Friday, June 10, 2016

Blackness, Revisited

I can remember back in 2008, when Barack Obama first ran for president, and his ties to Jeremiah Wright became known. I listened to several sermons of Dr. Wright, and one by Fr. Michael Pfleger, (who should not have been there, as a Catholic priest) and I more deeply understood just by listening, what drives black separatism.

And I definitely wouldn't say that any of that ideology is beyond criticism. Yet I wanted to understand first, and our political culture does not encourage us to understand. It functions on outrage, both real, and manufactured. Empathy and reflexive outrage are opposites. I know for certain that I don't want any part of an ideology that considers empathy a weakness.

One day, Louis Farrakhan will face judgment, as we all will, and he'll have to answer for the murder of Malcolm X. I can also remember the day I heard him speak (on C-SPAN) at the Million Man March. I was about 15. To say that he is rhetorically gifted is an understatement. To deny that the Nation of Islam offers a compelling moral vision in some respects would be short-sighted. That's the context of Muhammad Ali's activism in the 1960s, and it was a context that was missing in some of the breathless criticism of then-Senator Barack Obama. The "conservative" political culture is relentlessly homogenizing, and though little of it is explicitly racist (though more of it is with Trump) its animating impulse is what I'd call, "whiteness," almost the mirror-image of the nastier aspects of black separatism. You can be any color you like, as long as you say things that conform to what white people of a certain age are comfortable and agree with. This is the reason why Allen West sounds ridiculous, and why progressives and moderates would question his "blackness": he uses so much of the language and narrative of whiteness that it's hard to remember that he is black.

Where does that leave me? I'll let you know when I figure it out.

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