Acting White, Acting Black

The recent comments by Harry Reid, Rod Blagojevich and Bill Clinton point to the centuries old ideology of how blackness is defined by whites. For centuries poverty, servility, immorality, intemperance and criminality have been legal, sociological and ideological  “truths” propagated by mainstream culture. This influence is still pervasive in post-civil rights America to the point that recent generations of black youth have internalized this poison. Anyone who has more than a cursory knowledge of black history would know that people of African descent in this country have fought for centuries against these strictures. Although Harry Reid’s use of the Negro is ridiculous the fact that he notes that Obama would appeal to white people because of his “unique” ability to speak standard English and his light complexion is true. As a light skinned, Caribbean immigrant from England, I have boatloads of episodes around this sickening fact of black life.

Whiteness is still defined as normality, proprietary, appropriate and what is standard. The idea that educated, middle class blacks are less black is a fallacy that has it’s roots in centuries of white discourse about people of African descent. This ideology that lightness is better can be observed on any film and television program especially of the subject is female. This white preference for lighter skinned blacks is wrapped up in a legacy of rape, concubinage and miscegenation. This ugly practice has had deep ramifications in black culture and history. Malcolm X, W.E.B DuBois, Adam Clayton Powell Jr, Booker T. Washington were more acceptable to whites because of their visible mixed race physiogamy.  A vital component of Dr. Martin Luther King’s success was due to his ability to translate his black oratory skills to a dialect that was palatable to whites. In a society where most whites disavow the devastating history and continuance of racist policies, the idea that blackness is defined by a series of negative traits is tactic that protects against the anxiety that must be faced the fact of when white supremacy breaches our national consciousness. Black culture is reflected in our music, literature, religion, linguistics, dance, painting and many other facets of life we share with African diasporic culture all over the world. The place of African Americans in the social, economic and political status is largely attributable to centuries of racist practices and not to the idea of inherent black inferiority.  If America really wants to move forward with race relations blacks have to fight harder for our constitutional privileges and whites will have to go through the anger, anxiety and pain of knowing that white supremacy still holds sway in America.

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