July 9, 2012

Black ain't Nothin' But a Color

Note: I have been trying for weeks to figure out a way to write this idea down in a way that won’t offend too many folks.  Of course I am going to offend some, that’s the nature of raising some of the issues raised on this blog.  However, I seriously want to parse this issue carefully, not to save face or maintain allies in certain places, but rather because I want to treat the issue with the temerity and seriousness it deserves, while also being honest.

With that said…

It has come to my attention that many people (more than I ever knew) are mired in the race based philosophies of an earlier era.  It is not just those in the streets (see Occupy and radicals), but it has unfortunately shown its ugly head in the ivory towers of academic institutions, as well as the public sphere of intellectual conversation/discourse.  What I explicitly mean is too many folk rest on the notion that since the history of America, as this camp so eloquently articulates, was built on the backs of Black and Brown folk that we – those of us who are Black and Brown, must somehow hold this country forever responsible for whatever societal ills which happen to us.  In short, structural, institutional and societal racism has and will always hold us back from achieving the “American dream.” 
            What many who adhere to this belief insist upon is that simple isolated advancements/achievements, from being able to sit/eat/shop/walk anywhere in this country without being legally harassed, not to mention the current (and future) occupant in the White House, do nothing to change the singular insistence that “things have not gotten better, nor will they ever.” 
            I’m sorry, but as I sit here, in Los Angeles, a true melting pot or stew (which, of course has its boiling points and warts) I look out on the block and see a sea of humanity, or as Prince, expanding upon Jesse Jackson, put it, a sea of “rainbow children.”  I know there are undercurrents of anger, resentment and yes racism, but walk into the shops along this block, or enter the place where I just got my hair cut.  See who owns these shops, not just who patronizes them.  If you don’t think change (financial, social and otherwise) has come to many of these entrepreneurs, you are doing a disservice to their hard work, perseverance and dedication.
            As I think about my experiences in my current residence on the other side of the country, I can only think of a few instances and individuals which truly represent the “rainbow children” mentality.  And let me be clear, I am not so much speaking so much to those who have traditionally been in power or were the perpetrators of racism in this country (i.e. white folk), I’m talking to you, my brothas and sistas.
            Since when did it become socially and culturally acceptable in too many places to see race through a singular lens?  If I’m not mistaken, the history teacher in me can examine as far back as DuBois and Washington, or Malcolm and Martin the dichotomy which has existed in the our community.  In short, there are too many examples of what it means to live, act, socialize and thrive as a Black/Brown person to conclude that only one way should be socially acceptable.  What is hurtful for those of us without a home (not fully embraced in either the dominant society or their “home” culture) is that as we advance the ladder – whether it be in business, academia or simply by living in a mixed community, we are further and further excommunicated by our own.          
If those of us who try to present a third way to Black/Brown folk, or actually see the dream King envisioned becoming a reality (albeit not as fast as it should, but no one is drinking out of a segregated water fountain) ever challenge the “norm,” we become pariahs, traitors or liars.  Yet in the dominant world, we are seen as “angry” “dangerous” and “threatening” if we challenge not how far we’ve come, but how much further we still need to go.  In some circles, we are increasingly held to a different standard even if we have the same credentials, same education, live in the same neighborhoods and frequent/enjoy the same cultural artifacts.
            So what is a 21st century brotha/sista to do?  While I personally am not afraid to challenge anyone or, in the same vein, learn and grow from others, I see fear emanating from both sides.  Fear of change.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of failure.  If we, as Black/Brown folk acknowledge, yes, things have changed since the 1960s, or even the 1980s, we run the risk being dismissed and reduced to an inaccurate conclusion that change has produced a “post racial world.”  If we challenge white folk in the same manner and approach their peers/colleagues do, on an intellectually level playing field, we run the risk of being dismissed as “dangerous” or “threatening.”
            In short, in this day and age, the younger generation doesn’t see race as we once did (or some still do).  What that means is that for them it is OK to like both Drake and Taylor Swift, to eat sushi, tacos and grits all in the same week, or participate in any other culturally hybrid phenomena which exist today.  Maybe we can learn from their hybridity, and maybe they can learn the historical constructs of the past from us.  We have the puzzle pieces in place, now the difficult part of putting them together must take place.  It starts with what the late Rodney King said so famously 20 years ago during civil unrest in LA “Can’t we all just get along?”  Getting along doesn’t mean forgetting the past, it means understanding, acknowledging and as Mandela and the Apartheid Movement has taught us, Ubuntu – “I am what I am because of who we all are.” 

1 comment:

  1. King said, "Can we all get along?" You are misquoting him.