I have met so many black folks younger than me who identify as being anything other than what their racial selves actually are. Instead, these young people are "Hispanic," "mixed," "White-identified," "multicultural," "part Indian," or something else. I smirk, because in another age, not too long ago, they too would be up on the auction block with no qualifier given. And for the record none of them could pass the brown paper bag test. Riddle me that one...
In the present, these same folks have the luxury--because of the blood struggles of their ancestors--to run away from blackness. History is laughing, is she not?
I love me some Dr. Akbar. Each week or so I am going to be sharing some of his wisdom for those who are tempted to write off our "Afrocentric" brothers without engaging the knowledge which the best and brightest of them bring to the game.
My rediscovery of Dr. Akbar is pleasant and brings on a laugh or two (or three). As a young college student who was dragged with great resistance by his mentors to the Black Man Think Tanks and other such events across this country, I never would have imagined that in my later years I would come to appreciate the hidden truths and knowledge I was exposed to in those spaces. At the time, I thought those events were spaces of reified black masculinity and tired tropes born of obsolete people searching for relevance.
Now I realize that many young people of color, especially those born in the post-Civil Rights moment, are not equipped with the mental and spiritual armor necessary to deal with the psychic burden of blackness--especially as strength can often be turned into weakness by the forces of backstage and frontstage racism.
The multicultural dreams of their parents, peers, popular culture, teachers, and mentors have left them naked and vulnerable before the continued onslaught of structural and impersonal racism. Using a military analogy, old school bigotry was the massed firepower of artillery and the machine gun at the Somme. Modern racism is asymmetrical warfare that beats you with a thousand little cuts backed up by a single JDAM dropped at high altitude from a B-2 stealth bomber that you never hear or see.
My mentors left me prepared to deal with both types of attack. For that gift I am thankful...however belated I may be in offering love and respect.
The last few weeks' conversations about Obama, race, authenticity, and identity can all draw a direct line back to Dr. Akbar's brilliant observation about the trap of freedom and racial self-identification in the glow of the Civil Rights Movement's many successes.
It would seem that race as lived practice and identity in the Age of Obama is indeed a paradox, one that we are still sorting out. Is linked fate and a keen sense of what "black is and black ain't" a blessing or a curse? Is Cornel "blacker" than Obama? Is Cain a "real" black man? Is President Obama a Black president or is he a man who happens to be black? What do we owe to our children and to each other in teaching these lessons?
I am still groping for an answer. Perhaps, we can help each other find one together.