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September 03, 2004

Duty

I guess that I'm going to break my promise and actually say what I think about this Esmay vs Willis thing. I don't want to say that I'm defending Dean, because I'm really trying not to care. But I have been down this road with him before - I've heard the hardtime Chicago story. I understand where he's coming from, and this is what it sounds like to me.

Dean is kind of coming at blackfolks right now with a straight gangsta rap attitude, but before he did that, he was minding what he thought was his own business. He was talking on his website to his people and saying some crazy shit about race, trying to get a rise out of them. Then a lot of people called him on it. The ways he responded reminded me of black street performers at Venice Beach trying to get money out of white gawkers:

"Stop looking at me funny - this is just entertainment. You got to pay me some respect as an entertainer. If it wasn't for this job I'd be robbing you, be glad I'm an entertainer - but I'm letting you know the deal. I'm keepin' it real." He's smiling when he says it, but people are clutching their purses.

Like the gangsta rapper who is representing thug life, Dean cannot abide people who are genuinely offended by his message. If they can't take the message, how the hell could they deal with the reality behind the message? He's right.

Like the gangsta rapper who is representing thug life, Dean is feels he has a right to artistic license and people shouldn't mistake him for the real thug. He comes from a place where thugs rule and he turned away from that so he's really not a thug. He's wrong.

The substance of this debate has been long lost in everybody's willingness to say what it means or doesn't mean in the context of our society. I'm as guilty as anyone pointing fingers. Hell, I double dipped. This is my second post. But I tell you I don't have any sympathy for all the hurt feelings. This is what happens when you talk about race. And what's more, this is what happens when you only talk about race when it suits you. If you think you can get in and get out of the discussion, if you think it only applies to other people, if you think you can sum it up all in one quick MLK soundbite, this is exactly how you get screwed over. Because when you don't talk about race on the regular, you forget how deep it goes. You find yourself talking about your dying grandmother, and experiences that formed you when you were a kid. You start talking about violence and hatred - and you sorta know it, and then you find yourself feeling it.

I've been retired from talking about race for a while. I had my Vietnam War of race. I signed up for multiple tours of duty. And that's how I felt about it, duty. I don't like to talk about it, that's why I use all these metaphors. But here I am at 30 minutes past midnight writing about it. I am concerned that we have lost our ability to talk about race; that we are at a point of equilibrium at which people don't give a rats ass one way or another. We all know, or think we know enough examples of everything we knew nothing of, and still haven't experienced, to say that it doesn't matter what we think. We can say 'Tiger Woods this' or 'Eminem that' and somehow that proves that we individually don't have to work any harder. We all think we understand quite enough. I know I feel that way.

Perhaps out of a sense of obligation we ought to sacrifice a bit of our pride at being above and beyond this nasty business, and get down and dirty into it. Talking about race is difficult and nobody likes it except maladjusted weirdos. But we even-tempered people, at the horrible life altering risk of being called a name ought to do so. Especially if we consider ourselves thoughtful.

Posted by mbowen at September 3, 2004 12:39 AM

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Comments

Nah. You're still misreading me. But whatever.

I was making a point about ethnic comedians and, furthermore, about the racial double standards we still accept in this society.

White people are afraid to speak their minds to black people. It doesn't go the other way. It's destructive and it's foolish and it's annoying--and calling people on it was all I was doing.

I didn't mind the attention. I minded the double standard of being called a racist. Especially from a punk like Oliver, who gets off on that shit.

I got no apologies--none--because I did nothing wrong. And my feelings are not hurt, and I am not even angry. Just irritated at a little poser punk who thinks he can slime me just because of the color of his skin and the fact that I said something a little insensitive to point out a double standard.

No apologies, no regrets. At all. Not to you or anyone else.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at September 3, 2004 01:44 AM

Oh, and by the way? I was not, am not, "coming at" black folks or anyone else. That it would be interpreted that way speaks volumes about where we are on race, and why so many people still feel they need to walk on eggshells when it comes to race issues.

I'm tired of the eggshells. I've lived with it for almost 40 years and it's getting old. Nothing gets better if we don't start being frank and honest with each other, and stop accusing each other of having agendas we don't have.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at September 3, 2004 01:46 AM

You make me glad I'm not an Alpha. Blu phi for life!!! Sincerely, JK, only member (so far) of "The Cynical Brotherhood"

Posted by: JK Alston at September 3, 2004 06:06 AM

It strikes me that if Esmay wanted to discuss race, racism or racialism on the real, he could have done so and the reaction would have been very different. I have no way of vetting his true intentions from reading the original thread, to be fair. I have, OTOH, read Esmay before to understand his views on Af-Am culture are normative, which is to say largely misinformed.

Which brings me to the issue of Whites being afraid to speak their minds to Black people. This assertion is pure nonsense, for we live in a culture largely defined by White people, i.e.; norms for beauty, language, etc.. I find it ironic that the occasional Dave Chappelle (who is hilarious, BTW) or Tupac recognizes this dynamic and makes a fortune playing to the aesthetic. The real trouble starts whenever a Black person asserts their definitions of self. That person will be characterized by Whites as
criminal; numerous heroic Af-Ams have been denigrated in this manner.

So I say should an Esmay or anyone else desire sincere dialog on the subject of race, they'll first have to acknowledge what it is (i.e.; it's not complexion) and we all are infected by the pathology to varying degrees. Racism should be differentiated from bigotry in the process. But as long as 'race' is presented as an immutable characteristic or terminal affliction, the Esmays of the world are doomed to be wounded when their grenades explode near their feet.

Posted by: MIB at September 3, 2004 06:53 AM

I don't think you have to apologize, and I agree that you don't have anything to apologize for, just as blackfolks who play their music loud have nothing to apologize for. That doesn't mean you haven't given offense and violated the way people want to talk about race. I know it wasn't your intention to start a big deal, but you did. That's because this is a public thing.

You can't say blackfolks are annoying and it's a double standard without blackfolks coming back at you (and whitefolks too). And you can't maintain a self-righteous attitude about the right way to discuss race without it staining you. I think it's dumb that you would get called a racist for that, but that's the way it goes.

I'm tired of the eggshells too, especially because it's just talk. But if you want to start talking about 'where we are on race' there's a unique way you have to talk in order to facilitate better understanding. I'm saying that as an American citizen it's part of your responsibility to make that effort.

Posted by: Cobb at September 3, 2004 08:15 AM

Sigh, another trackback, without linking to the sources. Okay Bro. I feel you on your comments. But Black Conservatives also have a responsibility in all this. I hear how Black Conservatives are reaching across the aisle in a bidirectional sense to encourage discussion. But what I SEE, mostly is black conservatives who identify more with being conservatives than they do with being black. Yes we are ALL American, and I am proud of being American, but I am not ready to forget what my people have sacrificed and contributed to what America is today, something that is often discussed, and is more often glossed over.
I see a lot of intellectualizing of the issue rather than facing it head on. I have exchanged comments with Dean, and I believe he is sincere in what he was trying to say. Likewise, I dont think he should apologize if he feels he did nothing wrong. Likewise I will not apologize for taking offense to some of the gross generalizations.
I respect you Cobb. In fact I was delighted when I came across your blog awhile back, and even started a dialogue with you. I am always happy when I see a fellow Black Man who is successful, strong and unapologetic about his viewpoints. I immediately linked to you, despite my differences of opinion with you. Despite numerous post on your blog, I rarely got a response from you, and certainly not a link.
That was one of the things that got me exploring so called conservative black blogs. I found Baldilocks, DC and Lashawn. Each of us have exchanged links and candid discourse over the time, well except for Lashawn.
One of the things that disturbs me at times, and granted this is just my philosophy Is how Black Bloggers do not support each other. (I know generalization), your Conservative Brotherhood is a cool idea. But despite our political differences we are all in this together. As a relatively new blogger (Just over 100,0000 hits and less than a year of blogging), I reached out to people like you and P6 to support me. I got lots of support from P6, but felt that my different political viewpoint, or perhaps my irrelevance in the Eco system, precluded you from reaching back and helping a Brother. Ironically, I was linked by some of the biggest Conservative Blogs out there, way before any African American Blogger reached out.
I dont deny you, Lashawn or anyone else your political viewpoint Quite the contrary, I celebrate it. What I cant understand is why it has to preclude in some cases your heritage.

Posted by: David Anderson at September 3, 2004 10:58 AM

I'll be the first to admit that I suck when it comes to reaching out. I don't think of mine as an outreach blog. And even though I have plenty of bandwidth and the ability to do so, I really haven't invited black bloggers to participate in a group blog.

I admit that I am being a snob, and I think it's working, but I wouldn't be surprised if it all backfires.

What is most important to me is that every black perspective is represented and that nobody can feel they have the luxury of thinking they understand everything about what black culture and politics are all about. From my perspective, creating a cross-philosophical black group thing defeats that purpose. So I've only gone as far as leaguing up the Conservative Brotherhood, and even rejecting applicants to that who haven't been blogging a long time. Again, it's because I want our names to shine and our individual perspectives on black life and politics and culture and everything, to be represented and recognized.

On the other hand, I think about the pull that putting the top black bloggers on one spot would get, and I start getting happy. In fact just mentioning it is making me think of putting the idea out there. I'm just not sure what to make of it.


Imagine, P6, LaShawn, Baldilocks, Pandagon, Oliver Willis, and George Kelly all on one group blog. The frickin' world would go nuts. I'm starting to believe that it would be worth it just to see the looks on everyone's faces. But what if the world didn't go nuts. What if MLK and Malcolm never did meet? Hmm. I guess we'd be speculating forever.

OK I'm sold. Let's have a big ass party. I've got the beer and the house. Who's down? Because you know what's going to happen. No.. we really don't know. And I guess I've been worried too much. So let it fly. Let's really do this. Let's create the Black Hole and see how much of the blogoverse gets sucked in. Let's warp time and space. Let's drop the bomb and turn this mutha out.

I am what I am and I'm down for a little freestyle fellowship. TCB can and will stand on its own.

What!

Posted by: Cobb at September 3, 2004 11:20 AM

MIB: "Whites ... afraid to speak their minds to Black people. This assertion is pure nonsense, for we live in a culture largely defined by White people."

I disagree and feel your follow-up aptly illustrates a reason. There is no doubt that, on a whole, American culture has been defined by "White people", but it is a large leap to conclude from this that there is an implied bias against other cultural elements or the groups by which they are defined. Noone can discount the ascendancy and influence of hip-hop in modern pop music and youth fashion. Now, the fact that I'm not partial to the faux-thug look or "attitude" predominant thereof should not be taken as an anti-Black thing, but in certain circumstances there are many who would be hesitant to raise such an aversion for fear of being misunderstood. In an analog to Goldman's Law, once the label "racist" gets thrown out in a conversation all meaningful communication tends to cease. For many whites, the mechanism most commonly used to get around this road block is avoidance.

I have to add, that the prevalence of rational discourse on sensitive matters absent the rhetorical jabs is one of the refreshing things our host here tends to offer.

Posted by: submandave at September 3, 2004 03:15 PM

"... but, it is a large leap to conclude from this that there is an implied bias against other cultural elements or the groups by which they are defined."

Well... I haven't concluded a bias exists against anything as much as it's quite obvious a bias exists for something else. It just so happens 'Whites' constitute the dominate demographic in America and they effect a cultural pressure -- of varying degrees -- on all other subgroups to accept their points-of-reference as 'normative'. In example, during the desegregation process, 'Whites' rarely moved into predominantly 'Black' neighborhoods or solicited Af-Am-owned businesses. The behavior remains largely intact today, although predominantly some White-controlled companies have (recently) recognized Blacks en masse as a viable consumer base.

You cite the example of Hip-Hop clothing and music. I respond that superficial elements of Hip-Hop (e.g.; Gangsta iconography) have been co-opted into commodities for the mass market by 'White' corporations. Yet, the authentic parts of Hip-Hop culture remain unrecognizable to the mainstream.

Note that I'm not accusing anyone of bigotry. To be honest, 'Black' people, 'Yellow' people, etc., would probably exhibit the same pathology were they the plurality instead.

Posted by: MIB at September 3, 2004 06:12 PM

As I meditate on my reflections upon Chinese culture, I think that perhaps this dynamic is a consequence of our culture's relative youth. We haven't survived the death of kings, as it were. So 'We the people' are still incorporated into any number of institutions (almost randome) that we believe can aid in our ascendancy in society.

There is *something* out there that whitefolks grasp onto to distinguish and respect themselves. For argument's sake let's say it's Harvard. Harvard hasn't failed yet. When our social memory can grasp the failure of Harvard, The Presidency, The Church, The Constitution, The West. Then we will truly be 'We the People' and real character can survive and show through. This means, in a way, that MLKs dream is way too big. We can still depend on American instititutions to prove our character, but that's just loyalty to some power structure. It's not out human character.

If we start thinking of that which gives us character as depending upon our ways to each other rather than as proxies through institutions, then we are maturing as a people. The problem with the American character is that it is so dependent on American institutions, which in turn are so dependent on geopolitics.

Posted by: cobb at September 3, 2004 06:45 PM

One of the hazards of this medium is a lack of inflection and facial expression. Sure, there are emoticons, but emoticons don't do sarcastic very well.

When Dean asked his original question, I took it at face value. Perhaps that was easy for me because I didn't live with racism all my life. I was and am great friends with people who did, but it certainly isn't the same thing.

So - Dean says (on my blog) that I was pretty close in my assessment of him. I take that at face value too.

I see an irony in all this. Dean created a self-fulfilling prophecy. He was castigated for doing something he feels others get away with and his opinion on why that is. People were not arguing the merits of his point, they were are attacking. You do that to someone and they are going to try to defend themselves.

I am not defending Dean, he knew (and his wife warned him) that he was opening a can of worms. He seems to have launched the discussion out of a sense of frustration that might merit some exploration. I am just saying he makes Chappelle's point too. People are not ready for this. Individuals may be but "people are too stupid for this" Check out some of Chappelle's stuff, whether you think he's funny or not - and this will make more sense. My post has a link to that too.

Posted by: Joel (No Pundit Intended) at September 3, 2004 07:18 PM

"There is *something* out there that whitefolks grasp onto to distinguish and respect themselves"

That *something*, to my mind, is like a "rebel-ism". Some people would call it a pride of building the country from scratch, but that isn't _quite_ it. It's more like - we did it, sometimes we did it damn poorly, but here we are in great shape, comparatively speaking.

If you took MLK's dream up to the 5000 ft. level - it might look like that dream has come true. I mean, just look how small the cars are at that height.
THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART: I think white folks, as a whole, think that it has and are oblivious to racial issues. Most of us don't think about it that much, honestly. We've NEVER HAD TO. So, perhaps most folks are sitting around saying "I don't know what the big deal is. Black folks have everything we have." It's not racism or a lack of concern - it's oblivion. Then comes a frustration because believing racism to be mostly dead in America, how the heck can anybody be complaining about racism?

The bottom line is we have no idea what it is like to be black - how can we possibly understand where black folks come down on racism? Most of us will never experience it beyond episodes we can count on fingers - and those are almost always BLATANT.

Posted by: Joel (No Pundit Intended) at September 3, 2004 07:38 PM

Yeah, but I really hate that argument: "I'm white and I'll never know what it's like to be black." I think it's a cop out. I'm black, and I know what it's like when Tom Hanks flips out over Donna Dixon, or Daryl Hanna. But I've never experienced having sex with a blonde.

But how could you *not* know what a huge influence the idea of having sex with a blonde chick is if you live in America, even though just a small minority of Americans actually experience it? Likewise how could you not understand what racism is from a black person's perspective just because you're not black? In either case you have to be willfully ignorant, because the culture is saturated with the idea. It doesnt' have to happen to you to understand it and respect its effect on people.

I realize you're right about the oblivion, but that's a hella deep oblivion. It deserves no respect, and most blackfolks and people of color are not ever going to respect whitefolks' oblivion. If it means whtiefolks are going to get slapped into 'reality' and hurt feelings, well that's what it means. Is it a double standard? Now that I think about it, no. Because blackfolks and people of color cannot afford oblivion.

So perhaps Dean should direct his anger at his oblivious fellow Americans. Funny, it would put him on Chappelle's team.

Posted by: Cobb at September 4, 2004 02:48 PM

"Yeah, but I really hate that argument: 'I'm white and I'll never know what it's like to be black.'"

Interesting that you should say that, because we white folks are constantly told that we can't know what it's like to be black. "It's a black thing. You wouldn't understand." and so forth. There's really no safe thing that we can say about race, which is why most of us say nothing. Surely Dean knows that.

My first thought when I saw Dean's (stupid) question was, living in Memphis as I do, if black people annoyed me I'd be SOL.

Posted by: Laura at September 4, 2004 04:07 PM

Cobb,

"In either case you have to be willfully ignorant, because the culture is saturated with the idea."

That is exactly Esmay's point, if I read him right at all, white people stay willfully ignorant because nobody knows HOW to discuss racism. People are afraid that what they think is a "normal" way to think about our differences is racist. Racist is bad and folks don't want to be something bad. That's the cop out he was addressing or at least that is how I read it. He seems to think I have him pegged pretty well.

I also agree about the "deep oblivion", but we are also talking about people, regardless of skin color, who's world ends at the inside of the windshield. That oblivion is a cop out too - it's as much of an escape from reality.

At the same time, I have known some people who thought race was everything. They wouldn't drink a soda after someone of a different color no matter how long they've known each other. Heck man! Thirsty is as thirsty does! I don't get that.

In the end, the only person I can speak for is ME. I know my beliefs about our differences like I know my beliefs about God.

For me it's as easy as this:
When you are sharing a fighting position with someone and that person farts after 11 days of eating MREs, it matters dang little what color their skin is.

Life is too short to spend it walking on eggshells - wondering. I expect people to take me as I come. I told a guy if someone labels me as a racist or sexist or violinist, nothing *I* could do or say would change that perception.

Posted by: Joel (No Pundit Intended) at September 4, 2004 07:20 PM

I'll take that quote. Life is too short to spend it walking on eggshells.

Laura,
The next time someone tells you that it's a black thing that you can't understand, ask them if they really believe that white people should ignore black history month. If the point is not to show the world what blackfolks are all about and have been through - if the point is not for everyone to understand, then what is the point. Ask them who their greatest black hero was and if that person was supposed to be only understood and respected by blackfolk or by the whole world.

And if you don't feel like fronting like that, then tell them you have a black friend who disagrees, the man who was present at the first Kwanzaa - and they can take it up with me.

Posted by: Cobb at September 4, 2004 11:05 PM