On Self-Censorship

Instead of banging my head against the wall trying to ingest all of this stuff on thought experiments in personal identity, I’m opting to post on something I’m noticing as I’ve gotten older – my compatriots censor themselves more and more, but in a futile manner, in my opinion.  I recognize there’s a time and a place for everything, but there are a few things that I’m going to try to bring out – namely, the most popular method of self-censorship really isn’t censoring because the spirit of the word is still there.  Ultimately, if you want to censor yourself, you ought to adopt a different vocabulary rather than one of these two methods.

Method 1 (The Asterisk Method) – Remove 1 letter (generally the first vowel) and insert an asterisk as a replacement.  Examples of this include: b*tch, n*gga, f*ck, sh*t, etc.  A few things come to mind when reading these words – 1) Are they really censored?  2) Why is it the vowel that’s commonly removed?  Nobody ever does *igga or bi*ch or fu*k.  3) What’s really the point, seeing as I know what word you’re using?

I don’t think this is successful self-censorship.  The idea is that you don’t want to offend or (and probably more important) you don’t want your internet self to make you look bad when it’s job time.  So instead of cursing to offend or make yourself look bad, you figure, “Hey – I’ll drop a letter and insert an asterisk!  That’s not cursing!”  While it’s not spelling out the whole word, I’m pretty sure you can guess what word “f*ck” is.  And I’m pretty sure you know it’s a curse word.  So are you using a curse word?  Maybe not technically, but it strikes me as foolish to write out a word and omit a letter and think you aren’t transgressing in the same way you’d use the original word.  I don’t see any difference between “f*ck” and “fuck,” in other words.  There’s nothing different there.

But for the sake of argument, we’ll grant that there’s a difference between “f*ck” and “fuck,” somehow.  I still say you’re using the spirit of the word “fuck,” which may well be as offensive as saying the word itself.  This also goes for common moves like b!tch and sh!t.  In essence, you’re still saying (well, typing) the word.  It might be a perceived weaker version, but the spirit you’re drawing from is the same.  “F*ck” might not be exactly the same as “fuck,” but when we read “f*ck,” we don’t read literally “f*ck” – we make the connection that this means “fuck.”  We’re able to make that connection because the spirit of the curse word remains – you want to say fuck, but you feel some sort of societal pressure to avoid using the actual word, so you’ll use a word that’s close enough in spelling and of the same spirit such that clearly, whoever you’re censoring the word from will notice that you aren’t cursing because f*ck, b!tch, and n*gga are all not the same as fuck, bitch, and nigga.  I’m sorry, but if you draw from the spirit of the word or even think a small modification via omission means you aren’t cursing, it doesn’t add up.

(What’s worse (and this is a pet peeve of mine) is a lack of consistency.  I saw my cousin’s Facebook status say, “Real niggas f*ck with me and I don’t f*ck with the rest!”  How in the hell does fuck deserve a censoring but nigga doesn’t?  Be consistent!)

Before I get into the second common (and unsuccessful) method of internet self-censorship I see, I can already hear the rebuttals to my initial claim.  “We HAVE to censor ourselves – companies are watching!  But I wanna be able to speak my mind!”  I feel for you.  Truly, I do.  If one were to take the time to look through ALL of my Facebook statuses from college alone, you’d find some mighty ignorant (what a surprise), probably offensive statuses.  Hell, I used to run a monthly list on my “About Me” of the Top Ten Most Ignorant Things I Said (for the record, if I was still doing that, tonight’s conversation with a good friend of mine would have made #1 (Stoopid Sundays) and probably #4 (Ghetto sex ed).  But I recognize there are certain people checking my Facebook (who aren’t my parents) who probably will make comments about them and maybe even charge me up off the internet about them.  My guess is those of us who do choose to self-censor in method 1’s manner are in a similar boat.  I recognize the social constraints clamping you down, but I also wish to point this out to you – if your employer really believes that “f*ck” isn’t the same as “fuck” and that because you dropped a vowel and put in an asterisk, it’s fine – you may want to question the intelligence of your employer.

Also, before I do Method 2, I’d like to recognize the extreme version of the Asterisk Method with the absolutely amazing Ni99@, where you replace some letters with numbers and symbols.  It’s like using an older calculator and if you punch in the right set of numbers, I think you can make “asshole.”  Wouldn’t you get in trouble in school for that?  Why wouldn’t you get in “trouble” (whatever that is) 15 years later for Ni99@?

Onto Method 2, which I admit is the one that irks me more than Method 1 – the misspelling of the curse word as a way around it.  We’ll call this the Misspell Method.  An older version of this is “shyt” instead of “shit,” and a more recent one – “bish” instead of “bitch.”  I don’t know exactly why this really irks me – possibly because I’m seeing adults use “bish” like it’s actually not meaning “bitch.”  The same complaint from above stays the same – when you look up the definition of a “bish,” it’s not any different from “bitch.”  You might’ve changed the spelling of the word to a phonetic spelling of a drunk man calling someone a bitch, but it’s still the same damn word in meaning.  That’s what I mean when I say that you haven’t gotten around what you’re attempting to get around, you self-censoring person.  The words you use still have the same meanings.  This bish/bitch distinction came up during Lent.  A friend of mine gave up profanity for Lent.  But she would continue to use “bish” like it’s not a curse word.  I had to ask – what is the difference between “bish” and “bitch” if you’re not supposed to be cursing?

That question is the driving force behind this post – what’s the difference between f*ck and fuck, shyt/sh!t and shit, b!tch/bish and bitch if the goal is to censor yourself?  I don’t see one, to be honest.  At best, the practical response is that these modifications are accepted as viable methods of self-censorship, but I don’t buy that answer.  Though they’re accepted, it doesn’t mean they’re successful as actual self-censorship – just that at the moment, this is the minimal amount needed to protect yourself.  But just because you’re using the minimal amount doesn’t mean it’ll work all the time.  It’s analogous to using a condom – it’s the minimum needed to protect yourself, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be in trouble just because you used one.

Actual self-censorship would be due to you actually opting to avoid using these curse words and their derivatives and other profane alternatives entirely.  Where “hell” and “damn” are the strongest words you use.  But it’s clear that most of us (myself included) aren’t willing to scale that far back.  And I can’t say I blame you – curse words color language.  It adds a…spice of sorts to it.  “Darn” just doesn’t have the same kind of umph that “Damn” does.  And “frickin” doesn’t have the same kind of punch “fuckin” does.  These are the reasons many of us use these words – not because we don’t have an alternative, but because the alternative doesn’t provide the same level of impact that these words do, and that’s the level we’re desiring to demonstrate.  If I’m ever the unfortunate victim of a hammer-falling-on-toe incident, I doubt I’ll yell out, “Con-sarn-it!”  No, you’re much more likely to hear, “Goddamnit!”  I imagine many of you would respond in kind.

All of this is to say that if you want to censor yourself, omit the words from your language (to keep in the sex analogy, the safest way to stay out of trouble is to abstain).  But since you’re technically using the words anyway when you type out “f*ck/b*tch/n*gga/sh*t,” you might as well get the enjoyment of their use rather than trying to temper yourself.

Advertisements

Shameless Plug of My Sports Blogs

Very quickly,  I just wanted to remind you all that I blog on the St. Louis Rams (and this blog is about to be movin’ because the NFL Draft is coming up and the Rams have the #1 overall pick) and about the St. Louis Cardinals (defending NL Central Champions who have the best player in the MLB, Albert Pujols) over at Gear Up For Sports.  I joined them last summer, and while I wasn’t as active a blogger for the remains of the 2009 MLB season, some of my best work came from my meticulous note taking and assessments of the St. Louis Rams’ 2009-2010 season.  I’m still proud of the “Good, Bad, and Ugly” column I did weekly, and with more action happening in the next couple of weeks on both fronts, I’m happy to be able to blog about teams I care about.

The site has gone through tremendous changes since I joined, and they’ve all been for the better.  The guys who run it are genuine sports fans and have really put in work to make the product better – the page has recently been added to Google News, which will greatly enhance the number of hits per day they get.  And if you like sports and think you can do a blog on your team, they’re still looking for writers.

The Rams blog

The Cardinals blog

A Rant on White People (but no, you shouldn’t be offended)

If ever there was a post that might get me into hot water, it’s this one.  I’ve done a Twitter rant that I posted on here before regarding the influx of music talking about getting women pregnant, but this one came the other day when Raekwon’s “House of Flying Daggers” came on my shuffle.  Maybe I was already in a slightly militaristic mindset coming into it, but for some reason that song put me in a mode.  And I used Twitter as the release.  I’m already expecting that I won’t get a job thanks to this blog, my Facebook (which doesn’t have anything all that bad on there but I anticipate anyway), and more than likely my Twitter.  The joys of the amalgamation of social networking sites and a desire to put things to paper.  Anyhow, I’ll let my tweets do most of the talking but I’ll also wrap it up afterwards with some thoughts about my stance.  And no, this isn’t meant to offend.  It’s just a stance I’ve had for a long time that doesn’t implicate any individual person.  And (I’ll go into more detail later), I recognize that the stance is prime for a slippery slope.  But let’s see what can be made of it.  Enjoy the Twitter rant.

————

Theres some music that pops up on my shuffle that lends itself to bein blasted as I go on a crusade against white people. #yeahisaidit.

I’d be lying if I said I havent been an angry young black man for nearly 8 years probably. I’ve channeled it to other things but fact…

is that my stance on white people has been – I dont like em. I dont like the group. I dont like the power thats come, the commodification…

of Blacks thats come by way of them. With that said, I dont hold it against white persons. I like many white persons. Dont like the group…

but I like some members of the group. Like not liking Republicans but liking some Republicans. Or Democrats. But thats my stance…

Admittedly its been shifted after 4 years of all Black. But I had this stance in HS surrounded by white people. Many wield their whiteness..

Like a child with a loaded gun. I choose to carry my Blackness like theres someone trespassing-I might shoot first but I’ll be safe.

I know I got white followers. They might opt to unfollow cuz my stance appears militaristic. We aint post-racial. We aint brownin the US…

and I maintain that white people (the group) just aint been that great for Black folk. But many white persons have been. Anger expressed.

————–

So that was the first half.  This has more or less been my stance regarding white people I meet.  I’m not going think you’re racist, I’m not going to think ill of you, I’m not going to mistreat you – you’re a person, same as I.  But I’m not forgetting the historical context in which we live.  I’m not going to forget the historical context in which the race relations in this country (and elsewhere) have setup serious class disparities that oddly enough, run the color lines pretty well (gee, irony?).  I’m not going to forget that to this very damn day, there are white people out here who want to “save the Black people.”  And the closest analogy I could come up with is not liking Republican party ideology but liking some Republicans, for whatever reason it may be.  I recognize it’s a potential slippery slope, where you have “white people who are cool/not like those other white people” and “those other white people.”  Look, I’m not going to make a value judgment on you.  Those white folks who want to “save the Black people,” (a great thread here is that “if I can teach them to think like me, they’ll be fine!  Little do they realize it’s that same Eurocentric imperialist mentality that help create the system we’re in now!) generally do have good intentions, seeing (at least on the surface) that there’s a problem here.  And that’s the best method they might know to try to rectify the problem.  So no, I’m not saying that all white people are bad, or that all white people are the devil – just that the group itself has profited, and continues to profit from Black and Brown peoples across the globe, exploit Blacks in the US, and are the beneficiaries of the commodification, dehumanization, and institutionalization of the inferiority of non-whites.  And I don’t think I should have to abandon that.

Some might say, “We’re in a post racial society!”  Hell no we aren’t in any damn post-racial society.  What does post-racial mean?  Absolve the oppressors for the centuries of oppression?  Forget about the creation of race now that it’s possibly advantageous to remove it now?  I’m sorry, that won’t work.  And for those who believe in “The Browning of America,” I firmly believe you’ve cast your ballot in the wrong box.  Discrimination finds a way.  If they could find a color chart to determine what percentage Black you were (octaroon, anybody?), then I’m pretty certain that shades of brown won’t be hard to get over.  India had a caste system too, remember.  But my biggest fear here is that the whole “beyond race” concept will get over.  That people will buy into it, which might end up meaning that everybody’s white.  Let’s be honest – I don’t know of many white people who would want to be black.  If there was a choice, I bet you hear a lot of, “I’ll be Oprah/Obama/LeBron/Michael Jordan/Denzel.”  But the average Black person?  Nah, I don’t see many white people salivating for that option.  And I can’t say I’d blame them.  So if we go post-racial, does this mean that everybody ends up being white?  Sorry, but “white” has dominated the cultural landscape already and it’s nearly institutionalized, this would effectively institute the “white paradigm” as another feature of progress – except this time, it’s racial progress.  Doesn’t add up to me.

So here’s part 2 of the Twitter rant, which features a cameo from @AdamMSays:

————–

Damn I think my little rant might have scared the white people. I better start coonin to get em back! *Sambos off*

I guess it was bound to happen though. I said I’m an angry black man. I stand by it. I got mad at society long ago, got mad at capitalism…

And am thoroughly dissatisfied with this world. Shits disgusting everywhere. And I’m powerless. The recognition of powerlessness will make..

anybody angry. Powerlessness should piss you off. Thats why I’m a Marxist. The power structure is unbalanced and institutionalized.

But we take small victories like theyre big ones. If a foot’s been on your neck for 4 years, an inch of room is a big win for you. But not…

a big loss for the person who got their foot on your neck. I’m tired of bein happy with the damn inch. I want REAL FUCKING ACTION.

You know what, I’m done. I’m already blackballed cuz of my social/political affiliation, now I’m gon be called militaristic/separatist…

but you know what, I’m no Garvey – I’m much closer to A. Philip Randolph anyway. No need to separate-its already been institutionalized.

I’m going to stop here. I’m sure I’ve filled a few timelines and they go “oh its just Torrey the angry guy” but the real shit? I’m right.

And I know I’m right. Might need tweaking. And yall can pass me off as the angry nigga or whatever you want. But I got no reason to lie.

@AdamMSays – like the FSA that reduced the crack to cocaine ratio from 100-to-1 to 18-to1..they say it’s a victory, but there is still a discrepancy. They still put thousands of black and brown people in jail where they can legally enslave them (via the 13th amendment.)

@mrphilosopher3 – exactly. Those in power masquerade like its a win. And the powerless take their word for it. Everybody celebrates while the norm continues and those who were gettin fucked in the ass continue to be fucked in their ass. Might be graphic but its true.

@AdamMSays – True that bruh. Sometimes you have to be graphic to be real and stress the importance.

————-

So in the second part of this rant, it’s clear I’m displaying dissatisfaction with the present conditions and the response to those conditions.  If my last post didn’t display my dislike of apathy, then this finish to the rant probably did.  We’re so damn snowed that we think something has happened to the oppressor when the oppressor decides to remove his foot from our necks a tiny bit.  We rejoice it as a major victory – relax, it’s one small battle.  There should be a push for more.  Enjoy that the battle was won, but until you’re standing up and the oppressor cannot keep you down, there’s still more work to be done.

But the major thing that strikes me after putting it down a second time and looking is that powerlessness is a central theme.  And more must be explored about it.  There’s a feeling that we have power – but we don’t.  It merely appears that we have power.  That’s the nature of an oppressor/oppressed, master/slave, and in many ways white/Black relationship (and here I’m not referring to interracial dating).  The oppressed look for ways to exhort their autonomy and assert some power, while the oppressor doesn’t have to look – he just has to continue doing what he’s been doing.  So in my mind, the feeling of being empowered is a farce if that feeling comes as a result of your relationship to your oppressor.  Empowerment doesn’t feel like true empowerment when those who took your power originally are no bestowing it upon you (or so you feel).  If it can happen once, it can happen twice, which means that anything (person, entity, business, institution, system, government) that takes power and then later on restores it back to you knows more about the situation than we do.  That power might have been tweaked.  The oppressor might have enough power that what power he gave back pales in comparison to the current level of power he has.  But always ask, what reason does an oppressor have to give power back to those he’s oppressed?  Some sort of humanistic charge?  If you’re on top, why would you lower your bar or make it easier for someone else to unseat you?  I’m sorry, but I’ve got a distrust there.

I know I’ve kind of gone all over the place with this, but this should also show us that race, race theory, and race relations are not simple things to figure out.  They aren’t things we should take lightly.  They are definitely more than just theory.  I personally will declare, that if I hang out with you, deal with you, care about you, whatever – it’s at a personal level.  There will be commonalities that may or may not include race (a very good friend of mine is a Black male but race and race issues never really was our sticking point.  We had similar humor and enjoyed playing Mario Kart 64).  I suppose my stance is a little startling, especially considering how taboo it is to say you don’t like a certain group.  It’s the oppressor/oppressed relation, and I’m in the shoes of the oppressed.  I want that relation to disappear, but not at some costs that some of us appear willing to give up.  Thoughts and criticisms are welcome here, and I’m always happy to explain my stance in more detail (and tweak it).

On Capitalism And The Happy Slave

This past Monday, @AdamMSays (who has a blog, Poetic Intellect) and I did a Twitter themed day – #MarxistMonday.  While I’m not so sure it wasn’t just he and I doing Marxist Monday, I enjoyed getting to throw out some themes of Marxism, Critical Theory, and related themes, as well as engage a few of my peers about these things, we both said we’d do a Marxist Monday themed post on our respective blogs.  Well, Adam’s much more timely than I and he got his up HERE Monday night.  Me, on the other hand, waited until Wednesday to start and the next Monday to finish.  Well, I didn’t quite have a topic smack me until I revisited an issue I’ve run across before that can be attributed to capitalism and its resulting social fallout – The Happy Slave complex.

The Happy Slave complex is, simply put, a person in a position of submission who, while understanding their powerlessness, finds happiness in it.  The happy slave convinces himself that his work means something, ensures himself that he’s made strides for himself, and ultimately is fine with being powerless – at least he’s not dead, right?  The happy slave can be equated to a Sambo or a Mammy, for those of us who know some African-American history.  In fact, the Sambo especially highlights what it is to be a happy slave – putting on that Cheshire Cat smile, being overly deferential to the folks in power, and doing whatever you can to be the best slave you can be.  That, folks, is a happy ass slave.

I’m sure my line of reasoning won’t be hard to follow here – capitalism, particularly the capitalism in place now, makes slaves out of us all.  I won’t continue to just recite Marx over and over, but I’ll step towards Marcuse, who highlights a social problem with capitalism – the identification of self with job.  That I am my job – it defines my existence.  Why bring this point up?  Two reasons – A) I just love it because it’s so true, and B) because if we do identify ourselves with our jobs (and let’s face it people, that’s what’s going on in many respects – our occupation is central to our self-identification), but my assertion that capitalism turns us into slaves for those in power and fundamentally creates and manifests the ideology that “you too can become one of those powerful people,” then we identify ourselves as slaves…and we do so with no problem.

This is, to me, a problem.  Marcuse’s problem of identification combined with my slave theory of capitalism leads us to become happy slaves.  We would like to believe that we’re doing something good with our lives.  That, well though we might be slaves, it’s OK.  The system doesn’t get changed, and there’s nothing we can do.  So we just do what we can, saying that the system will win anyway.  We grow accustomed to the system.  We find ourselves indebted to the system.  For many of us, the system is our proverbial lifeblood – it gives us meaning.  And so we’re back at Marcuse’s identification problem and the sickness it creates in the capitalist society.

Slaves ought not be happy.  Slaves ought to be pissed off because their only a commodity – they are no longer a person, but a thing.  They are but means to various ends, and in the system that produced and enforced the slavery, there’s no reason to free them.  The lack of freedom should push someone to wonder about the constraints placed on him/herself.  But, the Happy Slave does have a restricted worldview – every good system that institutionalizes slavery knows that the slave mustn’t become aware that there is a thing called freedom.  Then the slave will identify with the slaves’ job, and try to do the best job possible, only continuing to line the master’s pockets and maintain the status quo.

I’ve been speaking with analogy, but look at what happens in the world.  “You are the job.”  And with that identification, the game ends and the master has a replenishment of slaves.  It’s nearly like American chattel slavery – the system enforced the setup such that the slave cannot break out of his containment without serious assistance.  You can analogize it to The Matrix if you’d like, but many of us are walking around here as happy slaves.  Possibly fine with their position as slaves, but are happy to at least be a house nigger than a field nigger.

Bold language?  Perhaps, but slaves like to one-up each other.  It’s tied to the happiness factor, so to speak.  Since (I’ve tried to analogously show, at least) we’ve got slaves who are either unaware of their condition as slaves due to the pervasive depths of the system, or who are aware (and in my estimation, this is the truly happy slave) and choose to ignore their own enslavement, hoping one day that those who own you (remember, you’re the job and the job pays for your work, which is very close to ownership) will allow you to join that club of owners rather than property.  So they toil, happily ignorant of the truth, and willfully remaining ignorant of the truth.  That is what the happy slave does to maintain the happiness – one-up the other slaves due to their knowledge that they’re enslaved while simultaneously remaining ignorant of their slavery.  If ever there was a conundrum, it was this.

Clearly, I’m blaming the capitalist system (more for its social outcomes, like this one) but I don’t like letting happy slaves off the hook.  I recognize the difficulty in not wanting to play the game but having one’s hands tied, but those who try to use the master’s tools to break down the master’s house end up (generally) being co-opted by the power of those tools and sucked back into the system they initially wanted to break.  So no, I’m not a general advocate of that methodology but I can see the usefulness of a few folks on the inside, so to speak.  But capitalism dissatisfies me.  It has done horrible things to the social stratum of many countries, with the economic and social power also wrapped up into racial power.  There was a symposium in the early 20th Century called, The Meaning of Marx.  Many famous philosophers, including John Dewey, came and spoke on the impact Marx had.  At the end of the symposium, one of these philosophers remarked that basically, Marxism is the best social manner of operation.  This is a paraphrasing because I don’t have the text in front of me, but I maintain that recognizing the many problems this current system has…well it’s almost not enough now.  I have friends who are in the business sector of the world, some of whom are auditors – the good guys, making sure the big companies are doing what they say they’re doing.  I applaud what they’re after, but it’s like a band-aid on a broken leg.  Intentions are noble but will real impact be felt?

I’m not sure how to resolve the Happy Slave complex.  There are a lot of happy ass slaves – and ignorance is quite blissful.  But I’m not so sure how much of this I can take.

Tradition and the American Negro

I must’ve fallen in love with the phrase “American Negro” in 2008 because two pieces I wrote at that time both had American Negro in the titles.  Anyway, this piece I did post on Facebook and it garnered decent attention, including a quick formulation of the argument given in the comments.  This came after Obama’s election also but the thoughts had been rumbling around my head for awhile, particularly after 3 years of being at a HBCU.  Made me wonder about how few traditions get questioned because they are traditions.  Circular argument, right?  You don’t question tradition because it is tradition which is why you don’t question it – and because of the lack of questioning, tradition persists unchecked, and in this piece, I try to show how unchecked tradition can be damaging.  Especially for the American Negro.  In hindsight, this issue should be revisited, so expect me to get back at this issue in the near future.

———————-
When I look around at the American Negro and his current jubilant state due to a “Black” president, I feel happy that my people have a pulse. A lifeblood. Perhaps some of us have found a new existential meaning to our lives. And perhaps some of us are on the way. My black heart (pun intended) swells at this thought – somebody has given my people hope. Change could possibly come. But change means something old must be looked at in a different way; that we must challenge ourselves to see ourselves in the world in a new manner. We, American Negros, have then encountered a problem – an addiction to tradition. Archaic, unhealthy, “ancient” traditions that end up being counter-productive to the original point of the tradition primarily because this is a different time than it once was. Why do I call how the American Negro treats tradition an addiction? Because, like most addicts, we don’t call traditions into question. We let them be, for various reasons.

Traditions have their place – one’s family going to church every Sunday could be considered a tradition. But the kind of tradition I make mention of, I will call institutionalized tradition, to distinguish the two. I say institutionalized, not just because they tend to be part of major black institutions, but because we’ve placed them, among many other things, into this pantheon of “untouchables;” things/concepts/people we can never critique, discuss, or question. Many of these institutionalized traditions are ones we hold onto tightly as “part of the fabric of our culture,” but ask yourself this: firstly, is there really a lot to be proud of in this modern black culture (no, this is not rhetorical, and 5 years ago few knew of Barack Obama so let’s not just list him), and also is the unexamined life really worth living?

I know asking that second question displays a bias to my discipline, but really and truly – figuring out why instead of just accepting does indeed give one’s life more depth and meaning. But I will remove this essay away from the abstract and into the concrete, so that you all can know some possible traditions I’m referring to.

A friend of mine had a “random” room check at 1a.m. one morning due to a report on the room by I assume a neighbor. This was in the Morehouse Suites – considered off-campus housing by the school, and yet is subject to the same rules as the dormitories on-campus. I searched the bewildered face of my friend as his room was glanced into and, upon opening the fridge, a not even 3/4 full 40 oz. of beer was found. The friend is 21, and should be able to drink. Morehouse is NOT a dry campus, but it is inside the residence halls. But there’s a problem – this residence hall is considered off-campus housing, but is subject to on-campus housing rules? For the extra money being paid, the difference seems only in the fact that visitation officially doesn’t exist in the suites. As my friend and I discussed what’d just transpired, this conundrum of sorts was brought to my attention – a grown man can’t have a beer where he lives in this on-campus/off-campus dorm/residence hall/ apartment-type place. Why is it this way and hasn’t been challenged? Morehouse tradition. Now people like my friend have to fight their individual battle because nobody wants to fight the institutional battle against an archaic rule with regards to alcohol on campus.

Another friend of mine, maybe a year or so ago, told me about how at Lane College, boys weren’t allowed in girls’ dorms, and vice versa. Besides merely the thought of absence making the heart grow fonder for certain carnal desires, why is this archaic tradition still around? To prevent or make social interaction between the sexes at a crucial time period in a young person’s life difficult? Maybe 50 years ago this tradition made sense for the state of the society at that time, but not in the 21st Century. It’s not like black male/female relations are pristine and clear skied – it’s currently torrential rainfall with no end in sight. But hey, you gotta follow tradition. And again, she moved off campus so that she could spend more time with her boyfriend, unimpeded by counterproductive traditions.

Still not convinced that black people suffer from an addiction? Look at what we eat! Sure, we harken back to slavery days and out of appreciation for our ancestors, we show pride in eating what those strong men and women ate. But I always wondered, did they really enjoy eating pig entrails, or was it a forced response to make life a little easier to endure beyond the terrible hardships of daily dehumanization? Or really, did pig ass and feet and intestines make them genuinely excited because of what it was?

I understand I may be going overboard to present my point, but let me say this – traditions are good things. Before I conclude, I want to make that known – traditions are how you form a culture, a society. But when traditions are paramount to the society, there is no check to create a balance. And that’s what I’m seeing now. We need to check traditions so that they are all productive, not for minor ends, but for major ones! The more we sit and receive information, believing it to be true, the worse the path of ignorance becomes. It’s truly a shame that there’s a lack of questioning in the American Negro community, and that questioning traditions has a stigma attached to it. Questioning traditions will eliminate our useless ones, and strengthen or adapt our productive ones! Not to mention we will start to make sense of why we do what we do. Massa is dead! No longer should we accept what others (including other American Negros) as sound, valid, and true – question it! Be skeptical! Over 250 years of tradition has not helped the American Negro climb out of the hole it was placed in; do we really think 250 more years of archaic, asanine traditions will change that?

And so, one American tradition has been broken – no longer must you be a white male over 50 to be President. If traditions weren’t made to be challenged, broken, or questioned, we would not have any President elect Barack Obama. We wouldn’t have any sort of black pioneers. But I guess American traditions are made to be challenged, but we are still incapable of putting the mirror to ourselves and questioning what we see.

————–

Truthfully, I can’t remember which essay I wrote first, this one or “My Thoughts on the American Negro.”  But it’s clear that, when put next to each other, there’s a connection between the topics.  There’s more to explore.  As summertime begins to arrive, expect me to really explore these issues.  Or at least try to.

My Thoughts on the American Negro

This is an essay I wrote in the Fall of 2008, just after Obama’s election.  The full title of the piece is “My Thoughts On The American Negro: “Who in the hell do you think you are, nigga?”  The subtitle is important, as that’s the theme I was after throughout the piece.  It was accepted by the Morehouse Literary Magazine, The Catalyst, in the spring of 2009.  I’ll post my other late 2008 writing on the American Negro immediately after posting this one – consider the two in conversation with one another, in a weird way.  While over a year old, re-reading this piece got me thinking about the state of Blacks in America following Obama’s election (and no, not in that “we’re in a post-racial society” way), particularly when it comes to a professor of mine’s claim that the Obama election will hurt Black people more than help Black people due to his colorblind campaign.  This essay might be a precursor to that conversation, because if the professor is right and what I’ve somewhat asserted here is right, then Black identity is in trouble.  But enough prelude – let’s get you right to the main event.

—————————–

My Thoughts on the American Negro/”Who the hell do you think you are, nigga?”

On the night when Obama was elected, a friend of mine eloquently commented on the state of the American Negro; “We ain’t niggas no mo’.”  To a certain extent, I wholly agreed with him – a large burden has been lifted off of our shoulders, and an even bigger one has been placed on them, so that we now mimic the Greek Titan Atlas.  The world lies on our shoulders because we aren’t niggas no mo’.  We’ve lived with the projected identity of niggas and niggardry and niggerdom and all things N-word that when my friend said that comment to me, I took a pause.  He presented a true issue of existence, one that has not left the American Negro experience from day 1 – if we know what we are not, what are we?

While my friend may not have intended for his comment, while insightful and empowering, to be taken in such a manner, I must thank him.  He has delivered an existential charge to the Black community in this country to figure out just who in the hell we are.  I’ll say now that there’s a strong chance profanity will be a part of this essay.  And a major reason for this is that I am a reflection of the Black experience – sometimes I have no clue what other, “sophisticated” phrase might do justice.  So I’ll stick by my guns and dance with who brung me, so to speak.  But back to the matter at hand – is it possible to develop an identity by figuring out who we are not?

Historically speaking, I’m going to vote no.  Philosophically speaking, hell no.  First the history.  When it comes to identity development of ethnic groups, it has tended to be around mutual cultural backgrounds, which are reflections of where they came from – not who they aren’t, but who they are.  Many successful ethnic groups have been successful because of that concept of knowing one’s self, and having that extend into the family unit and beyond.  Statistically speaking, Asian Americans make more money than the white man (this is my essay and I’ll be pejorative regarding the majority in this country if I want to, all will receive equal diminutive commentary when deemed necessary).  According to some sociologists, it’s because of the cultural heritage that tends to be treasured in the common Asian households, which include a tight family unit, responsibility, and building up one’s character.  Stereotypical they may be; they are also parts of Asian culture.  And there are many Asian Americans who are not many generations removed from their family’s emigration to America, adding another footnote into a drive to succeed that many Asian American families hold.

I use the Asian American as an example of what can happen when there is an identity formed prior to coming or at least maintained after arriving.  The possibility of success is endless because you at least know who you are, to a certain extent.  There is a re-affirmation of one’s cultural heritage because it doesn’t come by excluding all other factors.  It comes as the default, which is what the American Negro has tried so desperately to develop, a default ethnic setting for us to claim, but it is usually cultivated out of negation of the other, and not affirmation of the self.  To avoid getting into philosophical jargon, I will illustrate my point through the famous Civil Rights movement.  Done in the 1950’s and 1960’s, these men and women were roughly 2-3 generations following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865.  Whether or not their great grandparents were still alive, many were able to witness the sharecropping in the South combined with Jim Crow legislation that continued the tradition of slavery and forced inequality in the United States.  Being so close to that time period developed a sentiment of forcing equality, because there was a known identity at that time.  That at the very least, we, Black people, were humans and deserved to be treated as such.  That was step one to self-identification – figuring out that we are human beings, no matter what the other may say about us.  That, to me, was an underlying drive with the Movement; the indefatigable knowledge that Black people are humans and deserve humane treatment solely for that reason.  We begun answering our existential issue, and then the ball dropped.  Some 40 years later, we now have a Black president and can claim a partial eradication of our prolonged status as “niggas.”  But we haven’t answered our problem as to what are we otherwise.

The question is not “to be or not to be,” but, “what will we be?”  And philosophically we should not answer what we will be through negating what others are.  A de facto identity does not stand the test of time, because it is not actually yours – it’s just not everyone else’s.  There is a gigantic difference in those terms; one is undeniable possession that has nothing to do with the other, it is auto-developed, and appreciated as evidence for one’s people.  The other phrase has everything to do with the other, worrying and trying to differentiate itself from the other, placing energy in the wrong aspect of the process.  By now, hopefully you understand that to figure out who we are now as Black people, we cannot waste time trying to differentiate ourselves from the other.  It doesn’t get the job done.

I won’t say I know how to get the job done, however.  I’m not that arrogant.  What I will say is that it will take a willingness to explore one’s humanity to begin to figure out who we are.  The confusion that has plagued the past 2 generations is not one necessarily of angst, but perhaps we’ve been kept in the darkness about the troubles of the 20th century so much so that we look at our (comparatively minor) troubles as paramount.  “If we forget the really bad times, then these times aren’t so bad.  It’s been worse.”  This is a damn shame.  In many of our grandparents’ lifetimes the American Negro was not receiving this new, subtle racism we experience – they were called nigger to their face routinely.  They toiled against institutional racism that had no reason to go away.  We have drug dealers, dope fiends, gang banging and other illicit behaviors; none of which have been institutionalized yet, Thank God.  But damn people, the Cosby’s were a TV show.  Family Matters was a sitcom.  We have had multiple race riots in our lifetime!  We don’t get the luxury of forgetting the past to start a brand new future.

Again, we ain’t niggas no mo’, so whether or not this country wants us, they have to deal with us.  The status quo was ruptured.  At this moment in time, we can begin to develop this identity, with a new moral fabric and a new status quo.  I’m not saying we all need to be in church, with our pants pulled up, no more drinking or cussing, etc.  This ain’t prohibition and I’m not advocating for mass censorship.  But there’s now a space for a re-evaluation of who the American Negro is.  And maybe, just maybe, we can stop worrying about who we aren’t, and find out just who the hell we are.

—————

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little bit hype right now.