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June 15, 2005

A Separate Piece

I've been asking and answering questions in my head in advance of several interviews and panels I've been invited to. The toughest question I imagined being asked was "What's the hardest thing about being a black man?" My answer was convoluted and still is, but I found in it an interesting argument.

The basis of my response to this question was rooted in the fact that I don't second-guess black people any longer. I began this pledge back in 1992 after having read Gwaltney. I don't unconditionally love or suspect them. I simply pay attention, which is evidently too much to ask. Why? Because there's nothing hard about being a black man except answering such questions. I am what I am and comfortable in my skin, so the very question presumes that I can't be, that I need something extra. I don't.

So I presume that nobody needs anything extra. Nobody black that is. But since we deal with the question, we have to have answers, and that continually needling question makes black people think that perhaps (other) black people do need something extra. Sounds like double-talk I know, bear with me.

Now take this question:

Why is that that "Black conservatives" and conservatives in general, in denouncing "Black leadership", never promote the people and organizations like those listed here, as being "Black leaders" or being representative of the Black community or the strengths of the Black community?

Here's my black conservative answer:
If you take it as a given that the Civil Rights Movement was a success, then you must consequently believe that the only leaders black people need are those they elect in the context of democracy. There are no political leaders, there are only political representatives. They are either doing the right thing with your tax dollars, or not. Pay no attention to anyone else.

What other direction are blackfolks to go except in the direction of the mainstream of America? Do we require a separate national agenda? A separate nation? Is assimilation wrong? What do blackfolks lose by ceasing to oppose the mainstream of America, and if that something is real, is it really black? In short, are we looking to take a separate piece of America, or the share the wealth?

I have as a Republican, embraced the politics of social power with every expectation that the battles for human rights and civil rights have already been won and are unlikely ever to become necessary again in my lifetime. I don't think it is a particularly big gamble either. But certainly others must feel differently. I am taking an affirmative stance on the future, and this is not based on unseen evidence but of the facts of American life and black progress in it. It's a bet I don't hedge, because it's my future and my children's future.

I feel the hedge in a lot of begged questions about black politics and presumptions about the existentials. It annoys me. I think it should annoy you to.

Posted by mbowen at June 15, 2005 07:51 PM

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When time permits, this may get interesting. For now, your response is lacking. Unless I miss something, it doesn't answer the question.

Why is joint workings of "Concerned Black Men", "The Algebra Project", "Strive", etc not representative of Black America in "conservative" eyes? Why is "welfare", "government handouts" and "lazyness" seemingly the representation of Black America in "conservative" eyes?

What is "extra" about denouncing and countering such deliberate misrepresentations?

Posted by: DarkStar at June 16, 2005 06:00 AM

Oh, and if it annoys you, does it annoy you that Blacks are seen as not a part of the mainstream already when we are?

Posted by: DarkStar at June 16, 2005 06:02 AM

Great post, Cobb.

I think he did answer your question, DarkStar; he simply declines to be constrained to answer it in a manner demanded by you. Because the question includes a presumption he doesn't accept, right?

"Oh, and if it annoys you, does it annoy you that Blacks are seen as not a part of the mainstream already when we are?"

Cobb can certainly answer for himself but from my vantage point what is important, DarkStar, is how we view ourselves. Even more important is how we cartoonishly LIMIT ourselves.

There's a hell of a lot of that going around in a community that has trouble conceiving of an African American Republican as someone who is authentically black.

Posted by: RattlerGator [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 08:01 AM

While I appreciate Cobb's post, I think there is much that is cartoonish about this conversation...or where it is headed. To the extent there IS a "black community" that black community has absolutely no trouble conceiving of an African American Republican being both AFRICAN AMERICAN and Republican. Check out the respect Colin Powell had from black folks before he played himself in regards to Iraq. And if Oprah came out of the closet (she's a Republican, or at least was before Bush)...she'd still get love too.

Posted by: Lester Spence [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 08:24 AM

"What's the hardest thing about being a black man?"

Oh this one is too easy: "Its the fact that idiots like you think that Black is a way of Being. You're a disease upon our politics and our culture. Next question..."

Please, oh please use this answer at the conference. Tell 'em NR sent you.

Posted by: Negrorage [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 08:24 AM

But hell...black IS a way of being.

Posted by: Lester Spence [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 08:25 AM

(I assume you're joking Lester, but anyway...) Really? Describe it for us...

Posted by: Negrorage [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 08:31 AM

I wasn't joking. We started Vision Circle partially because we wanted to give a shout out to the Old School...a way of being that is EXTREMELY black, in the best sense. I'll give a brief list of people who've described it in far better ways than I have:
Ralph Ellison
John Gwaltney (see Cobb above)
Albert Murray
Cassandra Wilson (in song)

Posted by: Lester Spence [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 08:41 AM

Ellison and company notwithstanding, I have to flatly disagree here. Unless you meant to say that it *was* a way of being: meaning that there was a point in Time in which these Old School "values" were embodied by ALL Black people; a time for which you now feel a certain nostalgia; with the ultimate question being, how would you go about proliferating (for lack of a better term) those "values" in todays climate? Further, if someone deviates culturally from the Old School "way of being", would you then tell them that they're not being "Black" the right way, a la Bill Cosby?

Posted by: Negrorage [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 09:15 AM

The hardest part about being a black was getting to be a man. Living on the west side of Chicago put plenty of doubts into my mind that I would even make it to where I am today. Now that I'm here the hardest part about being a black man is maintaining a relationship, fatherhood, balancing a budget, watching my 401k, finding a good pizza joint in Los Angeles, living another four years with Bush and watching the hapless Chicago Bears. But none of that has anything to do with the color of my skin.

Posted by: James Manning at June 16, 2005 09:26 AM

I don't second guess blackfolks with regard to suggesting that those who choose to f up their lives have every right to do so and I'm not going to sacrifice to save them. I don't presume that they need a leader to be provided by the talented tenth who is going to shepherd them to safety. Nor do they need a government program. But whatever 'they' need, let them ask for it.

In other words, at the heart of my regard for blackfolks is the understanding that they are not children, and that at any particular moment in history blackfolks are doing exactly what they want to do. It is this that allows me to champion the Old School for the practical benefits it delivers and not really lose any sleep if it turns out that only 15% of African America understands and respects those values.

That is how I'm conservative. At the same time, I was raised to be progressive. I was part of that talented tenth that said it was my duty to do for blackfolks - to monopolize their ambitions and to corral their resources, to have the right answers that raise the race. I have a great deal of respect for that sentiment, but I have very serious problems with its methods. So this explains why I love both VisionCircle and The Conservative Brotherhood. I understand and respect both.

The Old School is a way of being, it is a specific ethos driven by specific values with ideosyncatic expression. It is comforting both spiritually and intellectually and I think it is the best expression of the best of Black Nationalism. But it will be divisive by nature. It won't monopolize blackness, but it will say who is better or worse. So I think Cosby is close to the uppity righteousness that is part and parcel of the Old School, and I think that he is flatly correct in his presumptions base on educational merit alone vis a vis the behavioral expectations of college men and women vs street ethics (aka keepin it real). But Cosby is no Ellison.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 09:33 AM

The Pistons have played 82 games during the regular season...they played 5 games against Philly I think. Another 5 or maybe 6 against Indiana. Miami went the full seven. Let's assume that every game they play has a different population. No person attends more than one game.

This means that Ben Wallace indirectly comes into contact with around 2 million people.

Which is not even 1 percent of the American population.

Yet and still Ben--if you asked him--could talk about what it means to "be" an "American."

Your body's cells regenerate every seven years. Not some of your cells...ALL of them. But "you" remember what happened ten years ago. I bet "you" remember where you were when the Columbia went down. How the hell does that happen...when the "you" TOTALLY CHANGES every seven years?

I should've just made this into a post of its own. Suffice it to say that blacks are largely segregated, have BEEN segregated, and that on a variety of political, cultural, and economic indicators, they share certain tendencies. As long as I can take a group of 1000 blacks and--while acknowledging individual idiosyncracies--predict their responses and their behaviors...I can say there is a black way of being just as I can say there is a Detroit way of being, a Pistons way of being, or an American way of being.

Posted by: Lester Spence [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 09:35 AM

Good pizza, by the way, can be found at Scardino's on Torrance Blvd.

But Manning has nailed it. The context of the political discussion, or bringing up any question of politics that's 'black' IMMEDIATELY goes to civil rights. But we don't have civil rights problems. We have family problems and money problems and education problems, none of which any rights framework is going to deliver unless you truly believe in socialism. It's ok to believe in socialism, but it ain't in the American cards.

So show me the caseload of the EEOC and all of the civil rights violations and compare that to the number of African Americans in family court. Which is a bigger problem? What IS a civil rights problem and who has one? It's a back burner issue, a little doggy door. (flash)

Imagine this picture, America is the living room and in this living room people from around the world are sipping champagne. The front door to the living room is wide open and above that door it says Republican Politics Only. The side door is halfway open and it says Democrat Politics Only. In the back of the house a black person is trying to squeeze through the doggy door that says Civil Rights Politics Only.

I'm not worried about looking like a fool (to some) by walking straight in the front door, and I resent the suggestion that I'm not worthy because I'm not coming through the doggy door, despite all of the blacks in line behind the man stuck in it.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 09:50 AM

"As long as I can take a group of 1000 blacks and--while acknowledging individual idiosyncracies--predict their responses and their behaviors...I can say there is a black way of being just as I can say there is a Detroit way of being, a Pistons way of being, or an American way of being."

Lester, are you serious here? Forgive me if I seem a bit confused. First of all, when you refer to a way of Being, I assume that you're refering to a way of life (or a way of living life); as in metaphysical ontology.

Second, according to your line of reasoning, we could gather up 1000 random Blacks and administer a random physics test. If 1/2 of them should happen to fail, would you turn around and say that Blacks are not likely to be great physicists, ontologically speaking? You would declare the result of this expreiment "a Black way of Being"?! Unless the behavior of these test-subject is binding upon, or observable among ALL Blacks, how could you call it "a black way of being"?

Third: 1st you said "Black" (meaning the Blackness that nature created) was a way of being. Then you said that based upon the behavioral predictability of X number of Blacks, that you could declare "a" black way of Being. Which is it? Is Black a way of Being or are there simply many ways of being Black?

And doesn't it follow from this that if (as you contend) Black is a way of Being, that there are many ways of being Black?

Posted by: Negrorage [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 11:14 AM

I think I understand what Lester is talking about. I have always had the good feeling about being a black man. It is the same way that I am proud to be a Manning man.

It's the shared history, the struggle, the overcoming, the music, the language, that love of knowing what a black man is talking about when he says 'big mamma didn't play.' I believe being black has more to do with the confidence in KNOWING what it is that another brother is feeling. The fact that we call ourselves brothers and sisters carries a value to it. There is no other race that does that. And though we treat each other raw at time, and have different values and ways of looking at the world (like siblings in any family) - when we are looking at one another, in some way we're looking at family.

There is still something powerful about walking up to a black man and saying, 'wassup my brother'. Walk up to a black woman and use the term sister and see the response you get. Because is a term of enderement and it assumes that you are going to show her the utmost respect.

However, I will admit that the concept of blackness is coming to an end. Young people don't respect their elders or their history. And middle and upper class black folks don't want to be associated too closely with being black. Pretty soon we'll just be Americans and toss aside our aftro-picks and love of collard greens and cornbread. The sounds of Philadelphia will go silent and no one will play Curtis Mayfield. There will be no more spade games with daddy in the corner drinking E&J and "Living for the Love of the City" blasting out of the speakers. Ahhhh it feels good just to think about it.

I love being a black man and I'm going to hate when we finally trade in granddaddy's bobby-q-sauce recipe for that All-American apple pie.

Posted by: James Manning at June 16, 2005 12:06 PM

We gonna have a network bro. We'll have peeps with properties so no matter where you go, you can be home.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 12:20 PM

You capitalized being, I did not. On one level this difference is significant. But on another?

If there is an American way of being, there is a black way of being. It's pretty simple to me. Going into more depth would require you actually sit in on one of my classes....

Manning we agree on some important things. But if you can get around to a university library check out BEFORE THE GHETTO: BUILDING BLACK COMMUNITY IN DETROIT. All the things we decry about the present? Cosby like statements revealing hatred for black people? Young people not respecting their history? You find it in 1870. ALL of it.

Posted by: Lester Spence [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 12:32 PM


I agree with you in terms of the practical applications of Old School values. But if the Old School is a way of Being, then it was a bit reckless, philosophically speaking. You're essentially saying, "Black IS a way of Being, its the Old School way of Being." But its clear to everyone that the Old School way of Being is dead, insofar as those "values" are not currently culturally homogeneous among U.S. Blacks. Obviously, there exists an "ideal" way of Being. I am not saying that an "ideal" way of Being doesn't exist or that we shouldn't strive for it culturally. In fact, its quite likely that for U.S. Blacks, the Old School way of Being was the embodiment of a superior way of life (which has now been lost). But here is what the Old School continually fails to address, philosophically speaking: in their rush to place limits and boundaries on conduct in Black life via discipline and "values", they failed utterly to place any cultural limits on the use of Blackness. While they were busy declaring what was and wasn't acceptable for Blacks in the community, the next generation was busy declaring what was and wasn't "Black", according to the standard of "Black" which had been set down by their parents in the form of "values". Hence, when integration took place, there were bound to be cultural deviations from the Old School way of Being among the generations to follow. If we repeat this process of the previous generation declaring what is and what isn't acceptable in the community, only to be interpreted by the following generation as what is and isn't "Black", we can begin to see where the Old School went wrong, philosophically speaking. Hence the current existence of the "acting White" phenomena among the youth. What the Old School gained in terms of a unified "Black" pragmatism, it lost in terms of a unified "Black" philosophy (enter the ideological Black Power wars during the pinnacle of Black cultural Nationalism). They simply didn't have a social philosophy which was prepared for the cultural merger of Blacks and Whites; which is why we don't have such a philosophy currently.

Posted by: Negrorage [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 12:38 PM

No you misread me rage.

I'm saying Old School is to Black life as Gospel is to Black music. It's somewhere close to the good roots and most of what's good about Black is derivative.

I do see what you're saying though. More later .. on my way to Seattle.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2005 02:12 PM

Les makes good points. I had to put my commment on Vision Circle cuz it wouldn't get past a bad word filter.


Posted by: DarkStar at June 16, 2005 07:12 PM

Same "words" issue for me.

Posted by: Temple3 [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 17, 2005 10:05 AM