The Independent Black Man

I’m trying to move past this race stuff.  I’m really trying.

This morning I was greeted to this, from Cornel West in an interview he did with Truthdig.com.

“This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment,” West laments. “We are squeezing out all of the democratic juices we have. The escalation of the class war against the poor and the working class is intense. More and more working people are beaten down. They are world-weary. They are into self-medication. They are turning on each other. They are scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful. It is a profoundly human response to panic and catastrophe. I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.”

I actually agree with some of this.  I think President Obama has a back-bone.  But I also think that he hasn’t spent as much time helping the lower classes as I would like.  So I am happy, and supportive, of Cornel West here. However, prior to this, Cornel said this about the President.

“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West says. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation. When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. And that’s true for a white brother. When you get a white brother who meets a free, independent black man, they got to be mature to really embrace fully what the brother is saying to them. It’s a tension, given the history. It can be overcome. Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.”

Exactly what is an “Independent Black Man?”

Is an Independent Black Man the type of black men I see on my block at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10pm at night, sitting on the stoop and talking all day?  Is an Independent Black man the men that have three or four children but isn’t married and each child has a different mother?  Is the Independent Black Man what I see on the Metro in an expensive suit and tie, clean cut, reading the Wall Street Journal?  Is the Independent Black Man the guy on a roof in the middle of the day, hammering shingles?  Is the Independent Black Man the guy that delivers my mail?  Or the guy that drives my bus or runs the Metro train?  Is the Independent Black Man my fellow professors at the college, or the guy who sold me my Macbook Pro?  What about the guy at the AT&T store that hooked me up with my Blackberry?  The doctor that treated me a month ago? Is the Independent Black Man like my father that I barely talk to?  Like my step-father that I never want to talk to?  What about the guys on the rap videos with money and girls hanging on their arms?  Seriously.  DEFINE this for me.  Make me understand the dimensions of the little box that has been created for black men.  Tell me, honestly, what I have to do to fit in that box.  Because, since Obama is afraid of the Independent Black Man, then Obama is different than the Independent Black man. So there has to be a definition.  To say someone is not like someone else means that you have used that someone else as a way to categorize a person.  You are not like me, therefore, you are worthless.

When Cornel West said that Obama was afraid of the Independent Black Man, he was saying that I was afraid of the Independent Black Man.  He was also saying that some Black men are Blacker than others.  He was also saying that, to be a Black man, you have to do a set of tasks, to think a certain way, to believe that certain behaviors are valid.  He didn’t define what, exactly, an Independent Black Man is.  I don’t particularly care.  This is not the first time I’ve heard this.  I’ve been told by people to my face that I am not black enough, that I need to act “more black.”  I don’t talk to those people, don’t take their thoughts seriously. My ideas about race, sexuality and spirituality are all very personal.  I have no desire to fit into anyone’s mold.  There are those that would love for me to do so, however.  They face a strange conundrum.  I won’t act like what they believe an Independent Black Man should act like because I am, in fact, an Independent Black Man.  I am exactly what they want and what the Civil rights movement has dreamed of: A man unhampered by the underpinnings of his racial history, moving forward to a future he is carving.

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