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January 17, 2005

The Hard Case

Are the people at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean black? If they survived the Middle Passage, would they consider us black?

I raise this provocative question in the context of the perennial topic of The Survival of the Black Race. Presuming that this is a difficult and worthwhile outcome, who gets to decide? It sounds like an ignorant question but I think not. The answer, inevitably, is that the successful get to decide.

I wonder these days out of genuine concern rather than partisan bluster whether or not my lefty counterparts will survive. One of the things that prompts me in this direction were three vignettes that keep playing in my mind. The first has to do with Dave Chappelle, the second with Hotel Rwanda and the third with Black History Museums.

Part One: Chappelle
On Tivo I watched an episode of Dave Chappelle and at the top of the show he did a skit involving some character named Lil Jon. As it stands, I just happened to guess that this was based on an actual person. The extended riff of "What?" must have something to do with a song popular with the hiphop crowd - I could be wrong. But I happen to know that Chappelle is a smart dude who is not above telling his audience that they are stupid, if they are. I also don't doubt that he has the best of hiphop's stars on his show including Common, Mos Def, De La Soul and Kanye West. I'm going to appropriate Prince and say "You eventually get the audience you deserve." I am concerned that my lefty buddies, and maybe Dave Chappelle will only have the legacy that they moderated the dysfunction of society's undesireables. I have a difficult time with that being the Black legacy. But the argument of my colleagues always hinges on the center of gravity of the black population being relatively close to destitution.

I discount Hiphop because in the main it ain't about much. I imagine that you could split up the black population on the basis of asking them which music they could not live without {hiphop, jazz, gospel, r&b, funk}. Damn, I'd have to choose Jazz. But you and I know that the conversation these days is always about hiphop carrying the bulk of black culture. I say it doesn't and it shouldn't, but that's not an easy call. I get plenty of static about it and people think I'm ignorant of reality. OK.

Part two: Hotel Rwanda.
(I swear I'm going to get that review out one of these days.) As my boy Lee says, between the lion and the hunter only one gets to tell the story of conflict, the one that survives. What saved the refugees was Paul's relationship with powerful people. Without his network of power, he'd be at the mercy of the militia. Despite the fact that he felt completely abandoned and foolish for wearing the suit and tie, it was the relationship he cultivated with the Western world that made the critical difference. There is something very important and real about the connections between the powerful and the middle class that completes the cycle of humanity. If those links fail, then there can be no progress. There must be mutual trust and respect.

This is a trust and respect I think many in the Left have lost, or never established with American power. It is clearly something many don't understand, especially those to like to toss the term 'sell out' around.

Part Three:
Black History museums around the nation are hanging by a thread of government funding. The museum in Detroit was recently saved from bankruptcy by an emergency rescue funding by a coalition of black millionaires in the area. I think this is a prime example of the kind of action African Americans can come to expect if we actually *do* expect it.

I find myself conflicted at the heart of this issue. I desire to see some cogent black upperclass which embodies the spirits of black nationalism and the traditions of African American family & history. In fact, I am convinced that the future of black history depends upon its establishment. If there is a mainstream pop culture which carries the vulgar burden of ugly Americanism, it would break my heart to see that the black elite has bought into it. But I doubt that seriously given my personal experience and the obvious distance between black talent and American pop. At the same time, I know this is just my hope speaking, and I further know that there must be some very good reasons such a cogent upperclass is not in clear evidence today. I rationalize this by asserting that we simply have not reached a critical mass. But I also know that the ways of this world bring us away from the ways of our world. One establishes oneself through market values or constituencies, and the simple fact is that black wealth doesn't often owe itself directly to the black masses in the same way that black political power owes itself largely from black constituencies. The success of wealthy and influential black families may ultimately be dissapated.

And yet the legacy of African American history is at stake. How will we appear? I wonder. I worry.

Posted by mbowen at January 17, 2005 09:18 PM

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Every man's death diminishes me, but for Tookie, not much at all. God forgive me but some days I wish he could take his supporters with him. [Read More]

Tracked on November 29, 2005 10:50 PM


But the argument of my colleagues always hinges on the center of gravity of the black population being relatively close to destitution.

I have one nit...

It ain't just the left doing it and it's silly to assume otherwise.

Posted by: DarkStar at January 18, 2005 10:47 AM

Lil Jon is the latest man of the hour whose claim to fame if coining the word "Crunk" (or maybe it's "Krunk").

You bring a lot of good points up, as usual. My thoughts are so shotgunned now, but you've got me moving on a follow-up myself.

Posted by: submandave at January 18, 2005 11:13 AM

"And yet the legacy of African American history is at stake."

This spoke to me, but I can't quite grasp the thread of its importance.

I almost feel that the issue of WHO defines African American history is what is at stake.

There seems to be a struggle within the A.A. community as to who is allowed to speak "with authority" on its behalf.

It's almost like a certain population of the A.A. is being taken hostage by other segments. Somehow, their "legitimacy" in speaking on behalf of A.A. is not credible.

How to overcome that? (i.e., what "defines" black authenticity?). Haven't a clue.

But I'm white, so what do I know? Except that I'm semi-religious and resent the fact that white, christian, moderate voices are routinely dismissed as Fundamentalists.

THAT, I think is why Bush won. It wasn't so much the radical right that bolstered his ranks, it was that no one else had a message that even APPROACHED the moderate conservative -- so he drew great numbers from that base.

I think there is a lesson in that for the A.A. community.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 19, 2005 10:45 PM

Tell me what you think is black music. What is white music?

Posted by: Cobb at January 20, 2005 10:24 AM