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November 23, 2003

Maxwell, Old School

Bill Maxwell over in St. Petersberg echoes some sentiments expressed over here at Cobb. I haven't paid much attention to mainstream columnists on Old School issues as columnists. So At this point I think it makes sense to start keeping score.

Now, to the essential point of this column: We - African-Americans - should strive to be admired for all the right reasons. I obsess over who we are as a people, about how we fit into a nation that continues to treat us as outsiders after all this time. I obsess over our survival. Sure, we will survive like everyone else. But what will be the status of our collective health in another 100 years, or 50 years even?

These are questions I ponder daily. I have convinced myself that the time has come for mature African-Americans to redefine black culture. Mature blacks must wrest back from the Sapps and Tupacs the values that sustained our people during the long years when de facto and de jure practices guaranteed our third-class citizenship.

Maxwell appears to have a few years on me and by this graf expresses some reasonable skepticism on black identity. I grew up black and so was given no reason to believe that any second-class status was every deserved. There was never a Negro in my head which said 'Earn your respect, boy'. It was always about pleasing my family which was tougher on me than whites (whom I didn't know growing up) were.

Be that as it may, Maxwell hits the right note in recognition of the many younger African Americans whose families were not tough enough on them to insist on working twice as hard and other Old School Values. One couldn't expect much of popular culture either, and while I'm confident that the HBCUs are doing their share, it's not quite enough. And so folks like myself and Maxwell speak up.

I am halfway to naming the holy triumvirate of the Old School in the persons of Stanley Crouch, Wynton Marsalis and Albert Murray, but I don't want to speak too soon. As I cogitate on intellectual leaders etcetera, I don't want to begin ordaining 'black leaders'. As I do the 'Old School, Not Old School' I am likely to run into several strands. But, as they said in '12 Angry Men', let's throw it out on the stoop and see if the cat licks it up.

Maxwell is Old School. That's a good thing. Who else is out there?

Posted by mbowen at November 23, 2003 09:45 AM

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Great post on an important issue.

Let me tell you what happened as I thought about jumping in and making some nominations to the list. The names that came to mind were, almost to a one, folks whose perspectives have been caricatured to a point where the mere mention of their names often shuts down discussion and triggers a negative autonomic response in many quarters. (You can guess the names: the Hoover institution economist; the Supreme Court justice; the University of California regent; the California Supreme Court justice; the national security adviser.) So I guess I'm fumbling to find a way of saying that I think that these individuals are great living examples of Old School values, regardless of whether or not one agrees with the policy positions of the particular end of the political spectrum with which they're associated. We need many, many more (and I don't care what their party affiliation is).

Posted by: Chan S. at November 23, 2003 05:06 PM

Chan I hear you, but I wonder what books you are reading during black history month.

All of those folks you almost mentioned just happen to be conservatives or closely associated with conservatives who have been in political ascendancy for the past 20 years. To hear some folks, one would think that before Sowell was appointed to the Hoover Institute there were no black economists on the planet. There is credit due to those activists who have gotten these names out to the public but as you recognize they are no more credible than Jackson / Sharpton and all the rest.

I happen to believe that Clarence Thomas, regardless of his views, isn't likely to be acceptable to the Old School and that owes primarily to matters of family. I won't belabor the point, but when his nomination handlers asked him not to kiss his white wife in front of the cameras for fear of the issues it might raise with certain constituencies, he complied. That gets you expelled in my book.

The point however is not to dwell upon the leaders. The Old School doesn't require leaders so much as it needs exposure. Who were the leaders of the 'Silent Majority' or the 'Reagan Democrats'? Nobody. But there was a profile and a set of consistent values people could identify with? Who is the head Soccer Mom? Who is the leader of Mothers Against Drunk Driving? Maybe these people could be identified but that's not the point. The point is for the parties to recognize the electorate for who they are and understand what they will and won't find acceptable when things are done in their name.

Any concentration on outstanding individuals dilutes that purpose, I think, especially those individuals who have not been elected. What I'd like better understood by all folks is why Arnold Schwartzenegger would be more acceptable to the Old School than would Tom McClintock. When handicappers can say such things with accuracy and frequency we'll all be better off. Understand this is exactly the reverse of what's going on today which is a clueless press identifying a 'black leader' and then wondering aloud why African Americans believe in such a strange character.

So I'm more likely to suggest folks we know will never run for office: cultural leaders. Also this is because the Old School is not only all about politics despite the fact that I make something of it as a Republican. We are talking about retaining and reclaiming the good name of black culture with also occurs outside of policy matters, which brings us back to black history month.

There is something wrong about conservative opposition to black history month or saying that black history / African American Studies is strictly the province of the PC Police. I believe this is a function of the VRWC's attempts to demonize their enemies. But the failure of their culture war means they will have less influence in these matters as time progresses.

That's all I want to say about it at the moment, because I've been talking about Hirsch this afternoon and want to get on with that...

Posted by: Cobb at November 23, 2003 05:39 PM

I've got an idea. Instead of naming names...why not name WORKS? Instead of Albert Murray, I say The Omni-American. I don't say Crouch...because anything Crouch has said either Murray or Ellison has said it better. What else?

I'm not sure that this columnist really understands what the old school is about. When he says "we should strive to be admired for all the right reasons" I say...f*ck you. If you think this is about being admired, you are in the wrong game. DISCRETION IS A VALUE! I'm not trying to be admired. I'm trying to leave a body of work that will be helpful to those trying to build a new future. You want to be admired? Go on Star Search.

Posted by: Lester Spence at November 23, 2003 09:43 PM

Right on.

Posted by: Cobb at November 24, 2003 12:28 AM