Best Of The Web This Week

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The Root: Blackness Primer Revisited – Writer John McWhorter argues that it’s not stereotyping to say that religious leanings, a love of fried chicken and a penchant for dancing are black cultural traits. Well, I guess there are black people out there – me included – who do these things… But how far do you go with this type of argument? A love of fried chicken is pretty harmless. However, some might say that, judging by statistics, low educational achievement, a propensity towards violence and lawlessness and poor family values are also traits that appear to be associated with black culture. But I know that’s not right and I would call that stereotyping. So I’m not quite sure I agree with John McWhorter on this one. It’s dangerous ground.

The Guardian: Black, British & Proud – This one was written by myself. My opinion is that despite being black, I am also very much British and proud to be. Being black (or any other kind of immigrant or offspring of) does not stop you from becoming immersed in the culture in which you were brought up in. I had a range of thought provoking and interesting responses…One friend of mine was sad and frustrated with me. “England colonized us”, she said. “How can you claim them?”. See what you think.

Chicago Tribune: Smear Campaign Speaks Volumes About Society – Interesting piece by Ahmed M. Rehab about being Muslim and American. Seems we are all dealing with our racial identity issues!

Stuff White People Like: This is a very funny blog, written by Christian Lander. Yoga, Study Abroad Programmes, Coffee are all apparently things that white people like. Going back to my comments on the John McWhorter piece above – is this also an example of stereotyping (the author is white by the way)? I guess it is, but it is also satirical. Plus, being interested in yoga and coffee never really affected anyone’s position in society. These are all pretty harmless stereotypes and nobody says things like ‘you’re not really white if you don’t drink coffee’.

The Guardian: Entertaining Or Exploitative – This is another one of my comment pieces published this week. As BET launches in the UK this week, I ask if it’s something that Black Britons really need? Is BET entertainment, or exploitation?

What’s Right With Black People?

I have asked black friends the question ‘what’s right with black people?’… and for some reason it seems to draw a blank. Someone even said – albeit jokingly – “there ain’t nothing right with us!”. We have become so focussed on our pathology that we don’t know what works anymore. Just this week, USA today published an article entitled ‘Goals for Black America Not Met’, based on research from the Eisenhower Foundation which shows that black Americans are still facing major issues to do with poverty and so on. 

Frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of hearing about black under achievement and low self esteem and how far down the ladder we are. We shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t exist, but it’s about time our focus changed. 

I’m a big fan of the Positive Psychology movement. Dr Nick Baylis, who runs Cambridge University’s Wellbeing Institute and is England’s only positive pyschology lecturer, was my tutor when I did Positive Psychology as part of my Social & Political Science degree. The Positive Psychology movement was born from the idea that psychologists had made a mistake in the study of human behaviour. Martin Seligman, father of the movement, realized that “rather than devoting attention to lives that had gone desperately wrong, psychologists should change tack, focusing instead on people for whom everything was going well. While psychologists knew virtually all there was to know about depression, he said, they knew almost nothing of the secrets of a happy life.” The black community needs its own version of a Positive Psychology movement.

Why don’t we focus on what works? How about we look at black people doing well? How about those achieving success? How about the young people who may have been in gangs or grown up in the projects but have managed to still do well in life? How about the black families which have stayed together and are happy? What can we learn from them? This will take us further towards where we need to be rather than the continual rehashing of negative news that we already know. It’s not just the media either, it’s all of us.

I’m a big believer in focussing on solutions rather than problems – but we can only focus on solutions if we truly understand what they are. This can only be done if we spend more time looking at those who are where we all need or want to be. So rather than looking at what’s wrong, how about we start asking ourselves and each other ‘what’s right with black people?’

You’re Not Really Black!

Whilst browing the selections of blogs that I usually read to keep up to date on what’s going on in the cyberworld, I came across a post by a black blogger about why he wasn’t sure whether or not he should vote for Obama.

I was with him until I got to this:

“I’d argue that Bill Clinton is blacker than Obama on any day!!! Blackness is an experience not a skin color. Whiteness is an experience not a skin color. Blackness and Whiteness only exists in America. Both are used to describe a uniquely American experience. That’s why when people come here from other countries they gravitate to becoming either Whiter or Blacker with White meaning that you identify with the white American experience more than you identify with black American experience.

Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia. Bill grew up in Arkansas. Now you tell me, who experienced (saw) the realities of being Black or White in America. The white kid from Arkansas saw racism first hand even if it was to his own benefit. Obama on the other hand was raised by a white mother in Hawaii. Mother’s generally shield their sons as much as possible. So how much racism do you really think Obama saw (experienced) living with his white mother in Hawaii and Indonesia?”

I’m baffled… and confused. What does he mean that ‘blackness is an experience not a skin colour’? Your experience as a black person is instrinsically linked to your skin colour. How can you separate the two?

You’d think that those who insist on making judgements on other people’s ‘blackness’ have insider knowledge about some kind of scale by which you can objectively measure racial identity. According to them your life’s experiences are the qualifications which determine your entry to the black world. The worse your experiences, the more black you are. Such people usually say things like “you haven’t experienced/done [insert stereotype] so you are not really black”, whatever that means. I have had this said to me a few times. Apparently, my private school education, well-spoken English accent, Cambridge University degree and having parents who are professionals all disqualify me from really being black. ‘Luckily’, I am given an extra 10 points on the blackness scale for having lived on a council estate in inner city Peckham. Sad really, isn’t it.

I guess what such people are trying to say is that my life experiences more closely resemble (their narrow view of) the experiences of a white person as opposed to (their narrow minded view of) the experiences of a black person. However, inherent in that point of view are a number of stereotypes and misconceptions. I think we should know by now in 2008 that not all black people are badly off, and not all white people are hugely successful. Or maybe not.

We all know that fundamentally, race is a social construct and that skin colour in itself means nothing apart from the meaning that others ascribe to it. But unfortunately that is precisely where race has become a solid, and real, entity in society: my skin colour is given a meaning by others and this has an effect upon me and my interaction in the world. That is a fact regardless of where I live, where I went to school or how I speak. Every black person has a black experience by virtue of being viewed by the world as black. You cannot take this away from them.

As far as I’m concerned, nobody has the right to deny another person their racial identification. I am black because I say I am (well actually, because the world says I am) and that’s where that conversation should end.

I’m Famous!

Well, that’s an exaggeration.. But whilst doing a Google search on myself (as I sometimes do when I’m bored!), I discovered that something I have written is this week’s Quote Of The Week on the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education! It’s from a piece of mine entitled ‘Separate Reality’ that was recently published in UK newspaper The Guardian.

As someone who is always reading other people’s words, there is something quite nice about others pondering upon mine.

“For African Americans, ‘voluntary separation’ need not be a problem. It is a choice to preserve the cultural heritage and values that are often undermined when minorities assimilate into the mainstream. Black universities and colleges are examples of the benefits of such choices.”

Lola Adesioye, an American correspondent for the London Guardian

Best Of The Web This Week

computer.jpgHere are some sites which have caught my attention this week:

Electronic Village: Fox News Compares Barack Obama to Hitler 
The folks at Electronic Village, and a number of readers, are unsurprisingly outraged by a piece on FOX News in which Obama is compared to Hitler. To me, the piece is so dumb that it isn’t really worth getting upset over…

Racialicious: If Hip Hop is Dead, Why Is The N-Word Still Kicking? 
I’m going to write a piece on this… I find the N-word debate here in America fascinating. Until I came to live in America, I never realized how prevalent the word is in every day language. I was shocked to hear people having conversations and freely using the word without the blinking of an eye. In England maybe a few street boys use it to sound cool, but its use is very limited. Furthermore, I found that it wasn’t just ghetto people saying it. Middle class African Americans use the N-word too! Educated African Americans use the N-word! I’ve even heard my friend’s mother (who is a very pleasant lady) use the N-word! As I’ve digged deeper on this matter I’ve found that although hip hop may have publicly exposed its usage, the word has been used by black Americans in a variety of ways (to insult, as well as to signal friendship/kinship) for a long, long time. Put simply, from an outsider’s perspective, the N-word ain’t going anywhere.

Associated Press: Bush ~ Noose Displays ‘Deeply Offensive’
Wow, Bush has actually said something that makes sense. For once.

African American Opinion: Black Elected Officials and Black Superdelegates Begin To Ditch Hillary
I don’t really ‘get’ who or what Superdelegates are… But looks like Billary is about to lose some friends. Awwww.

Advertising Age: Myth: Latino’s Don’t Do Valentine’s Day
I really enjoy reading this blog. Considering how influential the media is, I like the fact that the advertising world is addressing issues of diversity and representation.

The Daily Show: Obama’s February Wins
This is such a great comedy show… This clip is hilarious! Is Obama’s success in February some kind of Black History Month tribute?!

Transcending Race? Don’t Talk Nonsense!

obama1.jpgI watched an interesting discussion on TV yesterday in which the question ‘has Obama transcended race?’ was asked (yet again).

Honestly, I find notions such as ‘transcending race’ and ‘post-racial politics’ not only nonsensical but rather troubling. Although people use the terms as though they are a cause for celebration, when you read between the lines you find that they actually carry with them inherently racist ideas.

Let me break it down:
1) The dictionary definition of the word ‘transcend’ is ‘to rise above or go beyond; exceed; to outdo in excellence’.
 
2) The idea that one should ‘transcend race’ suggests that race (in this particular case, being black) is a hindrance that needs to be overcome before success can be achieved. 

3) The inference, therefore, is that ordinarily Obama’s race would be a problem. However, apparently he has been evelated by his education, intelligence, articulate manner and charm – all of which according to this question shouldn’t really be associated with being black – where his race is no longer seen as a challenge.

4) The question ‘has Obama transcended race?’ suggests that it is because Obama has overcome the limitations of being black that people (white people) like him.

5) This question carries with it an inherent notion that being black is in itself problematic and, dare I say, an obstacle to success. If that was not the case, why would Obama be seen to have ‘transcended race’ just because he is a black man who is well liked? 

Do you get my drift?

There is nothing for Obama to ‘transcend’. He’s a black man AND he is educated, intelligent, articulate and charming. Simple.

Related posts:
Obama & The Hidden Black Man