Thursday, August 1, 2013

Na'im Akbar: We Have Raised a Generation of African-American Young People Who Can Choose Not to be Black

I have mentioned Brother Na'im Akbar more than a few times here on We Are Respectable Negroes. He is one of the United States' (if not the world's) preeminent psychologists focusing on issues of "black" racial identity and mental health.

I love the line from Biggie's song "Juicy" where he raps so beautifully how "I let my tape rock til my tape popped."

I did that to several of my recorded Brother Na'im Akbar's lectures--and of course to my DJ Mister Cee mixed tape of unreleased and underground gems by the Notorious B.I.G. while riding in my parents' 1993 Buick Skylark.

Ghetto nerds and striving respectable negros ought not to be embarrassed by their origins.

A given person's intellectual and moral growth usually does not proceed in a straight trajectory: it ebbs, flows, and meanders.

I am forever impressed by authors who write their own intellectual biographies. The level of hubris and self-awareness to do such a thing amazes me. If I ever formally get to do such a thing--doubtful--or more likely my grandkids (if I am lucky) ask about where their strange grandpa came from--I will mention Brother Akbar as being very influential on my thinking and personal growth.

Parade has a feature on the new movie "The Butler" which features a discussion between Oprah Winfrey, Forrest Whitaker, and Lee Daniels. The story is both entertaining and provocative for several reasons.

One, Oprah talking about meditating on her own personal mountain is awe inspiring in its forthrightness and lack of shame for having such material wealth. I like it.

Two, I am getting tired of listening to high profile black men talk about being humiliated and harassed by the police. This public sharing of  the "moments of instruction" as experienced by black men--including President Obama--is really wearing out its welcome with me. Efforts at gaining empathy or sympathy from Whiteness may actually just be a signal of weakness and vulnerability by those who are fundamentally invested in keeping black folks in such a position.

Am I alone in this thought?

[Do read the predictably racist comments on the story. Rich black folks bring out the White Right like few others.]

There is a question in the Parade piece that speaks directly to Na'im Akbar's points in the above talk.

It reads as follows:
On whether young people today know enough about the civil rights movement:
Daniels: I showed the film to my relatives … because I figured they’re the harshest of audiences. And my 30-year-old nephew said to me, ‘Did some of this stuff really happen?’ And I was very upset by that.
Winfrey: They don’t know diddly-squat. Diddly-squat!
I am not surprised that a relatively young black person would say such a thing. I remain disturbed, however.

How do we balance historical memory with being hamstrung by history? Is a generation of young black and brown folks--and yes, whites too--raised in the post-civil rights era who think that "all that racism stuff" is in the past a type of progress, or does it instead represent a state of deep peril?

I worry that we are raising a generation of post-civil rights Age of Obama young black and brown youth who are stunned and shocked by white racism to the point of being crippled by things that our parents, grandparents, and other elders would have brushed off their shoulders with ease.

I am not suggesting that the latter state of affairs was/is preferred. No. I am just disturbed that there is a generation of youth, young people of color, who are going out naked in the world with no armor or life skills to protect them from white racism, either of the "colorblind" or old fashioned variety.

Blindsided, I worry that many young people of color, and their sense of mental security and sanity, will fall like wheat before a hungry scythe during the harvest, as many of them do not have any means of locating and rationalizing what they are experiencing with their Age of Obama, post civil rights era, vocabulary for understanding the realities of the colorline.

For example, many of them are legitimately shocked by what happened to Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman's subsequent acquittal. If they understood American history, and its resonance in the present, these same young folks (and others) would have understood that the extra-legal murder of black folks is the legal system working as designed.


Vic78 said...

I have no respect for Lee Daniels. I'm looking real funny at the people affiliated with him. What's with these movies highlighting Black folks in subservient roles? Doesn't it get tired at some point?

Who's going to teach the young ones about this race thing? The elders have demonstrated unconscionable stupidity over the decades. Why haven't they learned lessons after having lived back then? Kids ain't trying to hear what the elders have to say for good reason. I will not be lectured to by people that supported Precious. They can take their phony self hating crap elsewhere. They don't even have the sense to respect themselves and they're loaded. I'm really starting to dislike these old folks.

Vic78 said...

My question is how are people that are tripping over land mines going to help me avoid them? Is this some kind of example of what not to do?

The truth is that young folks are on their own thanks to the elders.

SunKissed said...

Personally I don't see young people having no idea about past struggles as a new development. Flawed as they were my parents taught me a great deal about black history and how even in their generation there were many black folk who didn't have even a rudimentary knowledge of the past. I mean these were people who had grandparents whose grandparents were former slaves and yet were dumbfounded when Roots hit the air. Then there were the folk who felt like people like Dr King were moving too fast and asking for too much. Nevermind the fact that all African-Americans have little to no clue about our ancestral history. What tribe are we from? What language did we speak and with what dialect? So on and so forth.
There has always been an active attempt to erase black history from the face of the earth and to encourage a wild forgetting of our past. This what the purpose of telling black folk to get over the past is all about. I imagine white America as a man walking behind a black person with a broom and dustpan, sweeping away every footprint the black person makes each time they take a step. It doesn't surprise me then that such a person would look back and have no idea how far they have come. This is why blogs like WARN and other modern day griots are so needed. It has always been a small number of us who are called upon to preserve the footprints.

chauncey devega said...

Lee Daniels made Precious, what is for all intents and purposes a monster movie. I am not a fan of his work. Oprah is a national mammie and surrogate for white suburban women's pain. I do like and respect Whitaker as an actor. I know he will know the role out of the park; but the obvious juxtaposition of a black man in the White House as President and a story about a black butler is potent. I am not sure if it positive or negative.

chauncey devega said...

You know how I feel about Afrotopian dreaming. You are however spot on regarding how historical erasure is not new, and how while we may say "what is wrong these kids today!" someone was saying that decades, centuries, and thousands of years ago too.

chauncey devega said...

Easily. You step on top of their bodies and keep going, or you walk behind them.

Learning is Eternal said...

"Am I alone in this thought?" Not at all Chauncey. It goes back to that "Tell me something I don't know...". When you tell these stories of oppression in hopes of gaining empathy/sympathy your just confirming their victory. "I don't march because it will happen again..."

Lee Daniels, Harpo, Tyler detrimental to us. You stay on point like Stacy Adams in reference to them/this post so I'll burn your eyes no further by expounding on what's understood. Keep doing what cha' doing. As always the Moral compass of WARN is headed in the right direction.

Miles_Ellison said...

Lee Daniels is a talentless dysfunction pornographer. Oprah is becoming one. They're both part of the problem.

Lewis Orne said...

Thanks for hipping me to Dr. Naim Akbar and then from him I just discovered John Henrik Clarke... on a side note.. here is story u might have missed...

chauncey devega said...

Glad to put you onto Brother Akbar prepare to go to school. I saw that story. It was from 2008. Not surprising. Remember when black NYPD cops wearing the "color of the day" were getting blasted all over the city? I guess the wrong color remains black or brown and breathing nearby.

chauncey devega said...

On point like SA. That sounds t-shirt worthy. I am getting tired of powerful black people talking about being vulnerable. I am gonna post on that next week.

Learning is Eternal said...

Can't wait for that article. The vid to this post goes hard as well. Spoken in the same vein as john henrik clark. To my caucasoids out there, presuming we're supporters of Jackson/Sharpton is just as bad a stereotype as they all look alike, suspicious and/or are violent. **Drops mic like "This comedy thang just might work..."**