I know you meant well. Or at least, that you didn’t mean me any harm by what you said. I must admit, it was slightly amusing watching you struggle to dig yourself out of this hole you realized you’d inadvertently dug. It led to an interesting discussion about the differences between “white culture” (after questioning what exactly white culture is and whether it can be separated from mainstream American culture more broadly) and Jewish culture–you tried to draw an analogy between my personality:blackness::Jewishness:whiteness, and really, I want to commend your effort. I guess majoring in Psychology, Philosophy, and Economics makes you more attuned to the reality of cultural sensitivities and how to handle them with finesse more than most of my non-ethnic-minority friends.
And don’t worry, you’re far from the first person to say this (or something similarly-themed) to me. I just a) hoped I had embraced my blackness enough in college to dispel such observations, and b) can’t help but feel as though I should be offended, either on my own behalf, on that of black people as an amorphous group, or both. I cannot blame you–and am not trying to–for your statement because, as I learned during the Black Solidarity Conference this year, even [at the very least some, a concentration of whom I interacted with at Yale in February] of my peers and current race scholars don’t see me as fitting into the larger overall picture of blackness either. But don’t think for a second I’m condoning this, because I’m not. The fact that lots of people, even insiders, do this, does not in any way make it any more acceptable, or any less racist. So, friend, peers, scholars, larger world, I must again beg you to reconsider the apparently negatively themed definition you give to blackness. Who are you excluding from that group, and why, and what do you presume gives you the authority to make those cuts? I ask you to remember that race itself is a social construct, an idea that our forefathers made up to promote white privilege and deny persons with whom they were uncomfortable (or did not even consider to be persons) the rights of citizenship or even simply the rights of man–sure, it’s one made visible by the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, the breadth of my nose, but again, these are all things that human beings themselves defined as fitting the construct of blackness, not inherent distinctions.
We struggled to define white culture when trying to establish Jewish culture’s distinctiveness. I would like to raise the challenge that black culture, and (though I know little about it, everything I know about the world as a sociologist or even as an observant member of society leads me to believe that) even Jewish culture cannot be limited to one narrow definition against which to pose some other narrowly defined cultural group. Every mainstream culture has a counter-culture, usually multiple counter-cultures. There is always an underground, a counter-movement, even the smallest of revolutions. There is always someone who is unafraid to open their eyes, see their surroundings for what they really are, and say, “Hey, wait, this isn’t what I want. This isn’t correct/right/fair/justified/appropriate/normal/what-I-should-be-striving-for.” There is always someone pushing for change.
So, I have more rock on my computer than hip-hop/rap. That doesn’t mean I can’t spit a T.I. verse back at you, and it doesn’t mean I’m not black. I will never fight someone because they scuffed up my sneakers, most likely because I’m in a cute pair of flats. That doesn’t mean I’m not black. I have owned exactly two pieces of clothing from a “black” clothing brand in my lifetime, and they were both from JCPenney on clearance. (I can’t turn down a good deal.) That doesn’t mean I’m not black. I’m not a great dancer–I learned how to two-step less than two months ago and I cannot (and may never be able to) pop or lock (though I can drop it). That doesn’t mean I’m not black. Enunciation and complete complex sentences define my natural linguistic structure; while that might make my 6-year-old cousin interrupt Thanksgiving dinner to start the following exchange: