Friday, April 22, 2011
Of Black Pride and White Prejudice: Can A White Man Kick the Truth to a Young Black Youth?
Something to think about over the weekend...
Navigating the colorline in the Age of Obama, a moment where there is racism without racists, is tough work. Race is as much a socially constructed reality, as it is a cognitive map. Race, like gender and sexuality, is also a set of scripts which we follow both consciously and subconsciously as we try to make sense of our positions in the world. These scripts are often mentally demanding and intellectually frustrating because they are not always transparent or consistent.
As I hinted at in my first posts on Black Pride and White Prejudice there is a yearning by some for consistency and equivalence in all things. But yearning does not make a thing true--or in this case equivalent.
For example, the mocking of George Bush as a monkey is not the same as labeling President Obama a gorilla or an ape. The eliminationist rhetoric of Right-wing talk radio and Fox News has no equivalent on either the Center or the Left. The Tea Party GOP can mine white racial resentment and xenophobia in ways that the contemporary Democratic Party simply cannot given its electoral base. Disparities in power have rendered the suggestion that there is a bogeyman called "black racism" false because basic priors are not satisfied. Like "white oppression," reverse racism is an oxymoron: it is one more example of Conservative New Speak that panders to white victimology, and thus should be soundly rejected.
The finger pointing practiced by the "they do it too, why can't I!" crowd is done in the defense of matters both trivial and substantial. To the former, some white folks want the freedom to use the word "nigger" in common discourse because "the blacks" do it too. To deny white folks their freedom to indulge in ugly, hateful speech is taken by some as a burden, and one more example of a "racist" double standard that penalizes them. This is patently absurd, but somehow it echoes throughout the racial id of Whiteness--most particularly for the post-Civil Rights, hip hop generation.
Nevertheless, there is a kernel of an idea here that ought to be explored.
Clockers offers a powerful example of this dilemma. As long time readers know, my contempt for street pirate, ghetto urchin, troglodytes is transparent and unapologetic. But is there a contradiction present, where I or another member of the tribe could offer the truth to a young brother or sister gone astray, yet a white person doing the same thing would potentially be labeled as "racist?"
Race is a powerful script in this context. One of the most damning consequences of white supremacy in America was not the obvious harm done by formal and informal systems of social inequity that rewarded Whiteness and marginalized those outside of it. Rather, one of the most significant and understated tragedies of America as a herrenvolk republic, was how the religion of white supremacy created a color line that to this day limits our full humanity, as well as demands a psychic debit where it is still difficult to engage in some inter-racial "real talk" without carefully dancing around the third rail that is race in American life.
So how do we categorize Harvey Keitel's tough love sermon to Mekhi Phifer in Clockers? Is it racist or not? Do we judge racism by words as opposed to intent? Do the origins of the exchange matter more than than how the exchange takes place? Or is this exercise in qualifying white racism and prejudice more about the relationships between the agents involved than the structures in which they are embedded?