Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Zora Says: What Would White Folks Think?
At this point, you have all figured out that Chauncey, Gordon and I differ a lot in our writing styles, in our sense of humor, and in our perspectives on the politics of race. This isn't something that typically bothers us; indeed, in the great Negro tradition, we glory in our diversity. However, there is one area that we continue to struggle with -- What do White folks think? and Do we care?
I have to say that from the early beginnings of this blog, I have always been conscious of how White readers would interpret our posts. My concerns have had to do less with whether or not they will see them as acceptable nee respectable, and more to do with them misinterpreting our project. We all know that there are things that we might say among ourselves that we would never say in mixed company. (I think that this must be true for every racial or ethnic group in America, including Jews, Desi, Chinese-Americans, etc.)
Alexyss Tylor has been the subject of several Chauncey DeVega posts. And, to quote Monty Python's Pontious Pilot, Alexyss is indeed "wisible." I have never been completely comfortable highlighting her on this site, however, because I don't think that White folks get the joke. Do they see truth where we see irony? In order for something to be ironic, it has to have some basis in reality. If our White readers have a skewed understanding of African-American life in the first place, how can they ever get our jokes? This is the conundrum that Dave Chapelle found himself in: are they laughing with me, or are they laughing at me?
Being a respectable Negress, I also worry about how certain images and narratives will reflect on the African-American community at large. We actually have a post label titled "politics of respectability" that we attach to postings that either challenge negro respectability or engage it in some way. Among our "dislikes" are malt liquor, Tyler Perry and ghetto literature. Why? Because they either confirm or reinforce negative racial stereotypes. Chaucey recently wanted to post pictures from You Know You Dead Ass Wrong on our blog and I flat out refused. I don't want any part of promoting negative images of Negroes, for there is an abundance out there already. On this subject, Gordon often loses his patience with me. He feels no attachment to the figures on sites like Hot Ghetto Mess. His sense of linked fate does not extend to them. He and Chris Rock share the sentiment that there is a difference between "niggers" and black people. Gordon may have a valid point, but do White people get that difference?
Finally, I don't like double-standards. How would we react if we found out that Hot Ghetto Mess was produced by a bunch of elite, White kids? Or, better yet, by Republican operatives? Can we refer to ourselves or to others as "niggers" and then get upset when someone White does the same thing? Can we be essentialist about other races and ethnic groups and then protest when we are essentialized? Does it matter if we are "just joking?"
"It's a very delicate line to walk," says David Allen Grier in discussing his new show Chocolate News. "...It's one thing to put on a dress and be that sassy black woman, which is a negative African-American female archetype. Now it's another thing to comment on just that phenomenon ... There has been a genetic mutation ... that the only way black men can be heard is by dressing like fat black mamas."
Both Chauncey and Gordon often say that we shouldn't waste our time concerned about how others will interpret our work. We simply can't control what readers, Negro or not, will take away. Even while they say this in the context of this blog, I also know that they are strivers who study and work in circles where they are often "the only one." No matter what they say, they have to care what White people think.
What do other Negro bloggers think? How are you all navigating this terrain? Who's your audience? And for White bloggers and readers, what do you people think? Am I underestimating you?