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.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back! :)
I don't think we will ever be free of whiteness, whether we have privilege because of it or whether we are being discriminated against because of it. Like you, I understand how whiteness operates but there are times that I seriously question the humanity of white people.


Brotha Wolf said...

"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?"

It all goes back to the uneasiness of white folks facing up to their past and present sins, mistakes, and privileges and their contribution to keep the past buried and make whiteness "normal".

Whiteness has become so powerful that it dwells in the hearts, minds and souls of PoC, and as long as it lives, PoC and white people will never become free. It may sound dark, but whiteness is holding back the humanity of white people.

nomad said...

Well, since you asked...
It's not the black genius that they find threatening, it's the black anger. Perceived or otherwise. Non sequiturs like the one in the title don't help. Presenting two concepts as interchangeable when actually they're not.
But I would say the problem white liberals have with your discourse is your frame of reference.

PhysioProf said...

Being white myself, I am pretty sure that Brotha Wolf has it exactly right. White people--like all people other than sociopaths--have a deep need to see ourselves as righteous or, at least, decent. Being confronted with irrefutable evidence of our past and present sins is very uncomfortable. And the staunch denial of white privilege allows us to say to ourselves, "I don't actively discriminate against non-white people, so therefore I am blameless".

Improbable Joe said...

I think also, people have an issue separating "responsibility" from "blame" and realizing that you can accept one without the burden of the other. Random white guy on the street isn't to blame for slavery, but he has a responsibility to accept the reality of history and how it negatively affects the present. He isn't to blame for white privilege, but he needs to take responsibility for not perpetuating it in his own life as much as possible. Of course, there are also those who intentionally conflate the two in order to avoid responsibility.

That, and there are liberals and "liberals"... depending on the issue. No liberal is in favor of racism or white supremacy, but there are plenty of "liberals" who only care about it as a tool for scoring points against right-wingers as opposed to a worthy issue in its own right. Oh, they care in some meaningless, abstract way... so long as it doesn't involve a change in behavior or any active work. Like the way I "care" about the environment... fracking is bad, but I'm not going to trade my Mustang for a Prius or anything.

Chris Sharp said...

To some extent, I'd have to agree with Brother Wolf and Physio, but their analysis leaves out a large group of white people who have zero empathy for anyone, who probably don't even know their own history, and who don't lose much sleep wrestling with their subconscious over the past sins of our race. I like to think there is some hope that the first group can be persuaded to see the light and become catalysts for positive change instead of preserving the status quo while paying lip service to "Liberalism." On the other hand, I don't think the second group will ever come around, and they will become more hateful and dangerous as their white privilege erodes over time.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

To some extent, I'd have to agree with Brother Wolf and Physio, but their analysis leaves out a large group of white people who have zero empathy for anyone, who probably don't even know their own history, and who don't lose much sleep wrestling with their subconscious over the past sins of our race.

True. I was thinking of those white people who at least want to feel a sense of decency, but there are certainly those (whom I would consider sociopaths) who really don't give a shit about anything other than their own comfort and pleasure and who have zero empathy for others. I guess this latter group is disturbed by "black genius" or the "angry black man" not because it makes them uncomfortable, but because it reminds them that white supremacy is eroding over time and their white privilege--while still very strong--gets weaker and weaker as time passes and demographics change.

Anonymous said...

One possible answer is quite simple. The general readership of Daily Kos is not that smart, and they have driven off all of the intelligent writers there. It's not only a black thing.

chaunceydevega said...

@Mb. What would Noel Ignatiev and Race Traitor say? I think humanity is barbarous in general. There are wonderful white folks who I love very much. Now, White Folks, not so much.

@Brotha. You should check out The White Image in the Black Mind. Then read the Black Image in the White Mind. Together they are a helluva one two punch.

@Nomad. The Roykirk is here. I know that there are many a black fool out there, but "black genius" is something particular and specific. No? Maybe I was feeling Akbar there without qualifying the definition.

@Physio. We all want to have our hands clean, don't we?

@Improbable. you hit the nail on the head. It is about responsibility. But whiteness is about a culture of denial; consequently, when that denial is called out there is so much upset.

@Chris. I am worried about that virulently and willfully myopic group too. Domestic terrorism is here, and it will be coming more aggressively in the very near future.

@Anon. Occam's Razor, huh? I like that. Cut right to the bone.

Anonymous said...

Why? Because the idea of their own supremecy is superficial. Strip away the propaganda, images that re-inforce the message and what you have is a people who compose all the evils that is projected onto the "other". Who wants to accept that there is nothing particularly special about them aside from their station in life? And how that station allows for them to escape judgment. Look at this whole Penn State saga.

Whereas, we are judged, and prejudged with the very same propaganda that makes them feel superior. Call the prejudgment into light and we become the "angry black". Been there. I chuckled just remembering my own experience of calling people to task for giving the impression that they viewed me as the "angry black woman". When angry wasn't what I was but, truthful. It's surprising how truth is quickly perceived as anger by those who don't want to hear it.

I think a scene in the video clip illustrates the points you have been making regarding liberals. As the professor was talking the camera cut to a pair of white women. These women were probably liberal and open enough to have attended the caucus but, at the moment the camera caught them, you can see they weren't as open or accepting with the argument that was being placed before them. They appeared almost ... Angry. Lol.

Adept2u said...

LOL! To say I love you is an understatement. I'm going to assume you put this on the Kos and I'm going to assume it lit some of the peoples there hair on fire, and to that I say good. They can ban some of us, but others will fill the holes in the line, and you can actually write!

CNu said...

CDV - your polity is your way of life. Conspicuous celebrant of barbarian culture that you are, you are every bit as much a participant in ongoing materialism and predatory militarism required to sustain this non-negotiable Uhmurkan way of life.

Some folk simply realize that with voting rights and fair housing now enforced, there are no jim crow like constraints on your enjoyment of the fruits of the Uhmurkan way.

Any consequential or material claim to righteousness was forfeited/squandered long ago by the 2nd and 3rd line inheritors of the CRM.