"Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self, in which case it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change ones robes.”
-- James Baldwin
I'm going to avert my gaze from the Middle East for a while. There's really nothing new for me to say. Today the entire equation remains in roughly the same balance and almost everyone is equally unhappy with developments and results. It's basically the March to Litani vs the Signing of the Cessation. Which happens first, which produces mo' betta blues?
In the meantime, the Field Negro hit me a bit blindsided in reviewing his theory of fieldedness vs housedness. He's right on target, of course, he's no dummy and I am hesitant to excoriate him from my position. But what is my position? Odd that. At the moment I feel particularly like a very underutilized black man, which is a sentiment I am confident many black men feel. I feel like I have all kinds of extra energy and juice that I am spending on things that gain me goodies that cannot be spent. In otherwords I'm asking myself the age-old question: If you're so smart, how come you're not rich. I'm missing my old business. I think of this in light of the FN's question because in my professional career, I got out into the field as soon as I realized the shakiness of the house. But these days I covet the security of the house.
I worked for one of the has beens of the industry at the outset. Xerox. As it became evident that they weren't going to dominate my area of interest, I left the staff and joined a small software joint literally as a field consultant. No longer would I be bogged down in the politics of one corporate house. Instead, I would get paid double to do one job at various corporate houses that their own housepets were too wrapped up in the politics to accomplish. I was a cutter of BS, a hotshot, and a road warrior. It was one of the smartest moves I ever made and played a big part in making me who I am. I got to see more of America than I had ever anticipated and I learned more about businesses and management and software than I expected could be known. It also entrenched me firmly in the upper middle class and gave me the nerve to think I could move even higher.
But years of solving the problems of various businesses puts me in an odd position. I mean I have been shocked to discover how much of the financial business of America takes place in spreadsheets rather than integrated systems. So now I have an acute sense of what should be 'obvious'. I feel very much like the detective on the cop shows who walks into a crime scene and knows exactly what to look for. I'm field, but my elevated status depends entirely on the dysfunction of the house. And so it must be for every field negro, because by definition, they are working somebody else's fields. So sometimes I think that if I were in the house, I could work things better, in fact I know that to be true. I simply can't afford my own house and field. I'm ready to be king of the mountain but all I can afford is a molehill.
I was debating, as I usually do when we get together, with my brothers. This time the subject was about the morality of Warren Buffet and why philanthropy is difficult. T was convinced that whatever benefits he might do as a philanthropist, they will always be outweighed by whatever crime made him his first billion. In T's worldview, concentration wealth is a crime because it must have been stolen from the masses. In this case, aid must go to Africa from America but it's all too late because it was stolen in the first place. I love T but I often think he's beyond reclamation, but he's a liberal college professor, I can't be surprised. I discovered that there is no way I can communicate, to my own brother, my detective's perception of how much of the corporate big house is a shambles and how mightily and honestly people strive to make it do right.
The problem with corporate business and the chattel slavery system is that they both serve the public. As heinous as slavery was, it was the way people got goods. If you burned down the house and the fields, nobody ate. At a very gross level, both enterprises just need reform. The reform needed for the chattel system was, pay the slaves, simple. The reform needed for the corporate system is probably not so simple, or at least I can't see a simple wrong and a simple right. As I make them run smoother with my systems, I'm fixing one part. I can always see where the honest efforts are in corporations as well as I see the honest work done in the fields, and the honest work in the house.
Even as I explain these things in order to complement my understanding of the Field Negro, I am struck by their limits. Not to us. We speak English, we know Malcolm's speeches, we accuse and defend. This dialog of field negro and house negro, of corporate staff and entrepreneur, of reform and revolution, of assimilation and kugichagulia are well known turf. Our turf. Even when we can't explain our positions fully to those we know on the other side of the fence, we know exactly what the fence is and we know what to expect of the other side. But none of this applies to the Middle East. Their rabbit hole seems to be infinite. There is no way they could join in the debate of house vs field. I don't doubt that they could come up with right answers but their logic would be incomprehensible, their metaphors completely opaque. Who is their Malcolm? What metaphors from an era of 150 years ago do they use to describe their own 'houseness' or 'fieldness'?
All us blackfolks are underutilized. So that's why we have spare energy to talk about field this and house that, and why we spend time trying to apply our homegrown nationalist, blackified paradigms to the operation of the world. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. But it doesn't matter either way, none (or very few) of us are getting paid to do so. Do you even know anybody who knows Condi personally? It's all speculation. None of us are close enough to the House of the State Department or bending the ear of a congresscritter enough to make a vote or policy paragraph of difference. But we're still part of it all, and we know enough to be right or wrong in our assessments and our support of the votes that do get cast. The spectators are in the game and how we chant makes a difference on the field of play.
And so all of that puts me in the odd feeling I'm having today. I could talk about house and field all blackified down familiar corridors. I can play the house Conservative, I can play against that position. I could be devil's advocate or crack jokes. I could try to explain the Middle East in black political terms or not. And I am compelled to not. I want to study the Middle East directly as I see it, not through any conservative or liberal or black or house or field terms - but just as I read through all the sources I am presented. Not to prove any points so much as to know better. (Then I can prove my points). The bottom line is that activity is not Black, despite the obvious fact that I am a black man doing it.
Still, either side could be the black guys. I mean Israel is obviously black. They're always a minority and always hated from all sides. They're held to a double standard. Every little piece of violence that takes place is blamed on them. No matter how they get their own act together it's always seen as the doings of their 'employers'. Hezbollah is obviously black. They're a nation within a nation. Nobody considers their leadership legitimate. Everybody underestimates them. They rage and throw their best at their enemies but they can never even the score.
There is no solution. We all carry the poetry of our souls into our conversations and debates. Additionally we carry our experiences into our decision making. We will always have to translate nuance are resist the temptation to immerse everything that really informs us in our favorite metaphors. We can't apply Malcolm's rhetoric to Lebanon. We can't describe house Israelis and field Israelis. The only way communication across cultures and boundaries works is with just a little bit of flavor. You have to strip down and be naked.
One thing I truly believe is the premise of modernism - that we can strip down and be naked and that in that nakedness our humanity can be seen. That when we put on the old clothes of old arguments and metaphors we become stereotypical. Our opportunity to assert brotherhood comes from that willingness to occasionally show our asses and in that effort we all can admit at bottom we are the same.