As someone who is consistently accused of either holding negative ideas about what being black is and/or trying to be white, I cannot tell you just how much gratification I got out of reading President Obama’s response to the reactions to his recent NAACP 100th Anniversary speech. In this Washington Post interview with Eugene Robinson he explains that though he was speaking directly to a group of affluent, successful, educated African Americans who are dedicated to raising their children to be the same that one should not
“underestimate the degree to which a speech like the one I gave yesterday gets magnified throughout the African American community,” Obama told me in the Oval Office, where a bust of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. surveys the room in silent admonition. “Folks on Friday go in and get their hair cut, they’re getting ready for the weekend, they’re sitting in the barber’s chair, and somebody said, ‘Did you see what Obama said yesterday?’ It sparks a conversation. . . . And part of what my goal is here is to make sure that I’m giving a lot of folks permission to talk about things that maybe they’ve talked about around the kitchen table but don’t get fully aired in public.”
I am no Obama, but I must admit that I feel like this is exactly what I’m trying to do. Get everyone talking about this uncomfortable stuff in ways that almost seem too honest because we’re just not used to having the conversation. I have been accused of airing “our” dirty laundry. This always leaves me thinking, “Why not? Dirty laundry just creates stagnant funk. Let’s air it out and move on.”
This next bit really spoke to me as well. Whenever I highlight the widely accepted generalizations of blackness that tend to be negative and also tend to inform the definitions of blackness held by both whites and blacks, I am hoping that by looking back and seeing where these ideas came from and how they seeped into our consciousness that they will be exposed for the ridiculous, limiting notions they are and then will be dispelled. I’m never saying “that is what blackness is and we ‘mulattoes’ are not like that.” I just mean that there are many ways to be black. Mainly just being born black and then living your life as you. Whoever that turns out to be. Whoever you turn out to emulate, hang out with, enjoy the music, company, writings of. I think we’re American first. And yes being black in America is still not the same as being white in America. We are still on the outside. But, in my opinion, the tragedy lies in thinking that’s where one belongs and making a conscious choice to stay on the outside. Perhaps in order to reject the mainstream as they have rejected us. But with all of it’s faults, this country has a lot to offer a life. Sometimes I think people are so busy being “black” (or whatever one has been taught to believe should infom their identity) that they miss out on some of the riches of simply being American.
“One of the ways that I think that the civil rights movement . . . weakened itself was by enforcing a single way of being black — being authentically black. And, as a consequence, there were a whole bunch of young black people — and I fell prey to this for a time when I was a teenager — who thought that if you were really ‘down’ you had to be a certain way. And oftentimes that was anti-something. You defined yourself by being against things as opposed to what you were for. And I think now young people realize, you know what, being African American can mean a whole range of things. There’s a whole bunch of possibilities out there for how you want to live your life, what values you want to express, who you choose to interact with.”
…Said Obama: “I do think it is important for the African American community, in its diversity, to stay true to one core aspect of the African American experience, which is we know what it’s like to be on the outside.
President Obama, I just love you and I promise that by focusing on my “unique experience” I am not detaching from the larger struggle. K?