Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's the difference between Colored, Negro, Nigra, Nigger, Picaninny, Nigga, Black, African-American?

Answer:  Empowerment and Self-determination!  But white folk - so used to telling us who we are, labeling us like property for hundreds of years - just can't seem to wrap their brain around that concept. Here are a couple of them:



Despite the fact that there's a society-identified Black man in the Burning  White House (or maybe because of it?), old habits DO die hard don't they?  Especially when dealing with the predominantly white federal government and mainstream media.  Just the idea that white folk are no longer "The Deciders" in who we've determined ourselves to be, seems to make some people simply apoplectic! 

Beck and his Beckheads continue their "racism on parade" over the air waves. Their obvious disregard for the facts of our existence in this country at the alabaster hands of the ancestors who spawned them - is pitiable.  Beck comes out swinging in his usual over-the-top, bust-a-vein annoying voice:  "African-American is a bogus, PC, made-up term. I mean, that's not a race!" (emphasis mine)

Who says Glenn?  You and your ilk?  I bet what's really bothering you fellas is - How DARE "those people" think they could move purposefully forward from chattel to full personhood WITHOUT US SAYING THEY COULD?  And, WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE, banding together under the umbrella of that damned Civil Rights movement and, in solidarity, decide to no longer be defined by the labels we white folk have slapped on them since our ancestors brought them here in the belly of a slave ship?!  (Yeah, let's cut out that whole, "immigrated here" lie, m'kay?)

The reasons given for their reintroduction of the word "Negro" - on its face - sounds good, but I'm just not buying it. Sounds more like the Bureau's rather lame "excuse" for:
  1. Not understanding, caring to understand, or having to understand what some statistics are about or,
  2. Getting caught trying to pull some good, old-boy, "foot-on-neck" behavior on the down-low. 
What's really interesting to me, is not THAT they brought "Negro" back - but WHY NOW??  Feeling a little insecure? Feeling a little put-upon by the allegedly post-racial, alleged president, in this, our alleged, post-racial nation? Thought a little "throw-the-rock-and-hide-your-hand" would feel good? Tsk, tsk.

Here's an extended version of the "company line" from the San Jose Mercury-News:
Sonny Le, a regional spokesman for the Census Bureau, said the term "Negro" has been on the survey for at least 100 years. He said the form is reviewed and analyzed thoroughly by different offices and advisory groups before being finalized.

Le said the decision to keep the term "Negro" on the form was due principally to the fact some older African-Americans still identify themselves by that term. In fact, in the 2000 census, more than 50,000 people chose to write down explicitly that they identified themselves as "Negro" in a section where the census allows people to provide additional information. That number does not include those who checked the box "Black, African-Am., or Negro."
I don't know to which surveys, showing "Negro" going back at least a 100 years, Le is referring.  Based on my genealogical research to date, that's just not true - at least not in South Carolina.  And while I don't doubt, for one minute, there are those of us who still identify themselves by that term and chose to write it in on the 2000 Census, I'm sure, as evidenced by this conversation posted on You Tube, Mr. Le and plenty others (including some of our own younguns) haven't an inkling why that is.

Though I no longer identify with, nor have I ever written in, the term "Negro," on anything, I think I can still clear that whole "why thing" up with some definitions - none of which were written by Black folk:
From Merriam-Webster:  Colored - 1 : having color  2a : colorful  b : marked by exaggeration or bias  3a sometimes offensive : of a race other than the white; especially : black  2b b sometimes offensive : of mixed race  4 sometimes offensive : of or relating to persons of races other than the white or of mixed race
I remember when we were Colored. That's what white folk said we were (Toby! Kunta Kinte! Toby! Kunte Kinte! Lop off foot - Okay, I'm Toby.)! Far as I know, we weren't writing any copies of Merriam-Webster or classifying any races of people back then. We, along with Native Americans (separate census for them back then), WERE THE CLASSIFIED!
From Wikipedia:  The term "colored" appeared in North America during the colonial era. A "colored" man halted a runaway carriage that was carrying President John Tyler on March 4, 1844. In 1863, the War Department established the "Bureau of Colored Troops." The first twelve Census counts in the U.S. enumerated "colored" people, who totaled nine million in 1900. The Census counts of 1910–1960 enumerated "negroes."
 See, this is why linking to Wikipedia is not always a good thing.  Revisionist history sprinkled with a little fact, then becomes fact.  Now I definitely agree we were "colored" by white folk (pun intended) during the colonial era (no doubt a carry-over from that dandy European upbringing from which the "New World" settlers came).  And there was a Bureau of Colored Troops in 1863.  Not sure about the man and the carriage.  But the last two are just not true - at least not in South Carolina.

My grandmother's mother - born in 1876 and age 24 at the taking of the 12th Census in 1900 - was enumerated black, not colored according to original Census documents.  Back then, "Question 9" was "Question 12" and it read - "Race or Color."  The Census-taker recorded "B" for black  and "W" for white - No Negro OR Caucasian - just the colors, black and white.  By the 14th Census in 1920,  when my grandmother was about 10 or 11 (the family says she was born in 1909.  The Census says "abt 1910," listing her age as 10 at the taking of it), "Question 12" was still the same and she, too, was enumerated "black, not colored" (maybe the Wiki writer assumed - because the question asked was race or color - and the answer was a color - that the census enumerated "colored people.").

But by the 15th Census in 1930, something had changed.  "Question 12" was still the same but - we had magically become a race!  For the first time in South Carolina, for the purposes of the census - we were now enumerated, "Negro" by white folk (No ACORN to blame back then.  Come to think of it, that's probably the reason for the current, white uproar over ACORN!  Once we were given the keys to the census kingdom, the group figured out the kind of shit that had been pulled over all that time and thought they'd get in on it too - instead of doing the right damn thing!  Just sayin'). 

I've no doubt, the founding of the NAACP (by a group of people of "varying colors"), coupled with all that internalized race hatred of the Blue Veins or "Light, Brights," definitely brought some pressure to bear in the changing of labels at the time (We're not like them! We're like you! - sort of.). And my, how times haven't changed (remember "Pookie?)!

The term, "Light, Brights" is short for "light, bright, damned-near white" because their light skin and straighter, long hair were considered "the ideal" by whites (and unfortunately, plenty Blacks) who in turn, used their distinctly different, looking-like-them features to marginalize the darker and more nappy-headed of us - dividing and conquering as they continue to do so well.   But, as evidenced by the previously linked You Tube video of "the conversation" above, they're throwing the rock and hiding their hands again, telling the Light, Bright Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP - to his face (with a smile and smarmy congratulations) - that they're still "colored," just like the rest of us.  Imagine that!

Being enumerated "black" back in those days had EVERYTHING NEGATIVE to do with the COLOR of our skin, particularly for most of us born during the time when white folk first hung that moniker on us (Hell before I turned 13, if you called me black, that was an invitation for a beat down - for one of us!).  And the entire society acted accordingly, falling in line with the negative connotations.  White folk, through both word and deed, continuously guaranteed that being "enumerated black" was a vile, nappy-headed, stupid, nasty, lazy thing for a person to be!  And that's the reason I'm sure, that older Blacks chose to write-in "Negro" on their census forms.  But I'm sure nary a census-taker ever thought about that.
From The Free Dictionary: Piccaninny esp US, pickaninny - 1. Offensive a small Black or Aboriginal child.  2. (modifier) tiny a piccaninny fire won't last long
Now picaninny was always a favorite, white Southern piece of labeling.  And on my first volunteer trip to New Orleans in 2006, I found it still is! Just revised to - spicaninny - so as to be "inclusive" of my Latino brothers and sisters according to a white, St. Bernard Parish fire chief who spewed it at Latino roadway workers in my presence.
From Merriam-Webster:  Negro - Sometimes offensive : a member of a race of humankind native to Africa and classified according to physical features (as dark skin pigmentation).
Don't think they meant the "Light, Brights" when they penned this definition, but anyway. This is my original birth certificate (I altered it in paint to obscure the vital statistics).  My mother gave it to me when I went into the Navy and though I've gotten several, certified copies for official purposes, I've kept this to remind me that back then, we didn't even have the option to claim who we were.  We couldn't write-in a damned thing.  There was one birth certificate for whites, and one for us - pre-printed.  I don't personally know any Native-Americans in South Carolina but, I'll bet you a nickel there was a separate pre-printed birth certificate for them through the Bureau of Indian (NDN as my friend, Okasha over at Cinie's Place so graciously shared with me) Affairs.


And, in keeping with the derogatory pattern of labeling by whites - from the term "Negro," sprang the following pejoratives:
From Wikipedia:  Nigra - In American English, nigra is a euphemistic pronunciation of negro used in the American South to "politely" speak of black people in non-racist company.  In some dialects of English spoken in the American South, it may merely be the regional pronunciation of negro rather than a deliberately and distinctly pronounced separate word.

From Merriam-Webster:  Nigger - 1 usually offensive; see usage paragraph below : a black person  2 usually offensive; see usage paragraph below : a member of any dark-skinned race 3 : a member of a socially disadvantaged class of persons (it's time for somebody to lead all of America's niggers…all the people who feel left out of the political process — Ron Dellums) usage Nigger in senses 1 and 2 can be found in the works of such writers of the past as Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens, but it now ranks as perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English. Its use by and among blacks is not always intended or taken as offensive, but, except in sense 3, it is otherwise a word expressive of racial hatred and bigotry.
Now I know ya'll don't wanna hear me rant and rave about these two little gems!  And I won't - not enough room.  But I just have to say this - Wikipedia contributors crack me the hell up!  If they think being called "Nigra" in the American South was - POLITE! - then I'm just going to let Maxine here, tell them exactly how I feel about that.

"...may merely be..." - Please!  Can they just own their racist shit instead of always trying to justify it all?   Just once??

Speaking so much of home, I thought I'd go see what's being said "Down South" about this whole Census/Negro thing in one of the original "13s" where Black sensibilities are decidedly different given our proximity to the "plantation experience," and I found this - Use of word 'Negro' in 2010 census draws criticism.  It's a very short read and pretty much what I expected, but chock full of information if you're paying attention. For me, the two Black women interviewed made the most salient points of the piece, with the writer bringing up the rear with the - unbeknownst to him, I'm sure - slam dunk:
From 44-year-old Trudy Grant:

Its association with the Jim Crow era makes "Negro" a negative word, she said. It's also redundant. The form already includes the word "black."

From 42-year-old Cathy Heyward:

"It doesn't bother me at all," she said. "It's part of our heritage," though she said she understands why some people don't like the word.

From writer, Adam Parker:

Labels have long been problematic, especially in the black community. Not every black person is African-American (some are from, say, the Caribbean), and not every African-American is black (consider white South Africans). By the middle of the 20th century, the word "Negro" had replaced the offensive term "colored." (emphasis mine)

During the last part of the civil rights movement, in the late 1960s, the word "Negro," deemed derogatory because of its association with segregation and discrimination, was pushed aside in favor of "black" and later "African-American."
As Ms. Grant said above, the form already includes the word "Black."  That's why I think the U.S. Census Bureau is full of shit with their "explanation."  Let's say I bought their bullshit.  Tell me how adding "Negro" makes a tangible difference in the way census figures "benefit" us as a people.  Been to the 'hood lately?

Ms. Heyward hit the nail right on the head  (for me anyway) when she said the word is a part of our heritage (whether we like it or not).  I was born a "Negro," that will be a part of the official record - forever.  And though I've never had much for Stanley Crouch because I find his vitriolic attacks on hip-hop counter-productive, I do agree with some of the points made in this NY Daily News piece - Then & now, I'm a Negro: The people who used that word gave it majesty.  If you've been reading me at all, I'm sure you can figure out which ones.

And yes, young Adam, you win the "Slam Dunk" Contest.  Labels have long been problematic, especially in the black community - but that's because, with the exception of two, WE WEREN'T THE ONES DOING THE DAMN LABELING!  Pretty sure that's not what you meant though.

For me, the late 60s was my "dividing time."  When James Brown inspired my young generation with, "Say it Loud! I'm Black and I'm Proud!" - it forever changed me.  Though I still struggled with self-esteem issues borne out of being called and treated like every one of the negative words in the title of this post, I felt the shackles falling away ever so slightly.  We, in the form of James Brown, had come to our own rescue - labeling ourselves for the first time - and it fit ME perfectly!  I promise you, you have no idea how good that felt! 

We decided that Black was our race.  And that is the reason I will always capitalize it - no matter what the rules of journalism say (maddening for my former editor because he always had to change every occurrence of it in my columns before the paper went to bed)!  I didn't earlier in the post because I was talking about their "black as color label."  In my reality today, it's not "just a color" as the white folk had, for so long, decreed (and still do!) - it's who I am.  Whites specifically, and anyone else in general, no longer get to marginalize or diminish the importance of that.

I am a Black woman of African descent.  I never use the term African-American to describe myself.  And although I'm sure white folk searched long and hard to find an antidote to our deciding on African-American (I say this because every jackass I've heard talking about it, keeps using Charlize Theron as an example), they have a point. Back in 2000 when I lived in the Keys, a white South African couple used to attend my dialogues on race relations.  We had this "Who's an African-American?" conversation in depth and they made the same point.  I concur, they do have a point - as do all of the African immigrants/émigrés who look like me.  I was born here.  I am a non-hyphenated American.  But for those of us who choose to, or need to identify as African-American - have at it!  It ain't fuh me (as my grandmother used to say) to impinge on their right to self-determination.

Because he so captures the feeling of empowerment and self-determination that calling myself a Black woman brings - just the way I feel it - let me leave you with a little Smokey Robinson, puttin' it down on Def Poetry Jam - just in case I haven't been clear.  Enjoy!

19 comments:

Cinie said...

Ya know, Deb, once again we seem to be sharing a brain; or, at least parts of one. For the past few days I've been struggling with the question of why other people get to decide what offends black people. Harry Reid uses the "polite" term of his boyhood for us in private conversation. And...? So...? "Color" me unsurprised. The "uproar" surrounding his impolitic reference is far more interesting to me than the fact that he thinks white, and most other color, people like "light skinned-ded Negroes" who talk good. Seems to me, given Obie's election despite the razor-thinness of his resume and lack of commitment to anything resembling principle, Reid was proven right. How come nobody's talking about that, or bitching about the way Reid & Co, used Obama and those convenient facts to get past Clinton for their own, and not our, ends and/or benefit?
The way I see it, for all intents and purposes, I was born "colored," got promoted to "Negro" by Ebony/Jet, Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, was given back the formerly pejorative label "black" during "Nation Time," and somehow morphed into an African-American in the aftermath of its death by "Blaxploitation." To top things off, for some warped and twisted reason, through it all, I, like a whole lot of young, (primarily male) folks to this day, remained a "nig-guh" among many of my most "down" "peeps" and "homies," no matter how I acted. Of course, being female, a lot of my closest friends, enemies, relatives, and home-chicks affectionately called me a "bitch."

Go figure.

But, like you say, at no time did anybody, black or white, ask me shit.

Oh, and who can forget the charming:

If you're white, you're alright
If you're yellow, you're mellow
If you're brown, stick around
And if you're black, get back!

Anybody got a paper bag? I wanna check my uppity eligibility against my seditty cred.

Cinie said...

For the record, I didn't watch Smokey's performance piece before I wrote my previous comment. In fact, I'm only up to the "nigguh, please" point of the poem. I had to take a break because, though I have loved Smokey with all my heart since I was 5 years old, (am I color struck?) I've got a couple of issues with his piece so far, while I agree whole-heartedly with others. Some of his history seems a little off to me, too, but, overall, it's "spook"-y how much we all seem to have in common, perception-wise.

Detroit, Chicago, South Carolina? Where the younger people at? City, country, suburban, exurban? Corporate, agricultural, technological plantation workers, owners, dwellers? Mentally institutionalized? Spiritually free? Everybody, represent!

C'mon Deb, gimme a hint. Is this where Smokey goes in the second half of his piece? I know you know why they call William (Bill) "Smokey," but for the information of some of your non-black readers, his "Daddy Five" was very dark skinned, and he didn't want his "high yellow" (like his Mama) son to ever get so "uppity" he forgot where he came from, so he gave him a nickname usually reserved for dark skinned men.

Okay, back to the video.

In a minute.

Deb said...

Cin...I know what you mean. I read your post late last night and was coming over today to comment. I wasn't going to write about Reid at all, because like you said, no surprise there. But you know me and this race shit - the more I thought about it, the more I saw other racial implications I wanted to explore so I started writing one. The "Negro" thing is a dog whistle, but I think it'll backfire (ought to anyway) in ways they never intended.

But to your point (which is an excellent one!), I agree with you - they used his ass to work Hillary over with their patriarchal bullshit (Pelosi included). And POTUS & FLOTUS were willing co-conspirators because they knew they would benefit tremendously - regarless of how this shit turns out in four years. And they have.
The rest of those bottom-feeders, as you say in your post, saw an opportunity to not only put Hillary in her place, but cover their own shit too. And they did. Everbody wins - but us. And you know they ain't puttin' that shit on the street because the media's all tied up in this shit too! Don't forget, plenty careers were enhanced or made as a result of this "historical election."

I've not decided yet if I'll read the book because I know there's shit in their that will piss me off royally. But I also bet it'll confirm much of what I always thought about the crooks and liars we keep electing over and over and over again. This ain't no damn democracy, I don't give a shit how they try to spin it! We got a small group of people playin' damn games with our lives and all we do is bendover and say, "Just use a littel Vaseline okay?" It's disgusting and I'm tired of it.

I say I was born Negro because that's what it said on my birth certificate, but I pretty much agree with your chronology. I remember distinctly, how we affectionately used "Nigga/Nig-guh among ourselves, but never in mixed company - none of their damned business and they'd use it against us. And they did. I rarely, if ever, use it now unless I'm with my people. My sons on the other hand, use it all the time and everytime I hear it, I cringe because they don't have the (to use M'Sharon's word) "context" (whole 'nother story). We agree to disagree, but I tell them, "Tell your white friends don't be usin' that shit around me because they ain't my niggas."

And that charming little ditty is burned into my consciousness because that's the way I lived in SC and it continues today - whether people want to own it or not. Shit, there ain't no brown bag dark as me, so you know where my "uppity eligibility" is in the mix!

Deb said...

Don't know you well enough to know if you're color-struck Cin, but I know I have been.

" I've got a couple of issues with his piece so far"

Interesting, care to expound?

" overall, it's "spook"-y how much we all seem to have in common, perception-wise."

Think it's generational?

"Detroit, Chicago, South Carolina? Where the younger people at? City, country, suburban, exurban? Corporate, agricultural, technological plantation workers, owners, dwellers? Mentally institutionalized? Spiritually free? Everybody, represent!"

Not sure what you're asking here Cin - but no hints. You have to listen to the whole thing! :-)

Actually, I didn't know about Daddy Five's reasoning for nick-naming him Smokey, but I like it!! :-)

(PS - How do I get the smiley faces to show up as smiley faces instead of a semi-colon, a dash and a closed parent? Told you I'm no computer wonk!)

Cinie said...

The generational question was what sparked the shout-out, Deb. I was wondering if the commonality of our perception was due to age, race, gender, geography, social status, etc., so I was looking for feedback. Presumptuous of me to do on your blog, huh? Sorry? I just feel so at home here witcha, girl. Anyway, I knew you were gonna ask me to expound about the history thing, but I also knew my answer is gonna be a bit long, so I held off. But, since you asked...

Smokey hinted at free black colonial-era immigrants, I suppose based on the premise that early slavery/servitude was indentured and not limited race-wise. While it is true that early on the landowners enslaved any and everybody they thought beneath them for whatever reason, in my research I found no evidence that there were any African immigrants who maintained their culture in any way, i.e. their African names, customs, identity, etc., and were allowed to participate in society in equal to other landowners. The first black landowners I found were freed slaves who were bequeathed property (land, slaves, etc.,) upon the death of their "masters," along with their "freedom." And while there were no laws on the books prohibiting blacks from "equality," the early laws that were established specifically in regards to to prohibiting enfranchisement seemed merely to codify already accepted practice, not break new ground. Though it's been forever since I looked into the subject in-depth, from what I learned, the overwhelming majority, if not all, early black immigrants came to this country in bondage from Day One. As far as I can tell, when the accepted time release indentured practice threatened to grant them equal access to freedom, restrictive laws specific to people of color were enacted. And, not-so-incidentally, it seems most of the early freed men were "mulattoes."

Additionally, Smokey's characterization of Amos ' Andy as somehow "not offensive" is in itself highly offensive to me. The thought that he would even try to suggest that any form of reverse minstrelry ever was just good clean "Negro" fun, sadly, pisses me completely off.

Deb said...

" Presumptuous of me to do on your blog, huh? Sorry? I"

Not at all and please, no apologies. That's what talking to each other is all about right? No "holding off" here, Cin, especially between me and you.

"...in my research I found no evidence that there were any African immigrants who maintained their culture in any way, i.e. their African names, customs, identity, etc., and were allowed to participate in society in equal to other landowners."

Agree! Never "allowed. But c'mon Cin, how many Black folk do you know that actually needed that to be true? It softens the internal blow of the knowing, IMO.

Revisionist? Yes. But that's why WE have blogs - to put it straight, while acknowledging whatever is good, no? My favorite part starts at the 5:41 click. It feels damn good to know there are parts of what he said with which we both "agree whole-heartedly." I may be a little presumptuous here myself, but I'm guessing you feel it too.

"The first black landowners I found were freed slaves who were bequeathed property (land, slaves, etc.,) upon the death of their "masters," along with their "freedom."

Again, on point. I've got some microfiche copies from the Chasn. County library showing the co-op some of my ancestors formed in 1880to buy parcels of land on the Sea Island where my grandmother lived. They didn't live on par with whites but, what they did, given the times, is most admirable to me. A piece of property my grandmother gave my mother sits on the grounds of the old plantation's slave quarters (what happened to the land is a WHOLE 'nother story!).

My brother dug up most of this stuff, talking often with "Mr. Nick" (funny how old habits really DO die hard right?), an author descendant of the "Big House occupants." I've learned a lot about who we were in this country. That's important to me because the resolve was there, and it was real, and it wrought real "change," not this Obama & Co. bullshit.

..."the overwhelming majority, if not all, early black immigrants came to this country in bondage from Day One."

Again, dead-on. If not in the belly, certainly below-decks.

"...it seems most of the early freed men were "mulattoes."

Yep! Went to a Black Catholic private elementary and middle school with their descendants. We lived in the 'hood, but my Mama said she wanted better for us. She slung hamburgers by day, and fried chicken/shrimp by night while my Daddy worked at the shipyard and drank his evenings away. The education was definitely better - but it was probably not the most psychologically healthy environment for my Black ass.

Okay, I'm going in on the Amos-n-Andy thing. Hate it offends you Cin, but like Smokey, I watched and enjoyed them as a child. Then, I wasn't critically thinking, I wasn't aware of the negative representation. I was simply glad to see people who looked - and yes - acted like me, my family and a lot of my people on TV (probably why I have no problem with Tyler Perry's characters, unlike most of our people). I guess I'm with Smokey on that one.

I had a Trinidadian friend in Key West who was a regular at my dialogues. She took issue with my "minstrelsy" observations regarding Stepin Fetchit. No - she was pissed.

Though he was born in Key West, he was the son of West Indian immigrants and they saw him way differently than Blacks in America did. I tried to explain (exactly the way you explained above), but as I watched her, heard her pride in "one of hers" who'd, for all intents and purposes, succeeded in American film (back in the early 1900s?? - in this country??), I had to take that into account as I rethought my initial observations - just had to.

Cinie said...

Deb, I started to respond to the Amos 'n Andy thing in a separate post since the comment section seems a little restrictive for the length of the response percolating in my mind. But, upon reflection, I decided that this is the proper forum, and, to be honest with you, the subject depresses me to the depths of my soul. That's no exaggeration, either. So, with all the caveats intended that friends should expect from each other, let me say this; the sentiments you express about being happy to see "our own" on TV seem to me to be exactly the same as those of most black Americans who voted for Obama. I understood the sentiment then, and I feel you now. There's just so much more involved as far as I'm concerned, that I just can't co-sign it in either case.

Yeah, it's great to see black people on TV and in the White House, but, at what cost? Not dissin' you, Sister, but, given the fact that I made my living "in the biz" back in my other life, and have always been hper-sensitive to the power of the brainwashing mind control tool that is popular culture and entertainment, and, how it has historically been viciously wielded by those with a vested interest in maintaining the plantation mentality status quo, my heart breaks every time I see a "coon-com," past or present, or a token black "driver" promoted to a position of keeping the rest of the slaves in line by the Powers That Be, even with the tacit, or explicit, approval of those enslaved. For me, it's like saying that slavery itself was a good thing because it kept black people out of trouble and gave them an honest living.

Whether the earliest examples of minstrelry were invented by black performers and designed to allow their audiences the relief of affectionately laughing at themselves, and was then co-opted by whites who exaggerated the characterizations in an attempt to mock all black people in the process, or, were satirical depictions created by whites based upon their own observations, is no longer of any great importance to me. I don't really care if "Jump Jim Crow" originated in the black or white community; the fact that the performance of the song by a white performer marks the beginning of not only negative depictions being used as a tool of insult and oppression disguised as highly profitable entertainment, as well as lent its name to the institutionalization of racism, is what concerns and upsets me. To then have these negative characterizations serve as being representative of black reality, as well as forcing black performers to adopt and adapt the resultant "art form" simply to have access to any sort of expression of their creative force, only adds insufferable insult to grievous injury.

It's no surprise that image-starved black audiences then and now would embrace such efforts, especially since, at least in the past, the tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, not-so subtle "they think we're stupid" mockery employed by those early black performers to rebel against the imposed negativity, was patently obvious to their black audiences, even when deliberately unacknowledged by whites. To them, (the whites) those un-subtle digs they often likely correctly percieved, since they were so fucking deliberately obvious, were immediately dismissed as being impossible for said intelligence-deficient black performers to achieve, while black audiences not only "got it," they celebrated it. Yet, over time, the sarcasm was lost as constant bombardment lead blacks, audiences and performers, to internalize the negativity, and accept it as their gospel due, just like whites.

Cinie said...

Pt. 2

By way of an inelegant, and likely insufficient example, you and I might thoroughly enjoy seeing Unca Tyrone do the hambone at the family reunion, yet be horrified to watch him do the same thing at the company picnic. If Hank from Accounting later mastered the technique and employed it to eager audiences throughout the far suburbs, the novelty would soon wear off. Hank's justification that he learned it from Unca Ty, who enthusiastically mentored him, would soon give way to resentment and claims from Ty's outraged family members of Hank deliberately missing the point, and exploiting things he knows not of for the amusement of belittling black people in front of his friends. Subsequent performances by Unca Ty of his routine, even in private gatherings, would probably be met with boos and catcalls, if not angry outcries leading to fisticuffs, while Hank possibly attains world-wide success. Yet, if Ty's nephew, niece, grandchild, whatever, took it upon him or herself to learn how to hambone, and then did an impression of Hank getting rich off of Tyrone's bit, or, performed it at Ty's retirement party as a tribute, prideful family members might possibly be moved to tears. If it then caught on among the next generation, it's easy to see how the cycle just might begin again, this time, without the outrage of the inevitable white co-option. When Hank's progeny decided to hire Ty's descendants to perform the hambone at company functions, the kids, who are by that point hiring themselves out for their own functions, would eagerly comply, and nobody would bat an eyelash, even though Hank's kids might be doing so just to provide their friends a laugh at the expense of Ty's kids, their grandfather's legacy, and the larger black community by extension.

I have a feeling I'm not expressing myself very well, so I'll sign off. However, suffice it to say, that the brainwashing of black America through the exploitation and manipulation of negative imagery via popular culture from minstrelry to Amos 'n Andy, through Blaxploitation, to today's hoochin', humpin' "music," loud, boisterous, coon-coms, and sad, humorless, foul-mouthed "B" comics hailed as enlightened street prophets, breaks my heart. Especially when it becomes the standard, and comes at the expense of far more talented, perennially unemployed, and unemployable, performers, writers, comedians, composers, musicians, producers, etc., and the audiences who hunger for greater exposure to them and their de-valued talents and efforts.

Deb said...

Yeah, only 4096 characters suck!

I have a feeling I'm not expressing myself very well, so I'll sign off."

No - I think you expressed yourself perfectly - both times! :-) (And contrary to popular opinion - purging when you're full is good for you! Feel free to anytime!)

"...the sentiments you express about being happy to see "our own" on TV seem to me to be exactly the same as those of most black Americans who voted for Obama. I understood the sentiment then, and I feel you now.

I didn't expect that you'd co-sign, Sis. Matter of fact, I knew when I wrote it, you'd come back and say exactly what you said, because it IS the same sentiment. My agreement with Smokey was just owning my childhood/adolescent/early adulthood shit about "seeing" Black folk on TV.

I can see how very deeply you feel about it Cin, so much so you seem to have missed what I said before I said that, which was:

"Hate it offends you Cin, but like Smokey, I watched and enjoyed them as a child. Then, I wasn't critically thinking, I wasn't aware of the negative representation."

Each of us comes to that place of "knowing" at different times, for different reasons. Maybe I got to the party a little later than you. But I DID eventually get there. And it's because of having lived those feelings for some time in the early part of my life, that I KNEW they would clamor to vote for him. Like you, I understood it, made me crazy and hurt that - by now - they hadn't gotten it and it aggravated the hell out of me that they wouldn't at least own it.

I couldn't have said any of that better myself, Cin which is why I co-sign EVERYTHING you said (in both parts!). No need for me to use 4096 characters dissecting! I've been on this "journey of me" for half my life now (spent the first half getting TO the understanding that a journey was needed!). Trust me, I've learned plenty. But if I'm ever stuck, it's great to know you're there accepting my truths for what they are and offering new benchmarks along the way.

Cinie said...

Thank you, Deb, and I apologize for the rant. Funny, but, the misappropriation, misuse, and misapplication of comedy as a weapon of mass oppression is the one thing I have absolutely no sense of humor about. Gotta work on that. As for Smokey, I'll get back to the video sooner or later, but to tell you the truth, I'm just not in the proper head space today to risk my lifelong kindred spirit, soulmate, pure and platonic passionate love affair with him just yet. Today, I need him to remain my romantic hero, my ultimate go-to guy when I need to be lied to about love. I've been soothing my soul with his music since I was 5 years old enough to save my little pennies and rush out to the corner record store to buy his latest 45; the one that seemed to come out every week, better, prettier, and sweeter than the last. Contrasting him with Teddy P., may God rest his soul, Smokey always begged, placated, charmed, complimented and cajoled; Teddy demanded, scolded, insisted, and thrilled. Not as introspective and philosophical as Marvin, or as soul-stirringly macho-voiced as Barry, while they all have a very, very special place in my heart, Smokey's always been my romantic fantasy ideal.

I need for him to stay that way just a little while longer.

Deb said...

Your welcome Cin and didn't you JUST say this up there:

" I just feel so at home here witcha, girl.???

Then don't be apologizing to me for ranting about something important to you! I'd be the last person to fault you for that anyway(mostly because I know how it feels when people try to shut you down when shit, heavy on your heart, NEEDS to come out! That's "workin' on it," IMHO. And besides, I thought that's what "Sisters" were for! ;-)

Not much left on the video from where you stopped and as a matter of fact, I think your "love affair" would remain intact because of it (except for maybe the voting part - but I could be wrong!). But I feel you, Cin.

45s! You know, until my mother died, we STILL had all our old 45s at her house! Not sure if my brother still has them now though ('nother long story). Your critique of the styles of all three men are dead-on! I can't say I had a favorite - I loved 'em all!

I believe I was s'posed to run into you Cin. You confirm for me - like no other Black woman I know today (if we can call blogging "knowing") - that standing strong in my Blackness is right where I'm supposed to be. While I've no problem with us all trying to get along, but that will not happen - no how, no way - at the expense of who I am. I thank you for that.

(P.S. What about dem smiley faces huh?) :-)

Anonymous said...

nigger nigger nigger nigger

Deb said...

Anonymous...How so NOT brave you are!

Some years ago, I would've kicked your ass, had YOU had the balls to say that shit to my face (apparently, you're still lacking that testicular fortitude - as is always the case of the "fearful" - hence the "Anonymous" moniker you chose rather than using your own name).

But today - I just feel sorry for your sorry self. I suggest you listen to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0L5fciA6AU

As Baldwin said: "You're the nigger baby. It isn't me"

When you figure out why you need a "nigger" - maybe we can talk. But thanks so much for showing everybody who reads here - who you are. Toodles!

Anonymous said...

Haha. Randomly I googled "what's the difference between african americans and niggers" and this was the first blog/site that came up. I'm a white 23 year old male who is not the least bit racist. Racism, or a racist refers to someone who discriminates against someone on the basis of their skin color or nationality. Which I believe is fucking retarded. I, like Martin Luther King Jr., only judge people by the content of their character. That being said, I hate shitty people. I live in a place with lots of shitty people. Sadly, most of the shit heads in my city tend to be brown folks. They're all on welfare voluntarily, not because of a disability or sickness or anything. I work a minimum-esque wage job and live pretty comfortably. These people are all from Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee or Cincinnati. none of them were born here. They are all extremely lazy and refuse to get jobs. And they love to rob people and hurt people and sell drugs and steal from stores and not produce anything or do anything good for anyone. This is the African American community in my city. Literally, 90% of the African Americans in my community are immigrants from bigger metropolises around the country. Life got tough there, so they moved on to a smaller more humble town. I live in a small town in MN of 80,000 people. Brown people are FLOODING into this city at an insane rate. I can tell you why these people are moving here from shit holes like Chicago and Detroit. First off, because St Louis County (the county i live in) has the second highest pay out of welfare/govt assistance in the entire country. You go to the welfare office in my city and you're stamped and approved almost immediately. Doesn't matter how long you've been in the city or whatever. You're approved. So Auntie tells cousin, cousin tells brother, brother tells other cousin (Again, not being racist this is what is actually happening). And within a matter of about 3 years the Black population has tripled and the crime rate has doubled in my city. There have been 5 homicides in the past 3 years. 4 of the 5 homicides were committed by some jerks who happened to have brown skin and are from Chicago. Every robbery, mugging, drug bust, etc is literally always a jerk black dude. Every time. No bias. I guess I just have one, very taboo question for you sir: What the fuck went wrong with black people in America?

Deb said...

Anon(#2)...You opened your racist screed with this, "I'm a white 23 year old male who is not the least bit racist."

Too funny! Any time you have to preface your conversation with THAT - any thinking person knows what's coming next - and it did.

I'm not going to spend anytime debating your racist assumptions (because that's exactly what they are), but I will answer your racist question young man:

"What the fuck went wrong with black people in America?"

In two words - white people.

Learn and live a little for yourself, instead of, as I suspect, regurgitating what you've been taught - then maybe we can talk.

Oh, and I'm not a sir...

Viola said...

Thank you for writing your article--it is interesting and thought provoking. I had a conversation today about "oriental" and thought it was interesting that there might be some similar things there...

When we were kids, it was all about black power and colored was the no-no word. I don't call myself "english french dutch general european american." "Italian american," "Irish-american" etc imply relatively cohesive relatively recent "extraction" and yet blacks are polyglot and the oldest "racial" group here! I had an old ham radio friend who, being black, told me more or less, "I was born colored, became negro, came of age black, and now I have become african american. But I haven't changed."

The movement of "oriental" into a derisive term frankly caught me completely by surprise. I really don't see how this came to pass. I have heard lots of other derisive terms for Eastern Hemisphere origins, but oriental has never been among them. Was someone upset about oriental rugs? Nobody calls them asian rugs. I suppose the trendy thing to say is "Persian" rugs. Why not Iranian rugs? Or Pakistani rugs? Or South Asian rugs? It starts to get absurd.

Some of this stuff is just weird. It takes on a life of its own and really is mostly a matter of fashion--not a matter of being a good person. It is a way to trip up someone who isn't staying up on the jargon. "Ooooh, he said oriental--he's stupid, old-fashioned, ignorant, not in the know, not up with the times" etc. This was the general point my older black friend was making.

Of course the irony of all of this is that whatever term one might find perfectly acceptable is probably the one that is familiar, but it may itself be the product of fashion (e.g. black). Even the use of oriental to refer to a person's heritage may have some historical aspects I am unaware of.

I think sometimes there is too much made of all of this, or maybe not too much, depending on how you look at it. I certainly made much of it here!

Deb said...

Viola...Welcome, and thanks for your comment (I've been out of the country for a short time, with little to no internet access so I apologize for my delay in replying)!

As absurd as it is and gets, it is what it is - a way for so-called whites (none of whom are really "white") to make themselves feel better than, by making "Others" feel less than - by way of denying those "Others" an opportunity for self-determination.

And while I disagree with you that - "It takes on a life of its own and really is mostly a matter of fashion..." - I DO agree with you that it is "...not a matter of being a good person"

Appreciate your dropping in - stop by any time!

Lith said...

You people are always ooking and eeking look at us we be different. Nothing new just your TNB.

Deb said...

Lith...Why is it that you people, are always on blogs like this, particularly if, as you say, there's "nothing new?" I'm purposely ignoring your little TNB because I'm sure it's nothing decent -- or you would've spelled it out, right? Nothing new for you people that's for sure...

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