Ontological Blackness

My brother Maurice Broaddus has been plugging away with some great thoughts on ontological ‘blackness’ and nigrescence.  Something I have been thinking about myself…especially in light of my involvement in the emerging church.  There have been times in this journey with the emerging church my ‘blackness’ has been suspect by some (I ought to post some of the emails I have gotten…I probably need to post a picture of myself as exhibit A).  It is a strange feeling to have one’s ‘blackness’ challenged….especially when it has never been ‘challenged’ or ‘questioned’ your whole life.  I guess calling myself ‘postmodern negro’ doesn’t help.  Maurice has penned some great thoughts on this subject.  Thanks brother.

Parts 1 and 2.

3 thoughts on “Ontological Blackness

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  1. Ant: I’m posting this late night semi-edited version in the hopes that you will delete my first post. Again, apologies for the long post.
    I haven’t really gotten into the net until recently. After checking out MB’s post and his link to the Oreo community site, I’m gaining a greater appreciation for cyber reality. There are a lot interesting people out there with a whole lot of time on their hands.

    Nonetheless, this is an important question with profound implications. As I read, MB came off as a brilliant individual, but I wondered how many [black] people are really thinking about this issue on the same level? And I wonder if someone disparaged his credibility would he take it as being because he wasn’t black enough or that he wore too much black (no put down intended, but the photo looks a little bit like Neo). We can’t ignore subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, social cues.

    It seems like most folks, from the barbershop or wherever, at some point have to get on with the business of living life or advancing the struggle. On some level, the issue is not really one of racial allegiance or solidarity. The “identity question” becomes important to me, when I see people “being” in ways that I think are unhealthy, inauthentic, or thinking in ways that are incongruent with “our” present situation in the United States. Of course, there is no one universal model for blackness. Blackness may simply be a trope that encapsulates a number of thoughts and intuitive feelings. Maybe criticisms are derived from the “unspoken” repository of wisdom our ancestors drew upon to survive. You know healthy (not definitive) cautions versus simple-minded comments that confine our self-expression and liberty.

    Last year, I saw Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law School Professor, and author of Nigger: The Strange Career on a Troublesome Word, give a talk on “selling out.” He “outed” a negro colleague at Yale Law School who has a welcoming event at his home each year at the beginning of the academic calendar. At least, that’s how I remembered it. This colleague wanted to facilitate the transition for colored students.

    Randy said that he challenged his friend on the practice. He had a number of rational reasons, but I don’t think it sat well with folks in the audience. That’s where his talk began. In the end, I think many felt that Randy was a little unbalanced, I thought he needed counseling. He had been hurt or something along the way.

    What’s my point?
    This is an important topic that I think important and thoughtful people are considering. The Jewish communities seem to have had a similar discussion going on for a while. Of course, it revolves around religious commitment, but I’m sure that there are similar dynamics and implications. I would like to meet the great human mind(s) that will resolve the race issue.

    Myself, I can’t imagine anyone challenging my blackness. It seems to me that there is an obvious spectrum. However, I think there are questions about one’s core identity, though identity is fluid, pertaining to how one’s idea of oneself jibes with one’s actions and vision for the world. Are all three congruent and realistic beyond a limited audience? For example, can one be an EC gangsta rapper, who is pursing a PhD in Elizabethan literature and still possess the kind of credibility that facilitates influence in all three spheres. The last point becomes important when one desires to wield broader degrees of influences.

  2. I had a few more thanks for providing this space to think:

    I just thought of the point on the Jewish thing at the last moment as I was writing last night. But, the Jews seem to represent a more complex example, because Jewishness has biological, religous, and cultural dimensions. In other words, there exists a group of Jews who demonstrate a real biological category, because the women tend to develop cancer. In “Racial Realities,” Jonathan Marks writes:

    “One often hears about Ashkenazi Jews in the context of the value of race for medicine, with elevated frequencies of real alleles for breast cancer, Tay-Sachs, familial dysautonomia, Gaucher’s, etc., not to mention imaginary alleles for intelligence. But what do Ashkenazi Jews have to do with race? If by race we mean a large natural division of people, they are neither particularly large nor particularly natural. And their genetic distinctiveness is the result of demographic processes and events on the scale of centuries, perhaps barely millennia.”

    Of course, Marks is talking about science and medicine. In real life, one has to consider the economic, cultural, political and religious meanings embedded in ideas about Jewishness, and implications for the community.

    This week I’ve been reading a famous author who struggled with the issue a couple thousand years ago. I’ve been given new eyes to read him. Paul dealt with the religious and social dimensions of Jewish in Romans. He wrote a couple of things:

    2: 12 for it is not those who hear the Law who are [Jews] in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared [Jewish].
    2:28 A man is not a Jew if he is “only one outwardly,” nor is circumcision “merely” (note this is not a negation) merely outward and physical.

    Maybe, I’m making too much of this. But, the reason I mention that is that it represents a premodern tendency for categories and pulls race and religion together. In other words, one can see parallels for those dealing with the “blackness” issue and “orthodox” Christianity issue.

    As I read some of Broadus’s I wondered how much of this was a post-Civil Rights discussion. In other words, how did brothers in Harlem, back in the day, think of about race? I think it was just as contested and publicly so. Of course, they were moving away from a more demeaned image of blackness and trying to move into something with more positive connotations. You know the new (brown) negro. I wonder what were the factors that came to bear on their ideas about identity? Who represented competing models that didn’t have power and access to the media that And what was at stake?

    As I think about it, as Herskovits talked about retained Africanisms and reappropiated race to advance a more acceptable image for negros, black thinkers were arguing for something with a greater fluidity, than his new negro. They didn’t want to embrace anything that looked static. I’m going off on a tangent, because this is obviously interesting.

    In the end, whether the contest is religious or racial I wonder what’s at stake? Why is it important? It seems to me that middle class blacks used race identity to mobilize the masses of black folk. They were casting progressive visions for our communities, but after integration took place priorities changed. The issue is remerging on both fronts, because the church and the black community are being forced to face this issue by others with a different vision and making competing claims. The EC and the rap communities in many ways represent a type of group that have been a threat to the more conservative members of the larger movements (religious and racial) in the past. However, today both outliers are much more organized.

  3. i wonder if this is more a “prophetic” issue than a race issue? whenever voices choose to move into the more prophetic roles and begin to speak out in such ways that shed light on certain groups of peoples perceptions then there is a bit of alienation that comes with that. every prophetic voice has to deal with that sense of being accepted and not being accepted, ie “representing the ‘other’ “.

    i love your voice ant and i have much respect for what you do and how you share it.

    keep on brother & shalom,

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