Monday, January 21, 2008

On black folks selling out

I wanted to get across to her that black critical thinkers often face an extra step in the writing process -- we have to separate what we think from what our comrades of color expect us to believe, presume we believe, or would rather we didn't discuss in racially mixed company, in public, or at all. For us to reason independently of Negro orthodoxy -- especially to criticize sacred cows of black America like affirmative action -- means risking banishment from the black community. The threat of getting kicked out of blackness (impossible as that sounds), or at least being seen as outside black solidarity, looms large. SOURCE
 
What do Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, Shelby Steele and John McWhorter have in common? Some black folks would be quick to say that one adjective describes them all: sellout. But I've always had a problem with the notion that African Americans must adhere to prescribed dogma or have their "black cards" revoked by the community. We fight against being seen as a monolith, but then ostracize each other for not having the right ideas, right speech or right background to be sufficiently black.
 
It is certainly within my rights to challenge political or ideological beliefs I find abhorrent. There is much that I dislike about Clarence Thomas. I find his right wing beliefs immoral and repugnant. He appears bitter and self-hating. And, because I believe Anita Hill, I believe he is a unrepentant sexual harasser. But he is still a black man.
 
Thomas' ideology may be very different from that of most black Americans, but having your own mind is not a betrayal. It concerns me when the black community applies narrow restrictions to what its members must think. It is nothing more than mental slavery. And it is a form of bondage black folks use often. Heck, just last week I was called out on this blog by an anonymous poster who felt my musical tastes were unseemly for a black woman.
 
The chains we force upon each other are no better than the shackles of a racist society; they are both constricting and spiritually limiting.
 
In "Clarence Thomas is not a sellout" (excerpted above), Salon author James Hannaham reviews "Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal," a new book by Harvard professor Randall Kennedy that examines "heresy in black culture." I'm adding this book to my library list. Check out the Salon article and wade into the comments if you dare. It seems a lot of commenters missed the point of the article and got hung up on Clarence Thomas. Let me know what you think.
 

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I'm a new guest contributor at Anti-Racist Parent, one of Carmen Van Kerckhove's trio of blogs. Check out my introductory post with a scary big picture of me.

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