On Dumb-Assed Ignorance and Race

August 7, 2012

Gabrielle Douglas on balance beam, Olympics Women’s Gymnastics All-Around, London, August 2, 2012. (Gregory Bull/AP).

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post titled “On Being An Ignit American” (February ’10). It was about how this issue of what is and isn’t “authentically” Black often has folk Black, White, Brown and Yellow thinking and speaking in stereotypes, especially Black folk, who should know better. The past week has demonstrated well how ignit some of us are or can be on this issue of race and so-called authenticity.

The thousands of ignit tweets on Gabby Douglas’ hair in the midst of her becoming the first African American to win gold the Olympic gymnastics all-around was just dumb and shameful. I mean, who the heck cares about what Douglas’ hair looked like as she hovered a good five feet over the balance beam last Thursday? Did it keep her from winning gold? Did it suddenly mean that she was no longer Black? No! All it showed was how much better an athlete, person and woman Gabby Douglas was and is than the dumb asses who decided to take issue with her hair.

Given that Douglas was competing and practicing every day, at sixteen, in a city she can’t be familiar enough with to run to a hairdresser, why would it be necessary for her to satisfy the superficial ignit folks among the Twiterati? Seriously, we don’t expect our male athletes to “get their hair did,” even though most of them have bed head on the eve of their competitions. No, the thousands of dumb-ass comments about Douglas’ hair is a reflection on a group of people who have never been passionate enough about any dream of theirs to take risks, to sacrifice, to give everything they are and have to achieve that dream. They also lie to themselves, in that being Black and female is to care more about your hair than your goals in life.

D.L. Hughley at The Huffington Post Pre-Inaugural Ball, Washington, DC, January 20, 2009. (Carl Clifford and D.L. Hughley via Flickr.com/Wikpedia). Released via cc-Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Then there’s D.L. Hughley, the master of the put-down. He’s the kind of guy that if I’d gone to high school with him in Mount Vernon, I’d killed myself from the constant ridicule, or beaten him half to death with a brick. What makes someone like Hughley dangerous as a comedian is that he thinks he’s much smarter than he really is. Hughley, though, is about as smart about race as Rush Limbaugh, and only slightly more funny.

Let’s face it, on the IQ scale of comedians on race, if Richard Pryor was a 225, Eddie Murphy a 190, and Chris Rock a 155, Hughley would be about a 72. Even Bill Burr would be a 99-108 on this scale. Hughley obviously has deep connections in the entertainment world. How else can anyone explain all the small screen opportunities he’s had the past two decades? Perhaps it’s because Hughley’s funny, if only in a pedestrian, what-is-and-isn’t-authentically-Black sort of way.

Which is why I bring Hughley up here. Last week, while thousands of folks made fun of Gabby Douglas’ hair, he gave an interview on SiriusXM Radio mocking President Barack Obama’s intellectual and calm response to criticism. Hughley said, President Obama “doesn’t seem to get that you have to be willing at some point to fight fire with fire. He’s closer to being a white kid. Intellectually, like his experiences are so different from mine that, I should say, he responds like an intellect as opposed to a regular guy.”

Yes, Hughley, or should I say, dumb ass, Obama’s experiences are different from yours. He went to Occidential College in California for two years before transferring to Columbia on an academic scholarship. He worked as a community organizer on social justice issues for four years before getting in to Harvard Law School. He was president of the Harvard Law Review, a state senator for eight years, a US Senator for four, a constitutional law professor, all before become POTUS. As your contemporary Chris Rock would say, “How the f— you expect him to sound?” Hughley, you are so seriously ignant about race and authenticity that it may be time for you to go back to school.

Don’t you Gabby Douglas’ haters and ignant folks like Hughley get it yet? There’s always been more than one way to be Black, to be human. Why should we choose to act the same way, think the same way, look the same way, to satisfy the limited way in which you see the world. You are people of the worst sort. Too ignant to truly understand the world around you, and too chicken to really better yourselves, to pursue your own dreams and success.

Eugene Robinson Disses Black Generation X

June 8, 2011

Disintegration Book Cover, June 8, 2011. Donald Earl Collins. Note the beat-up look of the cover, thanks to my wife, who had it for more than five months before I read it last week.

I finally got around to reading Eugene Robinson’s Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America this week. Despite my doubts, I hoped that the famed Washington Post columnist, MSNBC rock star and Pulitzer Prize winner would say something profound, or at the least, provocative. Not only did I not learn anything new in the three and half hours it took for me to read Disintegration. I learned that Robinson, like so many accomplished Blacks of his generation, doesn’t see Black Generation Xers when talking about the state of African America. The generational divide, perhaps the greatest example of disintegration that Robinson should’ve discussed, he rendered invisible throughout his book.

I know I’m late by Black literati standards in taking so long to sit down and read this book. After all, I bought the book this past Christmas as my personal birthday present. I had a feeling, though, that somehow, this book really wasn’t for me, a forty-one year-old Black Gen Xer who’s spent about half of my life thinking about this and other related issues. To slightly misquote Arnold Schwarzenegger from Total Recall, “Welcome to the party, Robinson!”

Over and over again in Disintegration, Robinson referred to the positions of Black Baby Boomers in a splintered Black America, as well as to the hopes, fears and aspirations of millennial generation African Americans (particularly on issues like the decline of interracial prejudice and educational attainment). I guess because Robinson mostly relied on his personal journey as a guide to understanding the history of African America’s disintegration — including using his sons as a time line template — it meant that folks born between ’65 and ’85 didn’t really count.

Unless, of course, they were part of the Abandoned class, the ones who found themselves increasingly poor and isolated after ’68 in communities like Shaw and U Street in DC. Or, in my case, on the South Side and other pockets of Mount Vernon, New York by the late 70s and ’80s. Then Robinson’s sympathetic voice kicked in, one which acknowledged all of the ills that one in four Blacks face every day. Still, Black Gen Xers are only in the Abandoned in Robinson’s mind and words by proxy.

There are far more obvious errors of omission in Robinson’s somewhat thought-provoking, 237-page column than leaving out an entire generation of post-Civil Rights era Black folk. Like Robinson stumbling his way into Thomas Sowell’s “model minority” argument like a punch-drunk boxer in the final round of a fight. Or, really, like a writer running out of steam at the end of a manuscript.

Robinson’s fifteen-page chapter “The Emergence (Part 1): Coming To America” is all about a new immigration wave of Blacks from sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean who are more highly educated than any other immigrant group arriving these days (and are better educated than most Americans, for that matter). Yes this is true in the aggregate. But besides a few examples that serve to exaggerate more than enlighten, Robinson’s analysis sounds like Sowell’s arguments from ’72. Only without the conservative policy implications and with a generous lack of sophistication in understanding the diversity within these immigrant groups.

There’s also the use of these troubling terms of Transcendent and Mainstream, both of which evoke a ’70s-style thinking about African Americans who’ve “made it.” How about “New Black Elite” and “Successful Yet Struggling Black Middle,” both of which are more accurate descriptors? I understand that Robinson’s purpose with Disintegration was to poke and prod readers, albeit in a light way. Still, the book seems written for what he would describe as aspiring Transcendents who are far too busy climbing social ladders to think about cultural and community disintegration post-1968, rather than those of us who do.

Which brings me back to Robinson’s Black Gen X blind spot. How is it possible that someone with the panache and diligence of Robinson could forget about the 26-46 year-old demographic in Disintegration? The reasons are as plain as the positions of prestige that Transcendent African American Baby Boomers occupy and cling to like a man with a fingernail death grip on a precipice. (And, despite Robinson’s protestations to the contrary, by his own definition, he and his family are Transcendent. Who else gets to hang out with Oprah and Vernon Jordan or do interviews with President Obama without being Transcendent?)

Me and my generation of Blacks had been written off by Robinson’s gangs of elites and wannabe elites by the time I was a college freshman at the University of Pittsburgh in ’87. Our ideas about the disintegration of Black America and what that has meant over the past forty years are undoubtedly fresher. Yet we as a group aren’t asked about our ideas. Apparently when Black America disintegrated, we fell into a black hole. At least in Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood.

Can Do No Wrong

March 23, 2010

I wrote this piece several months ago, as a way for me to think through why such a stark split regarding those who do and don’t support President Barack Obama. Unfortunately for me, I sent it to TheRoot.com, which apparently receives and rejects about 50,000 manuscripts about Obama per hour. But given President Obama’s major political victory in the passage of the historic health care bill, it seems appropriate to post this piece (with some minor changes) considering the obvious divisiveness that this bill and the leaders who represent it have allegedly inspired, at least according to some of our more unhinged American narcissists.

What does it mean to us as a nation – and Black folk especially – if President Barack Obama fails? Now, I don’t mean failure in an absolute sense or failure as defined by the radical conservative fringe. Nor do I mean failure approaching the proportions of President Bush 43. Failure for President Obama in the sense that the change he promised in 2008 and 2009 doesn’t occur by 2013 or 2017. For millions of us, though, Obama can do no wrong, for he’s already done far more than we would’ve expected.

So, what approximately does failure for Obama look like? It depends on how much his promises for change are fulfilled. If unemployment falls below five percent. When the US has adopted a strong policy on climate change, alternative energy and universal health care – and not just universal health insurance. And even with the passage of the health care bill on March 21, we don’t even have that. It’s better than no overhaul at all, but nowhere near universal.

Other meter-sticks for change fulfilled include the possibility that geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, South Asia and North Korea have been curtailed, if not abated entirely. When the growing debt crisis the federal government and the nation faces have been solved. Or if the administration rolls back the expansive powers of the executive branch around intelligence gathering, detaining potential terrorists or use of torture methods. These are the signs of success, and for many, falling short of most of these would constitute failure. Even achieving half of this ambitious but necessary agenda would make Obama one of the top seven presidents of all time.

But for some African Americans, that would hardly be enough. Especially if they feel they’ve been left behind. If communities of color remain besieged with poor schools, poor health care, high crime and high unemployment, Obama’s work would remain wholly unfinished. If African Americans continue to experience inadequate access to living-wage jobs, affordable apartments and homes, and public services across the board, Obama’s presidency would be about what could’ve been. Without addressing these issues – for some African Americans and the rest of the country – Obama’s status and popularity would surely drop.

Yet, President Obama will still be one of the most popular presidents since FDR and JFK. Many, if not most Blacks, would see Obama as a towering beacon that lit up their early twenty-first-century world. So many will take pride in his achievements – however limited – that it would be as if Obama could never fail. His serving as president is – and likely will continue to be – seen as success by default.

That truth is the reason why few African Americans criticize Obama in the public eye. Nobel Peace Prize, a strong State-of-the-Union speech, honorary degrees, meeting with foreign heads of states. Every step is an achievement, every speech an accomplishment. White progressives and conservatives of every stripe fail to understand. Progressives may be invested in Obama. African Americans, though, have doubled down on the president over the past two years. For so many, anything that President Obama makes happen in terms of domestic policy and statecraft is icing on the cake. President Obama will be seen as successful because millions of us will refuse to see any of his mistakes as failures, to see him in any other way.

Even the reactions that I’ve seen to the health care bill’s passage reflect some of this “can-do-no-wrong sense” among African Americans, a mixed blessing reaction among progressives, and signs of the Apocalypse among teabaggers. It is what it is, and there’s not much more to say than that. Except that post-racial America looks very much like the America that I grew up in and have worked in for the past forty years. President Obama can do no wrong. But as Americans, we still seem unable to do much right as a people or by our people.


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