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?


dr, becky said...

CDV, I'm glad to see you fighting the good fight on "Good Friday."

To deconstruct the speech, I would also consider authourship. Clockers was written by Richard Price, a Jewish man that grew up in the Bronx. Does it matter that these are a white man's words /obervsations (as is the entire screenplay, although obviously it was steered through Spike Lee as the director of the film...)?

Oh, and wikipedia says Price also wrote the treatment for MJ's bad, which is weird. He was also a writer for The Wire and the same plot device the hardened white cop having a moment and sending the kid off on a bus to make a new start was replayed on that show vis-a-vis Omar.

Forgive my ramblings.

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

Well damn. I learned something new. Context, context, context. You all going textual analysis and authorship on me :)

But you dodged. Can a white man tell a young brother the truth? And how?

RiPPa said...

Nice one Chauncey!

Yes, you've given me something to think about here. So much so that I can't directly answer the questions posed. However, I think it comes back to the acceptance of the lesson taught. I think for many of "us", we've been conditioned to think that any harsh advice coming from someone other then our own comes from a place of hatred. I would posit that for some of "us" it's our easiest (and sometimes a false and weak) defense. So I don't know, bro. I'd say there definitely needs to be some deprogramming starting with "us" first.

dr. becky said...

Okay, I'll bite. I think the question is really, will the person who is the intended "target" of the advice or schooling actually listen and not dismiss it? And I do think it is possible, but probably only in a relationship where there is some trust and intimacy. And certainly not in the context of an authoritative relationship where someone is getting told off by the powers that be. At least this has been my experience.

chaunceydevega said...

@Rippa. We have learned to circle the wagons. Why? Because of necessity. But, we often forget that every brother ain't a brother, and every sister ain't a sister. Oftentimes that is forgotten.

@Becky. What if that representative of the powers that be is telling the truth and trying to give you an in of sorts?

CNu said...

Then that representative of TPTB is obliged to establish trust - that's the benefit of holding the power card - you have the luxury of "letting your hair down" with the comparatively less powerful.

CNu said...

THAT - is the essence of teaching, parenting, leadership. Anything less is either incompetent or malfeasant, or both.