Sunday, April 15, 2012

More Smart People Talking About Race and Crime: Khalil Gibran Muhammad Breaks Down the Condemnation of Blackness

I have been at C2E2 here in Chicago and the con has been great fun. I did some networking and made some progress on the graphic novel which I have been trying to develop. As always, there are lots of great people here. The brother dressed up as Sho'nuff from The Last Dragon was a highlight and most certainly one of the most creative cosplayers here--got to give love to the ghetto nerds.

I also met Herbert Jefferson Jr., the original Boomer on the classic 1970s era Battlestar Galactica. I shook his hand and offered up a hearty thanks for what his role meant to many black and brown folks who were searching for people of color in the white racial frame of popular science fiction and space fantasy during the 1970s. Val Kilmer was also a magnetic and fun speaker.

After coming back from C2E2, I happened to discover the above interview with the newly appointed head of the Schomburg museum in New York and thought it appropriate to share with you all.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad's interview about his book The Condemnation of Blackness is a great follow-up to our conversation about W.E.B. Du Bois, black thuggery, and the politics of African American respectability. I have borrowed a few of Dr. Muhammad's ideas in previous posts--I am especially taken by his suggestion that African Americans have historically been treated as adults for purposes of criminalization and punishment, but are viewed as children in regards to citizenship. Consequently, I wanted to give him the shine he more than deserves.

Muhammad's assertions about the intellectual work done by sociologists (and others) to decriminalize white ethnics during the early 20th century (and to ensure that their deviant classes were viewed as individuals--as opposed to representative actors of a whole "race") is also very telling. Blackness as a necessary group identity, and whiteness as absolute individuality, is still with us in the year 2012: this is a governing meta-narrative for the discourse surrounding the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

Ultimately, when scientists, political elites, and intellectuals conspire to create new truths they generate new regimes of knowledge and "common sense."

Here is a thought for you: imagine if in the same moment that the knowledge workers who struggled to make sure that white ethnics could become massaged into the American tradition through "assimilation" also chose to include black Americans in the mix. What would our society and public life look like in the present? Would people of color be more or less free?

Yes, citizenship and blackness are intentionally constructed as juxtapositions to one another. But, we can still entertain the counter-factual of what could have been.


Anonymous said...

Yawn...Not at all interested in these types of fictional racial excercises..

It simply adds nothing of value and one could argue these excercises only seek to deflect the raw truth of reality..

Boomer was a fictional person created by a script..Let's keep it real here

chaunceydevega said...

@Yawn at your lack of imagination. Do you not smile? Or is everything some crude materialist reduction? Symbolic politics are politics...whatever you make of them.

Emmery Myers said...

This is a good topic to discuss. Do you think though that Italians and other European groups that did not come from a culture of slavery, skin tone aside, had an advantage culturally speaking as they were more similar to Anglo-Americans than non-Europeans?

What efforts should the nation have undertaken to repair and build a healthy concept of "blackness" in the minds of both races?

Weird Beard said...

I wonder how much we have exported this issue through globalization over time. I definitely think that the american propaganda machine has served to exponentially saturate the globe with this message, and does not seem to hold itself accountable for this. Could the buck have been stopped in the U.S. during this earlier movement? Perhaps the racial dynamics were too entrenched even at that point. But if it were different, I suppose we could be focusing on class more, and there could be perhaps a more united front with blacks and whites complaining about illegal immigration. There is a lot of pain borne out of the racial struggles in this country, yet a lot of beauty as well. Would this be a completely assimilated black culture we are looking at, or would there be room for some afrocentric elements? Would black culture be reduced to a silly holiday like st. patricks day is for those with irish heritage?

Emmery Myers said...

Some of us with Irish Heritage don't think St. Patricks day is silly. Thank you.

Naw Im totally kidding.

Anonymous said...

{Muhammad's assertions about the intellectual work done by sociologists (and others) to decriminalize white ethnics during the early 20th century (and to ensure that their deviant classes were viewed as individuals--as opposed to representative actors of a whole "race") is also very telling.}

Interesting... Can you cite examples of how this was achieved?

chaunceydevega said...

@Myers. Lots of variables there. We must always begin with the premise that race and understandings of the social significance of race are historically contingent, malleable, and not fixed. From there questions about assimilable ethnics (the very definition of "ethnicity") versus unassimilable racial groups takes hold. The long path of white ethnics and jews to whiteness reveals much. So yes, Italians and others were caught up in this race mess upon arrival; they learned to play the game (along with help from white elites) and to join the club.

Cornel West observed that whiteness has a parasitic relationship with blackness in order to sustain itself. If we start thinking about our own assimilation as black Americans (another paradox as we are arguably far more "american" than more white immigrants) is it possible to even imagine a world where we are included and whiteness remains?

@Weird. Globalization and the export of black culture does not equal a love of black humanity--there is global black culture industry that reproduces some of the most pernicious and ugly stereotypes about black Americans. It works both ways too, the Black Freedom Struggle has been an inspiration for peoples all over the world. A big complicated story...which is why it is so discussable.