Friday, May 14, 2004

What it Means to be Black

I don't like to spend too much time discussing issues of black identity and the like, partly because, coming from Africa, I know all too well that there is no single "black" identity to speak of, except in so far as that identity is defined in response to the prejudices of others. Nevertheless this post by Prometheus 6 is simply too good to pass up, and I think the following excerpt especially noteworthy:

Over at Blogcritics, I asked
What problems does racism cause you, a reasonably well-educated white male from a fairly upper middle class background?

What problems does racism cause me, a 6'2" 185 lb Black male, self-educated, no degree, had to work up from messenger to Assistant VP at a bank, father a farmer, mother a laborer that eventually got a nice safe civil service job?
Mere inspection shows we're going to be talking about two sets of issues…but consider what it means that we're going to call those two separate sets of issues by the same name.

It means confusion. It means error. And it means it will probably be a while before folks are up on it enough to sort out words from events.

Being a fairly tall, black (and therefore supposedly "menacing") male myself, I have a little personal knowledge of what P6 is getting at here. There are a large number of people in the world who like to make a big hue and cry about "racism" under the slightest pretext, but the pretence that racism is either dead or now mostly a problem of black racism against whites, while having obvious attractions for conservatives, simply has no basis in reality. I'm glad that we no longer live in the 1950s, and grateful that my personal encounters with hardcore prejudice are now rare enough as to be noteworthy when they do occur, but the truth is that such encounters do still happen, and with enough frequency that one can't be blamed for being "oversensitive" at times, as certain self-styled champions of truth against the might of "political correctness" like to put these things. I'm physically imposing enough that most bigots have to think hard before trying it on, but the petty manifestations of prejudice - like people ostentatiously avoiding sitting next to one in a train, merchants doing everything they can to make physical contact with oneself alone when returning change, being spoken to slowly and with a vocabulary thought best suited to an idiot, even being accused of looking "sullen" (as if one were a child!) or "frightening" for having a worried expression on one's face - are things white people who whine about how bad they now have it will never have to live with, but which I have to deal with on a weekly basis at the very least.