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Archive for the ‘blackness’ Category

bellhooksSome notes on an essay that bell hooks wrote, “Loving Blackness as Political Resistance”:

James Cone once said that if white people in America truly understood how whiteness and racism hurts them, and not just blacks, they would want to free themselves from it, they would “destroy themselves and be born again as beautiful black persons.”

An amazing idea, but hooks disagrees. For two reasons: First, how in the world can whites become black? And second, most whites are helped more than harmed by racism, so appealing to their narrow self-interest – as opposed to their political and moral beliefs – will fail for the most part.

Cone, a Christian thinker, sees whiteness as inhuman, as a sort of disease of the spirit,  and therefore something that hurts whites most of all. Hooks sees whiteness in a more Marxist way, as a set of beliefs that American society has been built on which, therefore, benefits whites.

Schools and television and American society in general teaches people, both black and white, to overvalue whiteness and undervalue blackness.

Whites, even those who work with blacks for civil rights, believe that whites are better than blacks, that they have more intelligence and even kindness.

Blacks, on the other hand, are told in a thousand ways that they are no good, that they are lacking, particularly poor blacks. This leads to self-hatred, doubt and despair – and sometimes to drink and drugs.

There is more: American society teaches you to think mainly about yourself and how to achieve material success. But for blacks to succeed in a white world they have to downplay or even cut themselves off from their blackness. But how can you do that and still feel good about yourself? How can you be true to yourself and still succeed?

That is why you cannot end racism by acting like everyone is the same. Because everyone is not the same. To require blacks to be the same as whites is unfair to blacks; it is asking them to give up who they are. Equality will not come till whites accept blackness and think there is nothing wrong with it.

And blacks will not be free and good and right within until they unlearn the white messages about blackness and instead learn to love blackness, to love themselves as they are and not to the degree they fit some white American idea of what is right and good and successful.

Cone says whites should love blackness too as a way to fight against the white racist thinking that is everywhere. Hooks does not go that far.

Hooks also takes issue with Shelby Steele, who says blacks sit together at lunch because they are being racist. Hooks says maybe it is simpler than that: maybe they are sick of having to put up with racist whites and want a break from it. Steele assumes that whites of goodwill cannot be racist, that they cannot, for example, be cultural tourists who objectify blacks.

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newyorkerThis is my rewrite of the blog post “Michelle Obama and the Politics of Shifting” on Womanist Musings. I tried to preserve her opinions (which I do not completely agree with) but wrote it the way I would have. It is a writing exercise on my part.

Michelle Obama will be America’s first black first lady. Think of it: a black woman held up to America as the height of grace, beauty and intelligence! She is already being compared to Jackie O.

And yet even though Michelle Obama will look black on the outside, she will have to act like she is white on the inside. She will have to hide her blackness.

Many whites are comfortable with her as a buppie – a black urban professional. But when she lets her black side show, when she questions the built-in unfairness of American society, it starts to make whites uncomfortable.

Imagine, for example, if she brought up something as simple as serving collard greens in her interview with Barbara Walters. How would that have changed the interview? When you remind white people that you are black, it makes them uncomfortable. Americans are all supposed to be the same but they are not the same.

Barack Obama fed this lie when he said that there is no white America and no black America, just the United States of America. It is a lie because America is still divided by race, The death threats against him show it. But now Michelle is a slave to that lie. To be her natural black self would make too many white people uncomfortable and cost her husband the support he needs.

To make it to the top of American society you need more than just money. You need to act white too – or be cast out. Because the top of American society is that white. Whites set the unwritten rules for that level of society.

Why do Bill Cosby and Shelby Steele put down ghetto behaviour so much? Is it to help poor black people in the ghetto? No: it is to show rich white people that they are not one of “those people”.

Michelle Obama grew up as one of “those people”. She will have to distance herself.

As buppies the Obamas already act white to a degree. But now they will have to go all the way or find themselves shut out.

That New Yorker cover where Michelle has an Afro is a sign and a warning, even if it was meant as a piece of humour. It is a sign that natural blackness – like the Afro – is not acceptable to whites, that it is even a bit threatening. And a warning of the kinds of things that could come if the upper reaches of white America start to see the Obamas as “not one of us”.

So Michelle will have to hide her true black self in public and keep it to her private moments. Most public figures have to watch what they say and do, it is true, but for Michelle it goes beyond that to who she is as a person.

That is the price of success.

See also:

  • Michelle Obama and the Politics of Shifting – the post on Womanist Musings that this is a rewrite of.
  • colonial intelligentsia – how they have to walk a fine line between their own people and the colonial masters. Think Gandhi, Lenin and even Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Michelle Obama will be Amerca’s first black first lady, but how black can she be? There is an excellent post about this at Womanist Musings. Here is some of it (the bold lettering is mine):

CHICO'S FAS, INC.; WHITE HOUSE | BLACK MARKET DRESSTo remain the idol of all, Michelle must deny, or create as invisible, any aspect of her identity that is uniquely African American. For acceptability to be maintained she must keep the conversation on a level that whites can feel comfortable with at all times; otherwise she will be reduced to an “exotic other” in an effort to discipline her into performing.

….

This is where the disconnect begins; to prosper and function one must necessarily adopt the behaviour patterns of those that are most able to help you succeed, but the cost is losing a true connection to African American culture. It means performing for others and saving your true self for more private moments.

….

Though Michelle is now held up as a representative of black womanhood, it is a false designation because her class status will not allow her to publicly display her African American culture without being attacked. She is a slave to the very concept of the post racial world that she and her husband tried so valiantly to declare. Throughout the entirety of her husband’s tenure as President she must remain an enigma; shifting from situation to situation.

….

Acceptability and representing black womanhood comes at a cost. How can she ever be her true self as long as we continue to deny that there is a difference between Black America and White America? Culture and class combine to ensure that a successful person of color will forever perform on a stage that is not of their own choosing.

Read the whole thing at Womanist Musings: Michelle Obama and the Politics of Shifting.

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carey_mariah06mariah30mariah50

Mariah Carey has been one of the best-selling singers in America ever since her very first song, “Visions of Love”, in 1990. But through it all she has been dogged by questions about her race. In 2006 Sandra Bernhard said that Carey is only black when it helps her to sell music.

Here is what Carey told JET magazine in 1999:

Ethnically, I’m a person of mixed race. My father’s mother was African-American. His father was from Venezuela. My mother is Irish. I see myself as a person of color who happens to be mixed with a lot of things… No matter what you say, when someone asks you the question ‘What are you?’ and you say ‘Black’ and you look mixed, they’re going to ask what you’re mixed with. That’s what always happens.

She sees this sort of questioning as racist:

What I find racist and unfair is that if someone’s half Chinese and half Italian, that’s two different races, why are they not forced to constantly define what they are? When it comes to a Black and a White thing, people are up in arms.

She would have been Mariah Nuñez if her father’s father had not changed his name.

So far as I know she has never hid her background from the press. Soon after her second song hit number one in late 1990, she told the press, “My father is black and Venezuelan. My mother Irish and an opera singer. I am me.”

Her recording company, Columbia Records, however, was not so forthright. In person she clearly looks part black. Lisa Jones of the Village Voice said she comes across “quite clearly, as a rainbow baby of African descent, skin toasted almond and hair light brown.” But she is close enough to white that with the right lighting she can be made to look white.

And when she came out she did seem white. Nelson George called her “a white girl who can sing”. I remember thinking the same thing. Others said she was a white Whitney Houston. Given all the money Columbia had put into pushing Carey it was probably no accident.

If Mariah Carey had first been seen as black then there was a good chance that “Visions of Love”, an R&B song, would have only been played on black radio stations. Few whites would have bought it and Columbia would have made far less money.

It was not just the way she looked, it was her music too. The music she wanted to do – and later did do – was more R&B and hip hop. But in the early years producers made sure her music was whiter.

But strangely, while her music has become blacker and she is now widely regarded as black, her looks have become whiter. Her hair is lighter and straighter and her nose is much more pointed and narrow than before.

She has called herself a person of mixed race, a person of colour, but as far as I know she did not straight-out say she was black till 2009 in an interview with The Guardian: “I’m a black woman who is very light skinned.”

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The blackness of Africa

Are there black people in Africa? Not so fast! Read this from Tiffany B. Brown’s blog:

tiffanyI remember a conversation from years ago that I had with a Malian woman named Fanta about blackness. She said “In Mali, there is no such thing as ‘black.’” In places where everyone has the same skin color, notions of ‘black’ or ‘white’ are unnecessary and non-existent (though, as with the Roma in Europe, ethnic markers still hold sway). Fanta said that when she came to the U.S., she found herself wrestling with a new set of expectations, assumptions, unspoken rules, and judgements — ‘blackness’ —that were applied to her as a dark skinned African woman in the United States.

Our conversation taught me that concepts of race, color, and ethnic identity are often fluid, culturally-dependent, and self-determined.

There are black people in Morocco, mind you: the Gnawa. The Gnawa are an oft-marginalized group descended from sub-Saharan African peoples, some of whom were slaves, some of whom were merchants along cross-dessert routes. They even have their own distinctive form of music. Y’all know that’s about as black as black gets.

But race is a culturally-specific concept, isn’t it? And I got the sense that in Morocco, race and color is almost wholly replaced by ethnic identity. The Gnawa aren’t “black” per se. They’re “Gnawa.” Arabs and Berbers aren’t “white,” they’re Arabs and Berbers.

So when you say “black” in Morocco, what does the listener hear and understand?

Does she/he have a concept of what “black” means in the States? Does she/he know that any African ancestor in your known family tree makes you legally black no matter what your phenotype says? Does she/he understand that blackness in the U.S.. often comes sans ethnicity? Does she/he realize that you, your parents, your grandparents, and probably your great- and great-great-grandparents grandparents come from United States and/or parts unknown?

Or does she/he view it through African eyes — eyes that think of “black” as “from the south side of the desert and a few shades darker than you?”

This is part of a longer post where she talks about a visit to Morocco. When people there asked her what she was, the answers “American” and “black”, as it turned out, did not help much.

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David Myers (1960- ) was a black boy who thought he was white. Everyone else in his family was white, but his skin was brown. His mother said it was a skin disease, melanism.

He grew up as a middle-class white American boy in Ohio and upstate New York, not knowing any black people:

For many years I thought I was white. I thought like a white kid. There was a feeling in me that I didn’t want to be associated with blacks.

Almost everything he knew about blacks came from television, little of it was good. It seemed to him it was better to be a white boy with a skin disease than to be black. He wanted the story about his melanism to be true.

One time on television he saw black people running in the streets getting sprayed by fire hoses. He asked his mother about it. She said it was because they were hot. He was afraid they would come to his house: he asked his father to make sure he had his gun ready.

His parents fought over him. The children at school called him names and would be mean to him for no apparent reason. That sort of thing was completely beyond his parents’ experience. They told him that it was his fault for not knowing how to get along with people. It certainly had nothing to do with race.

It only got worse as time went on, especially at home with his mother. She said, “He was just uncontrollable. None of my other children acted this way.” When he was 18 she kicked him out of the house.

His mother was a very unhappy, hard woman, full of anger, and it went on that way till she told him the truth at last – well, part of it: that his father was not her white husband but a black man who had raped her.

He was 26 then, living in San Francisco. His life fell apart: he was homeless for three years. He looked for his father, Fermon Beckette.

A year later, in 1987, he found his father’s telephone number and called him. Beckette said he never raped his mother: “That’s an old-fashioned, Southern lie.” One she told to save her marriage. She still maintains she was raped:  “Any black who rapes a woman will say she asked for it.”

Myers now knew he was black but he did not know what that meant: he had grown up white. So he read books about race and black history and sought out the black side of his family.

He tried out different identities, tried to talk black and so on, but in the end it did not feel right. His friends say he is the whitest black man they know.

Today when asked if he is black or white, he simply says he is a man. He does not think that he should see himself as black just because he looks black.

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The Wigger Fallacy

What I call the Wigger Fallacy is the idea that being black in America is a matter of culture, of how you talk and act and think and dress. It is the mistake that wiggers make, who are white but try to act black.

It is a fallacy because what makes you black is nothing like that. It is how white people act towards you because of how you look. Ask any black person who grew up in white suburbia listening to rock music and speaking perfect White English.

It is this fallacy that seems to lie behind the spread of the idea that Bill Clinton was the first black president. Or that Barack Obama – and the black middle-class in general – is “not black enough”.

The fallacy is rooted in a confusion between race and culture. Yes, Black America does have a culture of its own that is noticeably different from mainstream America. But that culture is a side effect of being black, not the cause of what makes people black.

The cause is racism: if you do not look white, then whites will not fully accept you as one of their own. Not even if you talk white and dress white and act white and think white and listen to white music. Not even if you die in some foreign land defending the country.

Not only do blacks who grew up in white suburbia know this, but so do Korean adoptees. Since the 1950s Korea has sent more than 100,000 babies to America. Most were brought up by white parents in white towns. They grew up white, knowing few if any Koreans, and yet they are not fully accepted either. Because of how they look. It has nothing to do with culture or money or education. It has to do with race.

The Wigger Fallacy lies behind the phrases “not black enough” and “acting white” – that the key to being black (or white) comes down to how you act or think, that it comes from your values, your “background”.

But the truth is you are just as black whether you grew up in the ghetto or suburbia, whether you listen to rap or rock or both, whether you are Afrocentric or not. And, for the very same reason, no amount of acting white can ever make you white.

Both blacks and whites want you to act a certain way. Not all of them, but enough of them. They make you think that it is some golden road to being acceptable. But if you are not being yourself, how can that be acceptable? And will you ever be truly happy?  And what lies at the end of their road?

What makes you “truly black” is living in a black skin in a white country, one that is still racist. The black experience, as they say. It is being yourself in a country that will never fully accept you for who you are.

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beyond black

“Beyond black”, in the sense I mean it, is something or someone black with an appeal that goes way beyond Black America. Like Tiger Woods or disco. Everyone still thinks of them as black but their appeal is general, not just mainly to blacks.

Here is my list. I will explain the numbers in a minute.

beyond black:

  • 0: Jimi Hendrix, Dr Dre
  • 1: gangsta rap, Michael Jordan, Ice Cube, Charlie Parker, Lebron James, Akon
  • 2: disco, Lenny Kravitz, Destiny’s Child, Tupac Shakur
  • 3: Mariah Carey, Tiger Woods, Donna Summer, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, John Coltrane
  • 4: hip hop, Barack Obama, Rihanna, Mike Tyson, Mos Def, Stevie Wonder, Kanye West
  • 5: Oprah, Michael Jackson, Bryant Gumbel, Nas, Thelonius Monk, Billie Holiday, Bo Diddley, Carmelo Anthony, Diddy, Taye Diggs, Chuck D, Teena Marie

black:

  • 6: Diana Ross, James Earl Jones, Janet Jackson, Tyra Banks, Toni Morrison, Alicia Keys, Smokey Robinson, Spike Lee, Naomi Campbell, Lauryn Hill, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Sade, Jay-Z, Chris Rock, John McWhorter, Usher, Alexyss Tylor, Amy Holmes
  • 7: XXL, Chaka Khan, Ciara, Whoopi Goldberg, Will Smith, Faith Evans, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Young Jeezy, Chris Brown, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Star Jones, Dave Chapelle, Gladys Knight
  • 8: dreadlocks, Michelle Obama, Erykah Badu, Zora Neale Hurston, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Mary J Blige, Ralph Ellison, Thandie Newton, Tina Turner, Maya Angelou, Vanessa Williams
  • 9: r&b, natural hair, Beyonce, Kelly Rowland, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Denzel Washington, Flavor of Love, Richard Wright, Lisa Bonet, Melyssa Ford, Esther Baxter, King magazine, Eddie Murphy, Flavor Flav, Hoopz
  • 10: weave, Jill Scott, Buffie the Body, Gabrielle Union, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Nia Long

Notice that Destiny’s Child is beyond black but Beyonce is not. Barack Obama is beyond black, but his wife is not.

I am surprised at some of this: I thought Angela Bassett and Will Smith would be beyond black and Tupac would not. But I cannot trust my own judgement: after all, I thought most Americans knew who Nia Long and T-Pain were.

What the numbers mean: on the Google Insights website you can find out which ten states are most interested in a given search. The number above is how many of those ten states were among the 12 blackest states.

Something that interests Americans in general regardless of race should get a rating of 2 or 3. Less than that means it probably appeals to whites more than blacks; more than that means it probably interests blacks more.

Google does not know the race of its users but it does know which state they came from. So this is as near as you can get to it.

The 12 blackest states are the chain of states from New York to New Orleans by way of Atlanta, throwing out New Jersey but throwing in Tennessee: New York, Delaware, Maryland, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana – and Tennessee.

So, for example, of the ten states where users are most likely to search for “Jill Scott” all ten were among the 12 blackest states. For “Jimi Hendrix” none were.

Google Insights shows a map. It is striking how the black belt of states shows up for some searches. That is what gave me the idea. (There are other patterns too, like liberal states, but that is another post.)

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All black Americans are racist. Well, at least 99%.

When your life is shaped by the colour of your skin it is very hard not to see the world in terms of race. In fact, to be race-blind under such circumstances would be unwise.

Some say blacks cannot possibly be racist because they lack power like whites to use their prejudice, their feelings about race, to hurt others. They do not control the police, banks, courts or newspapers. Racism is prejudice backed by power.

But blacks do have power. Not the power to affect complete strangers in large numbers like whites do, but they still have the power to hurt others.

You see that in hate crimes against whites and Asians, for example.

But most of their prejudice and hatred is turned inward. Whatever hatred blacks direct against whites and Asians it is nothing compared to the hatred they direct against themselves.

They live in a white world which tells them over and over and over again that they are no good. In a thousand little ways. As advertisers know, if you hear something enough times you begin to believe it. It is how the mind works.

So at one level most blacks are proud of being black and know they are just as good as whites. And yet at another level, deep down, there is that shame and hatred and doubt about anything black, laid there since childhood by American society.

This comes out in a hundred ways, directly and indirectly. In the self-destruction of drugs and drink. In broken marriages and broken homes. In young men full of promise who suddenly throw it all away. In feelings about light skin and dark skin – colourism. In the way many black women feel about their hair and their beauty. And, yes, in the use of the n-word: I do not care who says it, that word is still poison.

Because this sort of racism works from the inside it can be worse than the racism that comes from the outside directly from whites.

If you ever saw Kenneth Clark’s Doll Test it is heartbreaking: little black girls picking the white doll over the black doll as the nice one. Not all the black girls picked the white doll, but most did.

They did that experiment back in the 1940s and it was one of the things that persuaded the Supreme Court to tear down the Jim Crow laws. Not the lynchings, not the dead black men hanging from trees, but the little black girls picking up white dolls.

But it gets worse: they repeated that experiment in 1985 and again in 2006, long after the fall of Jim Crow, and it was still the same!

Things are way better for blacks than they were 60 years ago – the growth of the black middle-class is proof of that. But there is still quite a ways to go. Even if white racism ended tomorrow, it would take at least another 30 years for racism to die out among blacks.

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Eric Clapton is a British rock guitarist, one of the best ever. He is white, not black. As far as I know no one has ever thought he was black, not even when they heard him on the radio and did not know what he looked like.

And yet, like Elvis and Madonna, he was one of the main white musicians through which black music has affected white music in the English-speaking world.

He grew up in a white town in the middle of England, so how in the world did that come about?

When he was little he felt there was something different about him. By piecing together things he overheard his aunts say he found out the truth: his parents were his grandparents and his sister was his mother!

His mother had him in 1945 by a Canadian airman who was passing through England on the way to war. They never married. So Clapton was born in secret and in shame. His mother left town.

When he found out the truth he withdrew into himself. When his mother came to town he asked, “Can I call you Mummy now?” She said no. His own mother did not want him!

He turned to music to deal with the pain:

Music became a healer for me, and I learned to listen with all my being, I found that it could wipe away all the emotions of fear and confusion relating to my family.

The music that spoke to his heart the most was the blues:

It’s very difficult to explain the effect the first blues record I heard had on me, except to say that I recognized it immediately. It was as if I were being reintroduced to something that I already knew, maybe from another, earlier life. For me there is something primitively soothing about this music, and it went straight to my nervous system, making me feel ten feet tall.

He especially loved the electric guitar blues of Chicago. People like Otis Rush, Muddy Waters and Freddie King were his heroes. But above them all was the Delta bluesman Robert Johnson.

He taught himself guitar by listening to his blues records and copying them till he got it right. But it seems he copied the form – in his own way – more than he did the substance.

In time playing the blues on his guitar became the only thing he cared about:

  • So much so that he got kicked out of art school.
  • So much so that when the pop music of Beatlemania took hold he still stuck to the blues.
  • So much so that he quit the Yardbirds just when they had their first hit song: because they had turned their back on the blues.

By the late 1960s he had become one of the great guitar players of rock music along with Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and others who also loved the blues. Together they changed the course of rock music.

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Madonna, one of the biggest American singers of all time, is white. But when her music first came on the radio in the early 1980s and no one knew what she looked like, people thought she was black: she sounded black and only black stations played her music.

That no one knew what she looked like at first was no accident. Her record company was trying to sell her music: putting a white face to black music would only make it harder. Madonna sang black music because that is what she grew up on.

Once she had some success she began to appear on television. Then everyone knew. She might have gone the way of Teena Marie, a white R & B singer much better known to blacks than to whites, but then white girls started to copy how she dressed. Even Time and Newsweek had to notice. That put her squarely in the white world.

In 1989 Rolling Stone magazine asked her, “Do you ever feel black?”

She said:

Oh yes, all the time. That’s a silly thing to say though, isn’t it? When I was a little girl, I wished I was black. All my girlfriends were black. I was living in Pontiac, Michigan, and I was definitely the minority in the neighborhood. White people were scarce there. All of my friends were black, and all the music I listened to was black. I was incredibly jealous of all my black girlfriends because they could have braids in their hair that stuck up everywhere. So I would go through this incredible ordeal of putting wire in my hair and braiding it so that I could make my hair stick up. I used to make cornrows and everything. But if being black is synonymous with having soul, then, yes, I feel that I am.

Whites tend to overstate their degree of friendship with blacks, but in this case I believe her: it is that bit about the wire. How many white girls in the 1970s would have gone to such trouble to copy anything black – unless they found themselves in a black girl world?

Most singers she loved were black too, like Ella Fitzgerald, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Harry Belafonte and Johnny Mathis.

But having black friends and listening to black music and even living in a place that is mostly black is not the same thing as being black. And it shows, as bell hooks points out:

White folks who do not see black pain never really understand the complexity of black pleasure. And it is no wonder then that when they attempt to imitate the joy in living which they see as the “essence” of soul and blackness, their cultural productions may have an air of sham and falseness that may titillate and even move white audiences yet leave many black folks cold.

Inotherwords, in a hundred years people will still be listening to Billie Holiday but not to Madonna.

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Wigger is short for “white nigger”. It is a white person who tries to be black by dressing, talking and acting a certain way. In most cases he is not copying black people he knows, but the kind he sees on television, following hip hop fashions in music, dress and speech. Perhaps the best-known wigger is Ali G, a character played by Sacha Baron Cohen.

Wiggers might seem kind of harmless, but their racist idea of “acting black” helps to spread damaging stereotypes about blacks – blacks as thugs and hoes (the black brute and Jezebel stereotypes).

Most wiggers are white males between 15 and 25, living mainly in America and Britain – with their parents. Like the goths, it is a youth subculture that features dressing a certain way and listening to a certain kind of music – whatever music and dress seems cool and will unsettle their parents most.

Wiggers try to act as if they grew up in some poor and violent black “hood” in the city, instead of the quiet, boring, well-to-do white suburb where most in fact live.

Wiggers get that way not by assimilation – not by living in such a hood and taking on black ways almost without knowing it. Instead they do it by appropriation: copying particular aspects while remaining more or less white.

Whites copying blacks, and a stereotype at that, is nothing new. Just as hip hop has given rise to wiggers, so jazz in the 1940s gave rise to hipsters.

Hipsters had a huge effect on White America: they were seen as cool and many whites copied them. Wiggers will probably not have that kind of effect: too many people seem to look down on them.

Unlike wiggers, hipsters had at least some experience of a living, breathing black world – through the musicians they knew at jazz joints. Wiggers, on the other hand, experience a black world that was made by the music and film industry to entertain white people. Wiggers are not so much copying a black world as a black minstrel show.

It would be like blacks copying the whites they see at rodeo shows: wearing cowboy hats, riding horses, speaking like a Texan and listening to country music – and thinking that is what “being white” is all about. Wiggers make the same sort of mistake about blackness.

Do Michelle Obama or Bill Cosby greet their friends with gang signs and go out of their way to speak bad English? Probably not. Yet they are blacker than any wigger could ever hope to be.

Steve Sailer says that Barack Obama is a wigger:

The brutal truth: Obama is a “wigger”. He’s a remarkably exotic variety of the faux African-American, but a wigger nonetheless. He has no ancestors who were slaves in the U.S. Moreover, his upbringing by his white mother and Indonesian stepfather in Indonesia and by his white grandparents in Hawaii, where mixed-race children are close to the norm, was almost wholly divorced from African-American life – except for what he could see and aspire to on TV.

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Written: 1929
Read: 2008

“Passing” (1929) is a novel about passing for white. It was written by Nella Larsen in the days of the Harlem Renaissance. It tells the story of Clare Kendry, a light-skinned black woman who passes for white and marries a white man who hates blacks. It is the tale of a tragic mulatto, of someone who tries to escape her race and comes to a bad end.

Because Nella Larsen herself, the author, could pass for white and because she lived in the Harlem Renaissance, the book gives you an insider’s view of both. That alone makes it worth reading.

Black high society in Harlem in the 1920s seems surprisingly English: a thing of drawing rooms, tea parties and beautiful dresses. The book has that general cast to it, even the spelling! (Ntozake Shange calls her writing “exquisite”. I did not find it so, though it did have its moments.)

It is also a book about blackness and what it is, about the nature of race in America – which is probably why I have been writing so much about those things lately.

What makes you black? Is it in your blood – that one drop, as they say. Or is it a matter of your background and upbringing? Maybe it is a little of both – or something completely different.

Clare Kendry looks white, but she is dark like a Gypsy or a Jew. You would never think she was black unless you saw her with other black people – even if she does have “Negro eyes”.

Clare thinks that if she can live as a white woman she will be happier. She will have more money and life will be easier. People will not look down on her. She can go wherever she wants, eat at the nicest places and so on.

Her friend Irene Redfield could also pass for white, but she chose to marry a black doctor and live as a black woman in Harlem. There is something inside her that does not let her turn her back on her race.

She thinks Clare is playing a dangerous game: if she is ever found out she will lose everything: her husband, her daughter, her wealth, maybe even her life. Clare knows it is dangerous but she likes to live on the edge.

Whiteness does not buy happiness, as Clare finds out. Instead it makes her unhappy. She always feels out of place, she does not feel like she belongs, she does not feel free. She wants to be with black people, if only to hear them laugh again. And with blacks she can be free in a way she never can with whites.

So even though Clare acts white and talks white and even looks white and lives white, something deep inside her is still black. And that in the end is what counts.

– Abagond, 2008.

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blackness

Blackness (1660s- ) is what makes you black. In American society it does not come from how you talk or dress or act or what music you listen to – the Wigger Fallacy. It does not come from growing up in a black neighbourhood. It does not even come from that one drop of African blood that makes you look less than pure white – the Racist Fallacy.

Blackness comes from looking African enough to white racists and then having to live in a country run by such people.

So Bill Clinton will never be black no matter what because he looks white.

And Tiger Woods will never be white or even Cablinasian no matter what because he looks black.

And Barack Obama is “black enough” in the one way that matters most.

American blacks believe in blackness because they have little choice. They are black whether they like it or not – apart from the few who can pass for white.

American whites believe in blackness because it washes their hands of their crimes, past and present. It allows them to blame blacks instead.

Blackness is an invention of white people, made up in the 1660s so that they could buy and keep Africans to work their land.

At first the excuse was religion, but by the 1660s too many slaves had become Christians, so the new excuse was skin colour:

Africans look different. There must be something wrong with them. They are not as good as we are, not truly human. They are throwaway people. It does not matter what we do to them: make them slaves, shoot them 41 times. Who cares?

That sort of thinking, supported by some well-chosen Bible verses (while passing over hundreds of others, like the Golden Rule), made having African slaves seem right and good and natural.

The slaves were freed long ago but that sort of thinking is still in the heads of white people – and too many black people.

White Americans have such a narrow and unnatural idea of what it means to be human that it is soul-destroying. Not just in the black sense of “soul”, but in the Christian sense and the common English sense too. Sometimes they seem like machines, like plastic people. But they think they are so great and wonderful! They think everyone wants to be just like them. And if you are different from them, they look down on you. Like there is something wrong with you!

But there is nothing wrong with being different than white people. There is nothing wrong with being black.

Blacks are every bit as good and true and human as whites. Every bit. Once white people can get that into their heads and into their hearts and have it stick, that is the day when there will be no more black people. Or white people. Just Americans.

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acceptable blackness

Acceptable blackness is blackness that is acceptable to white Americans, blackness that does not threaten them or make them feel uncomfortable (racist). Barack Obama is a good example. So is Halle Berry, Will Smith, Michael Jordan, any black person in an ad, everyone on “The Cosby Show” and that pretty black woman on the evening news (every big American city seems to have one). Tupac Shakur and Malcolm X are not acceptably black.

Acceptable blacks often talk, dress and act like well-to-do white people. What white senator Joe Biden meant when he said Obama was “articulate and bright and clean”. Being light-skinned helps, but not necessary. So does smiling.

The idea caused something of a dust-up on the Internet in January 2008 when Bob Garfield wrote an article for “Ad Age”. He said Obama was acceptably black, so much so that white racists would love to vote for him to prove to themselves and others that they are not racist. Like having one of those black best friends.

Shark-fu read this and on her blog, Angry Black Bitch, she was, well, angry. She has been hearing this sort of thing most of her life. She grew up going to a white school, speaking proper English and even dressing white. She was acceptably black. White people told her so in so many words.

It made her blood boil:

Acceptable blackness is defined as the absence of overt culture and of difference. It is a level of conformity that requires absolute perfection…

Achieve that perfection and your black ass is acceptable … to a bunch of trigger happy assholes that soothe their privileged guilt by letting you tag along, all the while prepared to lay down harsh and rigid judgment should your perfect mask crack.

She does not like how it is whites, in their little, narrow racist minds, who determine what is “acceptable”; how you have to give up so much of your blackness and pretty much sell out to achieve it.

That is why so many who are “acceptably black” to whites are told by blacks that they are “not black enough”. Speak proper English and listen to rock music and suddenly you are “not black enough”.

But because “acceptable blackness” plays to a white audience and “black enough” to a black one, it is possible to please both.

It is not easy but it is possible: Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Chris Rock, James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby. I would love to know how they do it, but somehow they can put whites at ease with their blackness without having to act white to do it. It is the secret of their success.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, tries to achieve this by striking a balance by acting white but not too white. It is a thin, dangerous line: too many whites are waiting for the mask to crack.

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