Wednesday, November 9, 2011
The Online Chronicles of an "Angry Black Man" in the Age of Obama: Why is Black Genius So Threatening to Some White Folks?
Writing online is a type of archiving. It is also a type of performance.
What follows is a bit of critical self-reflection, breaking kayfabe, and thinking aloud in public.
I always take a moment to step back whenever I write something on these Internets that riles folks up. When doing so, I ask myself the following: "Okay, if I didn't know the author, what impression would he leave me with?" "What are his politics?" "What 'type' of black man is he?"
He seems pretty reasonable to me, if at times a little provocative and playful. But crazy? Mean? Unreasonable? Not interested in "dialogue?" I just don't see it.
Thus, I am always surprised by the response of some folks to my online work, that in their eyes I am somehow "angry," or "upset." Black folks know that figure, "the angry black man" quite well--he is us, we are at times him. White folks know him too: he looms large in the American political and cultural subconscious, where instead of a 3 dimensional being, this angry black man is a bogeyman caricature, all huff and puff, irrational and rageful towards those innocent white folks who did him no harm.
Of course, there is much to be upset about in this world. And in America, much of this ugliness has worked itself out along lines of race.
Given that clear, plain on its face reality, I nevertheless remain surprised by the power that the very idea of the angry black man holds for so many. Intellectually, I get that white folks, and Whiteness at large, does not want to be forced to confront the righteousness of black anger. Why? Because to do so would force "uncomfortable" conversations about justice, one's personal relationship to white supremacy--and of course their investment in the normality of Whiteness with its White looks, White ways of thinking, White ways of knowing, and White ways of being.
For many, to take ownership over such a fact is the very definition of cognitive dissonance.
America is a country without a history. America has no memory of anything earlier than what happened last week. The historical myopia of Whiteness is no small part of that national personality trait, what is in all, a very bad habit.
I often smile when I read comments by readers who think that I am an angry black man. I am not. Life is too short to overly obsess over the curious ways of white folks. What I struggle and work towards is a holistic type of personhood; I simply want the freedom to be, to integrate every part of my self.
And yes, my blackness, and particular experiences as a working class black man of a certain age, a ghetto nerd, sensualist, reader, and citizen born in the post-Civil Rights moment at the time of hip hop's birth, is a significant part of my full humanity.
Because I love black people, and respect our accomplishments in the face of unimaginable obstacles in these United States, I am at peace, even while I see that there is much work still to be done. Because I understand how black folks helped to save American democracy from its own malformed, retarded, bigotry, I am made quite proud.
Back in the day we used to call that "knowledge of self." At present, I just call it a certain peace of mind.
When I wrote my open letter of sorts to the readers of the Daily Kos about liberal racism, Brother Akbar's words on the need to fully integrate one's self; to not have to ask permission from white folks to speak; to not need white approval when we want to sing our own "heroes" and "sheroes"; and to be unapologetic about demanding that democracy live up to its promises and potential, were echoing in my memory.
Black confidence, black pride, and black self-confidence is scary to many (if not most) white folks. For all of my reflection and research on the topic I do not know why. Of course, I intellectually "get" the ways that race, power, and structures intersect, and how "in-group" identity is normalized. But on a personal and emotional level, how can a people who have so much, who in essence run the world, be so easily upset by black folk's most simple, basic, human needs?
Ultimately, when we refuse to ask permission, we become angry black men and angry black women.
Why is this?
Please, teach me something on these matters. I am eager to sit back, listen, and learn.