Monday, May 26, 2014

The Importance of Context and Nuances, Part 1

Tl; dr version: Stay fluid and stay away from binary thinking and ideological thinking. Take whatever position works for YOU in each situation.
Short version: Do what Whites do, and apply various “rules” in whatever way works to your benefit. Reject the “one-drop rule” in situations when doing so brings you a benefit as an AABW. For example, don’t let modern-day half-Black women replace and erase you.

Adopt the one drop rule when doing so benefits you. For example, don’t let other people use rejection of the “one drop rule” as a way of stripping the AA tribe of those of our historical heroes who happened to be mixed. Our historical heroes that were mixed were (and are) Black in that context. Be flexible and take whatever position works for YOUR benefit in each situation.
Long version: Unfortunately, African-Americans generally don’t “do” nuance. We like to think and operate in hard binaries. We also usually fail to think through the costs/benefits of the binaries we adopt. We lock ourselves into positions, even when doing works to our disadvantage. Meanwhile, other people are experts at keeping context in mind and in keeping their options fluid. All of which works to their advantage.

This post is the result of a couple of things. A few things that I’ve had mentally marinating for a while, and then a more recent question asked at another blog.
For a while, I’ve been thinking through my mixed reactions to the thoughts expressed in reaction to THIS reprinted post. On the surface, this sounds good and self-affirming for AAs. But, as the original writer emphasizes, she’s African. She’s not AA. The positions she advocates won’t necessarily work for you in your AA context the way they work for her as an African. It might not cost her “tribe” anything to reject the American historical “one drop rule.”

But in some contexts and situations, there’s a price tag for AAs in the blind, uncritical and universal application of this “I’m rejecting the one-drop rule!” position. Because many of us are blindly taking this position AFTER we’ve invested heavily—for years— in newly-described-as-biracial folks that we’re now absolving of any responsibility to repay our support.
The pattern with how many AAs use the “biracial” label is that we use it to absolve biracial persons of any responsibility for reciprocating the material, monetary, and career support that AA Blacks have already given them. And the support that most of us continue to give them.

And so, with our hip new slogan of rejecting the one drop rule, we preserve the same old pattern of our resources flying out to others while nothing ever flows back in our direction.
Somehow, we never use the “biracial” label as a reason to CUT OFF the flow of our resources toward these people. We don’t say—like I did when I was in law school—“If this person is saying they’re not really Black, then why are they allowed to have their hand out for a Black student scholarship from a Black women’s auxiliary organization?”

My friends and I had great respect for the monies that had been raised by Black AA church ladies, Black lawyers’ wives,  secretaries, school lunchroom workers, and other BW for the benefit of AA Black students. That money was precious to us because it represented the hopes, dreams and aspirations of generations of AAs who didn’t have access to professional schools. We wanted that money to stay in house among loyal members of the AA Black tribe.
Unfortunately, the older AA Blacks who ran these various organizations and church programs didn’t agree. They were okay with giving the money raised by elderly AA church ladies to mixed students who only said they were Black when there was something to be gained by saying they’re Black. And so some of that Black student scholarship and stipend money went to several mixed individuals who did not speak to other Blacks on campus, and who never reciprocated that material support. During our final year of law school when it was time to give back to the same AA Black organizations who had given all of us material and monetary support during our first two years, these no-speaking mixed people refused to give.

Which brings me to a peculiar position I’ve heard said by some AABW who are in interracial marriages and are raising mixed children. Some of them are making a point of raising their children to reject any connection to AA Black people. So they’re basically pouring ALL their material resources into children they’re deliberately raising to have ZERO affection, respect or loyalty to these women’s own tribe. Sounds to me like a fast track to becoming the Black grandmother whose descendants claim was just a family servant and not a relative.
I don’t get that point of view because whenever I invest in anybody I expect a return on my investment.

Then there was a recent question asked in the comment section to THIS excellent post. The commenter basically asked how membership in the AA ethnic group is defined. I thought it was a good question because it highlights a couple of points about nuance and context. Essentially that there’s a huge difference between modern notions of technical, legal citizenship versus traditional understanding of tribal and ethnic membership.
All the way back from caveman times, membership in most tribes, ethnicities and nations are based on BLOODLINES. In other words, based on SHARED ancestral descent.

The modern, Western, technicality-driven (like “anchor babies”) view of citizenship does not trump bloodlines and shared ancestral descent. Anchor-baby-driven, technical U.S. citizenship does not change a foreign-origin person's bloodlines or ancestral descent.
The children of White/Black/Latino/whatever type of NON-Korean immigrants to South Korea don't get to wake up one day after growing up in South Korea and proclaim themselves as being part of the Korean people. It wouldn't even occur to anybody who lacks Korean bloodline ancestry to try that. Folks only presume to do that with African-Americans because we've been negligent in setting boundaries with other people.

African-Americans (AAs) are those Black folks in the U.S. who are descended from the African captives who were held in slavery in the United States. Anybody who's not part of this shared bloodline is not part of us. Pres. Obama married into the AA bloodlines. His children are AA. But his bloodline (continental African and WW) has ZERO connection to AAs. He's not descended from the African captives who were held in slavery in the United States.
There are nuances to all of this. I'm not as annoyed with Pres. Obama calling himself AA because he's married into my “tribe.” *And I let that slide in mixed company because I feel that overall, it operates as a “credit” to my tribe.

I'm also not annoyed with Min. Farrakhan calling himself AA (even though he's of West Indian bloodlines) because he's married into my tribe (IIRC); and he's been loyal to my tribe. And most of all, he was willing to follow and SERVE the leadership of an AA man (Elijah Muhammad). Too many foreign Blacks want to preside over AAs in the U.S. And tell us what to do about OUR issues—like some of the folks who have entered this conversation and the earlier post's comment section. Which is our own fault because we generally don't set boundaries with people.
*Side note to other AA readers:  I'm leery of people who want to strip the AA ethnic group of anybody and everybody who might be perceived as an accomplished person. I feel that some of y'all need to watch that. In your excitement to call yourself discarding the “one drop rule” you're making it easy for non-AA bigots to subtract a lot of historical AA heroes/sheroes from our tribe.

There are folks out there who hate AAs so much that they don't want us to be credited with anything or anybody who's productive. These bigots are in a hurry to find a way to describe any accomplished AA Black person as anything other than AA and/or Black. And in your fervor to call yourself discarding the “one drop rule,” you're helping these bigots do exactly that—subtract illustrious historical persons from our Black AA tribe.
I notice that there’s an ongoing, persistent effort to change the historical narrative and either destroy, erase or distort AA history. Like THIS situation. I've never watched this TV show, so I can't speak to the merits (or lack of such) regarding this character.

But I was extremely disturbed by this clip in which the fictional head of the historical Universal Negro Improvement Association (which was Garvey’s organization) goes straight from hosting a UNIA meeting in which he's telling members about the equivalent of a “talented tenth” uplifting Black folks to placing an order for $80,000 worth of heroin from White gangsters.
Regardless of whomever the actor involved (and I like and respect Jeffery Wright’s work as an actor) claims to be modeling his character after (a West Indian policy king named Casper Holstein that I mentioned in THIS post), he physically resembles W.E.B. DuBois with that handlebar moustache. That bit about referring to Blacks as "Libyans" is a riff on how the real-life historical Moorish Science Temple calls all Blacks “Moors.”And the writers have apparently used the name of the real historical Black organization, the UNIA.

The writers are showing a DuBois-resembling, historical Black leader character as somebody who peddles heroin to other Black folks. This is a problem because most AA sheeple get their history from TV shows.
In specific terms of lifestyle optimization for AA women, you can see what happens when your history is erased and distorted: People start selling you lies such as the notion that the masses of AA women have always been overweight.

I reject the one drop rule when it benefits me to do so. But if I see that somebody is using the rejection of the one drop rule to subtract some of our historical heroes from my tribe, then I’ll adopt the one drop rule for the purposes of that particular discussion. Context and nuances.

Lest we forget: The historical reason why so many of our early leaders and accomplished ancestors were more immediately “mixed” than is typical for us is because those were the first AAs who were positioned to have access to education. Either as the slavemaster's direct offspring or as (already) “free persons of color.”. In that moment in history, out of all of us, those were the types of Black folks who first gained access to education.

The productive, loyal tribe members Black folks that many of y'all new school individuals are in a hurry to call “biracial” and not Black—like the slavemaster's son Booker T. Washington—used their resources to help lift up other, NON-mixed AAs. Back to nuances, I disagree with a lot of things Booker T. Washington advocated. Nevertheless, he created a college that is still educating AA Blacks today. Not everybody’s going to get into Harvard, like W.E.B. DuBois. Washington built something that is still serving AAs’ needs today. As a Black AA business owner, I’ve seen for myself just how very hard it is to create a functioning institution. Especially one that uplifts AAs.
Ladies, please learn to examine the costs/benefits angle with everything. It helps the AA tribe to distance ourselves from and discard toxic, useless people by calling them “biracial.” It does NOT serve our interests to subtract any of our tribe's esteemed historical members by referring to them as “biracial.” 

Rhetorical question—Why is this so hard for so many of us to understand? White folks have this down pat. When somebody who is half-White & half-Other is a “credit,” they're quick to claim racial & tribal connection to that person. Folks like Keanu Reeves are identified as White by many (most) other White folks. When somebody who is half-White & half-Other is a turd (like this half-White/half-Asian creep who did the latest mass shooting), they're quick to distance that miscreant from the rest of their race & tribe. Nuances, ladies—nuances.
In closing,

My concern is that more AABW learn to perceive nuance and context. And learn to be flexible with rules, the way everybody else is. Instead of AABW continuing the behavior pattern of rigidly applying slogans and rules in ways that undermine their own interests.
I disagree with throwing the “biracial” label on esteemed historical AA/Black heroes/sheroes. Because that serves to subtract too many justifiably acclaimed and loyal people from our tribe.

This is a separate issue from the identification of modern-day biracials and multiculturals. These modern-day folks are mostly used to replace and erase “un-mixed” AA Blacks. Half-Black women in particular have been used to replace Black AA women in the media. I draw a distinction between myself as an AA Black woman and THESE modern-day half-Other folks because it serves my interests to do so. The modern-day biracials, Cablanasians, and multiculturals don’t represent me or AA Black women like me. As far as I’m concerned, there’s a world of difference between these modern-day biracials, Cablanasians, and multiculturals and our esteemed, loyal ancestors who happened to be half-nonblack.