Posts Tagged ‘identity’

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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.

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