What does it mean to be black? pt 1

Posted: February 26, 2011 in culture, social justice, Uncategorized
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Afam flag
Black History Month is almost over but Black History continues on. I want to talk about what it means to be black? Cornel West in his seminal work Prophesy Deliverance outlines four responses by African Americans to white supremacy. They are the exceptionalist tradition, the assimilationist tradition, the marginalist tradition, and the humanist tradition. The African American exceptionalist tradition lauds the uniqueness of African American culture and personality. The African American assimilationsist tradition considers African American culture and personality to be pathological.The African American marginalist tradition posits African American culture to be restrictive, constraining, and confining. The African American humanist tradition extolls the distinctiveness of African American culture and personality.

I believe the humanist tradition holds the greatest promise when it comes to defining black identity. If you talk to an average black person on the street what makes them black? what makes them African American you will get a multitude of answers. Some will pump up their Africanness and talk of the its superiority and not realize they are trapped and hedged in by American values. This is the main flaw in the exceptionalist tradition. Others will talk about how they are American and that our ancestors have struggled hard to make it in this nation. They will talk about how absurd it is to want to embrace our African heritage and what’s wrong with those n—az over there who won’t get their act together? All this is said without realizing all of America will not totally accept them. This is the flaw of the assimilationist tradition. The next answer will be how different we all are and we need to express ourselves the way we see fit and not be hedged in by being African American. It’s time to get beyond racial and ethnic categories. This is the marginalist tradition and the main flaw is that it too is idealistic and it supports a naive individuality at the expense of community and political praxis. The humanist tradition celebrates and applauds African American culture and tradition while at the same time not idolizing it and perceiving it as perfection. Being black in America is a both/and proposition. There is good and there is bad. That is what it means to be African American and that is what it means to be human. I’m connected to my African American brothers and sisters and I’m connected to the human race. This is why I love hip hop, dreads, stories my grandfather tells of life in Oklahoma, and the beauty of a well cooked pot of gumbo. At the same time I can deplore the senseless violence of the ghetto, the exploitation of the community by prosperity preachers, and the most horrible movie in the world: Soul Plane. African American is African and American. Both/And.

  1. one of the things i love most about cornel west is his sense of the prophetic, and his use of the tragicomic…his use of the tragicomic is so similar to what i see in AA circles: it creates an environment for us to reveal our shame in powerful, healing ways. I wonder how that interacts with Bishop Tutu’s reconciliation circles….

  2. mayotron says:

    @Steven H-It’s funny because when you said “AA” I thought you meant African Americans. LOL. Now that I think I know what “AA” you mean I can see the similarities. Can you elabarate?

    What’s interesting is I bet you can find the tragicomic in African American music and movies but not necessarily in the church. I have not had much experience studying Tutu’s reconciliation circles although I do have his book No future without forgiveness. Just need to find time to read it….

  3. Steve S says:

    One day each culture will be redeemed, and then we will get to see each culture as God has always seen it, all of the beauty and power, and none of the shame and impotence…

  4. Alcoholics Anonymous (ha!) creates an environment (or seeks to) that through informal sharing and tragic tales that are laughed at upon redemptive reflection, help people to reveal the assinine ways they have let their desires to become dis-ordered or their addicitons to control them. they laugh given perspective on it, therefore it’s tragicomic. West does much of the same thing, prophetically pointing to the riculousness of issues and events that he reflects on…I wonder why the tragicomic doesn’t play in AA (African American) churches…?

  5. mayotron says:

    @Steve S-Amen and Amen

    @Steven H-I think the tragicomic isn’t in African American churches because there is a history of the black church being a place of power and prestige in the community. In times past to be a preacher meant that you were educated and you were a director of community affairs. This is not the case nowadays but there is still a sense of power and prestige that comes with it. This trickles down to the congregation and everyone conceals their vulnerability except during the ecstatic times of praise and worship. That’s my take on it. Is that tragicomic or what?

  6. griffindore says:

    Love the reference to soul plane

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