in bondage for 300 years. Plus “Jim Crow.” Plus institutionalized racism.
And that’s why black people don’t like it when other black people go off the reservation. We’re still pretty much in survival mode post-1960s. It’s hard to crack something like that when, despite all our accomplishments and successes, there’s still a hyper-vigilant effort to keep an eye out for anyone refitting us for nooses and shackles.
This also explains the debate among blacks about Barack Obama. Black people want to support their own for the benefit of all. Who couldn’t love a handsome black senator, his feisty smart wife and their adorable daughters? The Obamas are for most black people, their vision of the American dream. And then there’s the survivalist that lives inside most black people who’s only concern is keeping bigots out of the White House by any means necessary. They’re pragmatic. They want who they think can win. Ordinarily they wouldn’t put their eggs in a “white woman basket,” but her last name is Clinton. And they’re hoping she could win just like her husband did.
It’s this debate, pragmatism vs. optimism, that’s going on in Black America. Should we get caught up in the Obama wave? Or is it another case of, “we’ve seen this movie before and it ends with somebody getting shot?”
But, now I’m going off the reservation with what this post was about.
Black people, not a monolith, just looks like one.