This could take a minute so you probably wanna sit down. So, as a Black American in a city well diverse and peopled with a multitude of dark-skinned people of African descent but few from my own land, there’s a phrase I keep hearing. From dark-skinned people. No one else. “Black Americans are so preoccupied with race.” Let me take a minute to break down this foolery.
Largely, it comes from the mouths of people who have no cultural reference. No idea what it means to be American, regardless of color or race. People unaware of how you could be what they consider wealthy or privileged and still be dissatisfied. It comes from the prejudice they experience being remarkably economic. As my girlfriend who lived in Paris recalls, there is nothing wrong with interracial dating and marriage and friendship. You don’t know there’s prejudice until you try to get a job, or an apartment. In the United States, we are all quite aware of the legal measures taken to discourage discrimination in the work place and to make it unprofitable. Does it still happen? Of course. But that could refer to one time out of a million, give or take. As a Black American woman – particularly one with a degree and post-graduate work and also, in case it matters, one from California – I have no fear of not being able to get a job based on my race. I have no reservations about whether or not I’ll be able to rent an apartment. This goes for every person in my family. They are employed – when they wanna be, in regard to my little brother. They are housed where they want to be. And no, I’m not referring to being within a centralized Black population. Despite the huge gap between the average income of white families and those of Black families (which is a result of an amalgamation of injustices, to which I will soon refer), the overriding fear is not will my family suffer abject poverty because of the color of our skin. (This is so complicated to discuss because the Black poverty line is very real and very discrediting to a supposedly educated and wealthy country.)
I suppose it is the social aspect of racism that non-Americans don’t understand. That seems to be the part that doesn’t match their particular experience. (If ever anyone accused Americans of not understanding an experience outside of their own, they simply haven’t traveled enough to see that it’s not a western phenomenon.) If they had to choose between having friends and having money, they’d choose – and do choose – money. Which is why immigration will never cease to the US. You can – even if you’re paid peanuts – make more money than you’ve ever made at home. But does that mean that – as an actual citizen of this country, as an actual child of this house – I should be fine with being treated like the stepchild in my own home? Yes, it seems it is silly to worry over Michelle Obama being referred to as “tanned” by a dignitary. Who cares? Black Americans. Because we know what is means to be the best, to reach the top and still be reduced down to the color of your skin. Ask Henry Louis Gates. And don’t think we don’t have a thick skin, don’t think we don’t have to get over it, don’t think we’re not constantly called upon to be the bigger person. But suffice it to say, I’m American. I have a birth-rite. And I demand it. Tossing my island a few dollars for the privilege of relaxing in a tropical setting and eroticizing dark-skinned beauties will not satisfy me. I won’t take pleasure in living markedly below you, if only to live around you. I expect more and I won’t settle for less. And finally, I speak for myself. And no one else. Others who resemble me may choose to agree or disagree and I expect you to respect their choice.
I must say my friends were shocked to find that my own father was expelled from high school before he could graduate, had to leave his home and his family to get the degree he has because what the University of California was doing – accepting minority students by the dozens – was not common. That he was physically assaulted by police officers, demoted from his well-earned trade position for the son of someone else. These sentences mean nothing if you can’t imagine that this is your world, this is your life, and someone else has all the say. These are not grandparents being pistol-whipped in some dusty southern textbook. This is my father. I truly could not care less whether you think me “too preoccupied”. I simply understand that I deserve more. And I know that because I was taught that. Regardless of whether the message was meant for me.
Exhibit A – I pity anyone who thinks this is good enough.
Extra credit: Tyler Perry responds to Spike Lee’s criticism. Well, it’s not so much criticism as utter disdain, at least that’s the way I interpret use of the words “coonery and buffoonery”. Spike seems to feel that Tyler’s work is derivative and shoe-shufflingly embarrassing, what with the use of caricatures and stereotypes. Personally, I give a big “duh”. Tyler’s response? It’s intentional. I’m trying to speak to “these people” (which I take to mean: stereotypical ghettobirds?) about love and God (no comment. lots of comments.) because Hollywood ignores them. First of all. Hollywood does NOT ignore them. Who the hell else was supposed to watch White Chicks and Big Momma’s House and Soul Plane?! Black Hollywood does a GREAT job of pandering to the status quo. If anything “these people” are overfed! That’s because we’ve tried to parlay “these people” and their shenanigans into an aspect of CULTURE. I’m supposed to listen to the recitation of blatant sex acts because Jamie Foxx calls it R&B? If that’s all you have to offer, friend. Methinks not. Secondly, Tyler *deepbreath* could you possibly have been a tad clearer on to whom you were referring when you said “these people” because from a white American pov I could easily have assumed you meant all Black people. Just a few choice words woulda cleared that up for me. Thirdly. No. It isn’t Tyler’s fault if America chooses to (pretend to) believe that his movies represent Black life and the Black experience. We can’t keep censoring artists *ahem*somethingcaughtinmythroat*ahem* just because someone else is fool enough to take what they do and say and apply it to an entire color. AN ENTIRE COLOR, PEOPLE. GAWD, the foolery!
And okay – you definitely deserve a treat for meeting me all the way down here. Let us part with this.