Friday, July 27, 2007

The Unbearable Being of Blackness?

I have to admit that this whole issue of Barack Obama and the questions of blackness have been both fascinating and troublesome. I don't think that I am alone in feeling that there are moments when I can live my life without being reminded that I am black. Of course I don't mean that in some disparaging way. I am thinking about those moments when I am simply basking in Jeffrey (those early mornings in Maine overlooking Smith Cove (July '05), and later Blue Hill Bay (September '05), while writing come to mind as examples). Ideally, we should be able simply to live our lives in manners we choose. However, we also cannot exist outside of the cultural contexts in which we find ourselves.

What makes the Obama situation so interesting is that people are reacting to this man in so many strange ways. For some, it is a "compliment" to him that he is not "saddled" with the history of (multi-generational) African Americans. He is perceived as not being "angry." He is lauded for being "smart." For others, it is a sign that he is to be "scrutinized" because he is not of the (multi-generational) African American tradition. He is perceived as not being "black enough." He is perceived as being "inauthentic." All of this is silly. Yet, I am not sure of how I want to express my dismay.

I'm happy that he's running. I like him because he is of an entirely different generation than the rest of that lot. I want to believe that he will bring to the discussion the hopes of those of us who were raised on the notions that we can do what we want to do, because the opportunities are there for the taking. I want to believe that his multicultural upbringing and perspective will inject a dose of realism in our foreign policy.

Yet, I don't know if I can take listening to people for the next two years gush or deride his blackness or the lack thereof. I am tired of hearing the subtle message that those of us with deep historical ties to the United States are these people who wallow in the past, are expecting handouts, and are simply cockleburs in the sides of the other citizens of the United States who simply "did what they needed to do to get ahead." I am tired of people being interested in history until that history has a nexus with the African portion of American history, and then suddenly that history no longer "applies" to them. I am tired of people trying not to see me as a black person, because I know that once that sentiment is set in their minds, I have been "elevated" in their estimation; that is insulting.

I don't have time to be angry. I have no desire for a reparation (an utter waste of time and energy in my opinion). I am saddened that so many people from the United States seem to view black folks as a people apart, when in fact, so much that is dynamic about American history is because of the presence of black folks. That is where I see Obama. He is continuing that dynamism. It's not a transcending perspective. No one needs to "overcome" being black (though that seems to be the suggestion). Obama is an intriguing figure, because he is intriguing. And his being black is only one part of that.

So is it unbearable sometimes being black? There are tense moments, and there certainly are black folks who can make you feel that black folks really need to do better. But those qualities that so many of us possess, the humor, the rhythm, the deep understanding of our role in legitimizing the American contract, are the things that help to remind me that if there is a burden to bear for being black, then it is a burden I welcome. Deep down, I think Obama feels the same.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Being African American is an issue of genetics and geography.

The question to me is "blackness something that can be conferred upon individuals," which some believe to be the case. Like that whole notion of Bill Clinton being the first "black" president. The assumption is that being black is a state of mind, of self identification, which is all very well and good, but try having brown skin and self identifying as white, even if 85% of your phenotype is caucasian and see where that gets you.