Why Postmodern Negro?

I get this question from time to time. Why do you call yourself ‘postmodernegro’? I know some feel that the term ‘postmodern’ is passe or that it has no relevance nor is it helpful.

It’s simple really. I am actually playing with words. Postmodern speaks to the current cultural mood that we are in. One of transition. That we are going from something to something. Postmodernity, as a black man, speaks to me on a number of levels. One of those levels is the notion that postmodernity recognizes the transitory nature of identity. That we can change or be transformed into something else. Postmodernity’s mood of transitory identity counters and subverts modernity’s “fix-ness” of identity. For instance, David Hume’s (one of the stars of modernity) conception of negro-hood’s infantile-ness is not written in the stars. Hence the term ‘negro’. Negro is a term that comes straight out of modernity. Negro is a term that comes from some of the bad habits of modernity (e.g. whiteness as normative and beauty vs. blackness as deviance and ugliness). Of course black folks took the term and re-fashioned it (think: Alain Lock’s essay The New Negro). So in many ways being a negro is a form of subversive re-naming. To be a postmodern negro is essentially raising my middle finger to the essentialism of modernity and its characterizing of black folks as beasts, deviants, a problem, etc.. It is recognizing that the ‘fixed’ identities forced upon black folks is the Lie. In my own way naming myself a postmodern negro is my way of saying that only God can judge me…that only God can name me.


19 thoughts on “Why Postmodern Negro?

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  1. Ant,
    Though we’ve talked a lot about this, it is good to read it as well. In a way, it’s a contextualized “ancient-future” kind of concept.


  2. Ant,
    I was just reading your post and your mentioning Alaine[e] Lock[e] reminded me that Skip Gates has an essay on the New Negro as a trope. There are other books written on the New Negro from other perspectives, as well. I spent some time reading the material about three years ago. Locke’s piece was published in the Opportunity (as I’m sure you know). If you get a chance to read it in the original journal, then I would. It has a funky colorful cover, drawings, other art, etc.

    Taken together, all the lit on the new negro is interesting. If I recall correctly, Locke wasn’t the originator. One interesting question that comes up and I think the lit. addresses indirectly, is where were they moving away from and where were they trying to go, and who was left out. In other words, in redefining the negro, were there negroes who didn’t meet the criteria and were their competing claims to describe the Negro. I think one would have to look to the work of F. Boas, Melville J. Herskovits (and his work on African retentions), and some of the black sociologists who were coming out of the U. of Chicago. There was definitely something going on. In fact, if you read that Harlem Issue of the Opportunity, Herskovits has an article on negroes. There is definitely something going on. You might look at M.J. Herskovits and the Racial Politics of Knowledge by Gershenhorn.

    I think this short response manifests some of my gut reactions to a postmodern negro. In and of itself, I think it sounds somewhat funky. But the concept is not one that is immediately translatable on the streets or even in an undergrad class. One has to have at least a masters in African-American studies just to really un-pack its meaning. Do you feel me?

  3. I don’t know if I understand your “ok?” But, I guess I’m reading it as “and…”
    And the “and”… is this…that if you are going to go there then you might want to go completely there. I guess as someone who gets into history and who was once known on the streets as “roots” that I think you if you are going to be a postmodern negro then you might have a dissertations or thesis worth of knowledge on all dimensions of the word. It would help those of us who are trying to understand where you are coming from and it would be interesting to weave throughout your blog (i.e. a reoccurring theme). From a historical perspective, this could be a powerful tool for undermining static notions of black identity.

    My other “and’… is this…I believe that you’ve in some way communicated to me that you are either down in spirit or reality with the streets and I don’t think that being a postmodern negro, either in reality or conceptually translates on the streets. Tupac is in many ways a postmodern negro, but in a way that is understandable to folks. You can say so what to that or flip me the middle finger, but you still have to address that, if you are trying to connect to normal negroes. Maybe I need to take more time to read your post.

    I think many in the academy, especially and those speaking the postmodern lingo are aware that identity, race, gender, and whatever other ontological components of are existence are fluid. So, I would ask, what are you adding here?

  4. One other thing. It is funny that Pac said only God can judge me and you are saying only God can name me.

    My question is How is David Hume[s] a star of Modernity? Did he see himself as a star? Did (or do) others see him as a star? Are there other modern thinkers beyond Kant and Hume who you can draw upon? Have you done any reading in 19th century anthropology or biology? When you throw these names out can you give an example of their ideas on race? What did others think about their ideas and how many people were exposed to their ideas? I don’t know about others, but these things would make it more interesting to me. Maybe a series on the great modern thinkers on race that situates these guys in the literature.

  5. Ant,

    I’m not sure if Max wants you to write for the “normal negro” or write to satisfy his peculiar academic preferences. Maybe both. He does make some interesting points though.

    Either way, the break down on what it means to be a “postmodern negro”
    was nice and anybody with at least 9 to 10 years of schooling should be able to grasp most of what you’re saying. To paraphase Jay-Z, let’s ride with our middle fingers to the racism of modernity while grasping our testicles.

  6. I appreciate your comments Rod. I thought I used enough double entendres to get my point across. When I make a statement I would try to re-word it in a different more accessible way. I am glad you found it accessible.

    Yes. Max did raise a couple of interesting points. Something to think about.

    I’ll have to think about the implications of his assessment while I’m back home in Bama with my kinfolks during the holidays. I’ll ask them if I they think I am inaccessible.

    Thanks again.

  7. Here’s a part of an email I recently sent about modernity. As a historian, I don’t think it holds. As Latour says, “We have never been modern.”

    Have you read Latour’s, we have never been modern. I don’t think modernity cuts the mustard. Historians create static pictures of the world, but that’s not how we live it. I’m trying to remember a book, I think it’s called Arrowsmith or one can think of Orwell’s book, 1984. These are good examples of postmodern characterizations of modernity.

    The lived in world is not static nor never been. Newton’s world wasn’t static, Aristotle’s world wasn’t static, Plato’s world wasn’t static and Einstein’s world wasn’t static.

    One of the differences is the shift from a cosmological fluidity to a naturalized fluidity. You can chose from deluges and catastrophes to geological shifts by earthquakes or erosion and biological shifts from evolution. Plagues from God or Plagues from viruses. Threats from Moors and Islam in the dark ages to Terrorists in the 21st century. Evolution is not static and neither is democracy.

    In other words, we have always lived in a Pomo world.
    BTW-The comment below sounds like it comes from someone with about 9 or 10 years of schooling.

    “It was nice and anybody with at least 9 to 10 years of schooling should be able to grasp most of what you’re saying. To paraphase Jay-Z, let’s ride with our middle fingers to the racism of modernity while grasping our testicles.”

  8. Maybe when you go to bama, you can get some definitions for each of these words at the local chicken shack. Or if Rod can get closer to the hood than his jayz cd, then maybe, you can ask some young brothers to spell and define these terms. Keepin’ it real-Max



    David Hume

    New Negro


    subverts modernity’s “fix-ness” of identity

  9. Of course many of my folks in Bama don’t have blogs nor internet access so I probably won’t be bombarded with defining these terms. You are actually the only person that has taken issue with my language. I think you need to peruse the rest of the blog. Not all of it uses this kind of language.

    For instance check out the memoriam I gave to my mother-in-law this year. It wasn’t laced with high falutin words. There are many such posts on this blog.

    I think a little grace…and actual reading of the blog would suffice my brother.

    And of course this blog is not the only interaction I have with humanity nor socalled ‘normal’ negros…just to let you know I do have a social life outside of blogdom where I don’t use high falutin words.

    I talk with ‘normal’ negros everyday.

    Maybe you can start a blog that speaks more to your concerns…

    Don’t sleep on my brother Rod. He knows what he’s talkin bout.

  10. “The lived in world is not static nor never been. Newton’s world wasn’t static, Aristotle’s world wasn’t static, Plato’s world wasn’t static and Einstein’s world wasn’t static.”

    I agree.

  11. You are right. Maybe I should start a blog, but at the same time I don’t really have these kinds of concerns. One of the things that I’ve learned, once I began doing academic work, is that if you are going to put your ideas out there in an academic sort of way, which you are, then you are going to come under scrutiny. The old folks used to say, “If you can’t stand the heat….” I’m not being facetious either.

    It’s unfair for one to expect others to just accept one’s ideas or thoughts or critique them in a way that feels good. I could take you to talks here—one of the most civil acedemies in the world–where during the question and answer period folks can come off as pretty terrible and then go out and have beer and dinner. It’s just part of the intellectual process and goes as far back to scholasticism.

    What you are doing here is academic (or intellectual), spiritual, and political. In some ways, It might seem that I’m being personal but really it’s not. I hope that I’m asking some worth while questions. Making some worth while points and at the same time. Your statements about modernity versus Postmodernity make me think about what I know and don’t know. Like how do we think about post-modernity racism and the enslavement of Africans prior to the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment.

    If I saw someone that presented a paper or wrote a book and the audience or reviewer tore them apart( or tried to) and they said, “why don’t you write your own research paper (or book)!” I would think that they were a wimp. I’ve read about what happened after Galileo, Newton, and Darwin submitted their theories on particular aspects of reality and it wasn’t nice, but it was good. It made them dig deeper. Darwin was smart enough to prepare in advance and he was building on the tradition of a geologist whose ideas he challenged and refine.

    (Personally, I would like to see you pursue a graduate degree. You are doing the work and you have the head for it. Why not go whole hog?)

    If the Emergent conversation is going to be a conversation in all the ways that it is trying to be, then there will always be a thoroughgoing, hopefully sometimes civil, debate going on.

    On Rod:

    “let’s ride with our middle fingers to the racism of modernity while grasping our testicles.”

    I’m not saying he doesn’t know what he is talking about but the use of the phrase “grasping our testicles” doesn’t sound too authentic. I don’t know Jayzee, but does he “grasp his testis” or does he “hold his nuts?” Again, it sounds like something a geek in junior high or high school would say with his other nerdy friends, ie 9 or 10 years of education.
    When I was in D.C. I noticed one thing about the players, they never advertised. Instead, they handled their business. None this symbolic stuff. It was the real deal. I’m very familiar with both worlds, I’ve set in archives and seen people get handled with the pen and I’ve been in junior high in a house party and seen someone done while dancing. None of this kiddy stuff. Not everybody that Fs with you is your enemy.
    As the bible says, an enemy multiplies kisses.

  12. In other words, the following statement is not a put down, it’s a very positive challenge.

    “I think you if you are going to be a postmodern negro then you might have a dissertations or thesis worth of knowledge on all dimensions of the word”

  13. I find it ironic brother Max that when I use everyday vernacular and allude to a hip-hop verse that is familiar to millions of young people of all ethnic backgrounds, that you insult me for doing so. I thought the goal was to be more accessible? You are a very intelligent and highly educated individual, who obviously likes to make sure his conversation partners fully understand that. Neither Anthony nor myself are interested in intellectual sparring matches, particularly with our fellow African-American brothers. So dude, have a beer, relax and take some time to get to know your kinfolk without trying to condescend to them. I’m sure you’ll have a witty reply, but at this point I’ll digress unless the dialogue becomes more productive.

  14. Rod,

    I’m not trying to come at you like that. If you knew me you would laugh, I get in trouble for not being academic enough. I’m not trying to be what I’m not. I don’t need to demonstrate anything to anyone. I’m not trying to spar. I can tell you a story that let’s you know where I’m coming from:

    When I lived in the northwest I started to take swimming seriously. One day, my pool was closed, so I went to greenlake to do laps. There was a little white kid in my lane. He was about 9 and he was handling his business. Finally, he dog paddles up to me with his spiked hair and asked if I come to the pool everyday. I told him my story and asked him what up’s with him. He said, “I’m from California. I swim everyday.”

    The scales from my eyes. He was a little kid from a highly competitive pretentious enviroment. He wasn’t just trying to let me know how cool he thought he was but was challenging to me manifest my coolness.

    I don’t know “Ant,” but I do know he is smart as hell, ie at least he has a hell of a memory, which I don’t (anymore). The brother is bad. If he wasn’t I wouldn’t be fing with him. It’s going to sound a little schizo, but in some ways you have to love a brother who has the nuts to try to do what he’s doing and I would like to both learn from him and (this is being presumptious) help him refine his ideas. At the same time, I’m have a little post traumatic if you know what I mean. Ant talked to me, he can tell you I’m not trying to impress anyone.

  15. Max,

    I really do appreciate your challenge. But you are confusing me. When I do use academic language I am not being accessible…but when I don’t engage in academic language I am being elusive. Maybe there is a mis-communication going on here.

    I don’t mind being challenged intellectually or academically but your recent challenges are also in the context of our email exchanges and some of the things you have said to have ‘discerned’. I can’t seem to separate those comments from the comments on this blog.

    So which is it?

    Do I have leeway to respond to your challenge in an academic way…a way that may not be accessible to ‘normal’ negros? or do you want me to try to respond to your posts in the way I think some of my kinfolks would respond?


  16. Ant,

    Now, we are conversating. I can’t help it, maybe I think out loud. But, I guess I’ve been asking myself the same question. How do you pull all these conversations together (intellectual, spiritual, and political)? I guess Dawson does it and in some ways C. West appeals to a certain audience.

    One thing I have stated several times and in different ways is that I think that you should become an academic. You are your own man, but part of the reason for that is that I think in many ways, that’s one forum, which stands distinct from certain dimensions of the spooky spiritual stuff that I’m down with. However, there are narrow places where all three intersect. SO, if I were to answer my question.

    I guess I’m not really looking for any answers, but more questions. I think what you are doing here is a great start, really great, but I try to imagine myself in the hood (as a kid) trying to get into this. It would be hella interesting, but I would need a guide (teacher) and there would be no mentors around.

    Also, I think I see a tendency towards the academic side in your conversations-both theological and historical-thus,my sense is that someone like you would benefit from fully immersing himself or herself in an academic enviroment. You’re too smart and too interested.

    My two cents for today. I have reading in modern medicine.

  17. Thanks for letting me know where you’re really coming from Max. Now I feel like we can really start to talk with one another. I will be the first to admit that I am not a philosopher though I think philosophically. I am not a theologian, but I am very theological.

    I did want to engage in a little deconstruction of the rap lyrics I alluded to previously. The verses I was referring to come from Jay-Z’s song “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”. Here are the original lyrics:

    Feeling no remorse
    feeling like my hand was forced
    middle finger to the Law
    nigga, gripping my balls

    These verses epitomize the hip-hop ethos or attitude (the positive and the negative). Many of us who grew up with hip-hop carry that outlook with us, on the streets or in the boardroom, in the barbershop or on the college campus. Even in the church…

    I engaged in a play on Jay-Z’s words to contextualize them for this particular conversation and add a touch of humor as well. Since
    you like to keep it real, I am sure you will admit, that the average person, white, black or other would think we’re all geeks and nerds for even having this conversation. But, that’s okay, because it is these conversations which shape the world in which we live, whether people realize it or not.


  18. Somehow I had the journals mixed up. Today, I was reading an article by Alain Locke in the Survey Graphic and realized that they published the 1925 article dedicated to the onset of a Negro Renaissance. The particular article which I am reading today dealt with the 1935 riot. Anyway, I found a website with the cover to the original issue of the journal dealing with the New Negro. Again, if you have the opp to check out the original, I highly recc. doing so.


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