If there's a matter that haunts me regarding race in America, it is the sense many Americans have arrogated unto themselves to claim an implicit understanding of what is best for black Americans. The great irony of this matter is that it is genuinely considered sincere and well-meaning. What's interesting is that what was once a broad sentiment has been reduced to a small cadre of black critics. What's sad is how irrelevant and obnoxious some of them have become.
I have recently purchased a box set of DVDs from PBS of Juan Williams' landmark documentary Eyes on the Prize. And in listening to the narrative, I am reminded of a term that has rather disappeared from American English. I have no idea how or if it was written properly. One might consider it to be a specific pronunciation of the term 'Negro' in the Southern dialect. But what it sounds like is 'nigrah', accent on the first syllable. In my youth, when I heard the term more frequently, I considered it to be a contraction of 'nigger' and 'Negro', and I interpreted it as the term that white Southerners used when they were thinking 'nigger' but were speaking to an audience who would consider it morally loaded. The term was one of a provincial paternalism, because it was almost always prefaced by the possessive term 'our', especially in the oft-repeated context of law and culture. Northerners and other 'outside agitators' were to blame, said the Segregationist Southerner of messing with the minds of 'our nigrahs' and thusly disturbing the peace of Jim Crow Segregation.
As I grew up on the West Coast, I never heard the term used anywhere but on TV in the context of the righteous indignation the more 'progressive' and 'liberal' of us must have. So as Bin Laden is, so was Bull Connor and all his baby bulls of the radical Islamofascism of the day, Jim Crow. Nevertheless, out here there were plenty of people who had new ideas of what these dark skinned people should be and how they should conduct themselves in society. It wasn't enough, when I was growing up, to merely be thankful for Civil Rights victories and to integrate into American society under the protection of the specifically amended law. It was de rigeur for the 'so-called Negro' to take up a new identity. I've recently called this thing black radical autonomy. That may be somewhat harsh but perhaps necessary to understand the breadth of the gap I perceive between the old colored man and the New Black Man. I am apt to use the often observed comparison of Muhammed Ali to Floyd Patterson - or even Muhammad Ali to his old self, Cassius Clay. It wasn't enough for the Negro to evolve, he needed to be transformed into a new sort of creature - the Black Man. It was famously enshrined in the poem Die Nigger.
The difficulty with that evolution, necessary in its context is that it has formed the basis of what I have decided to call Jim Crow Jr. But the operating characteristic of this regime of truth is its aim of a permanent claim of authority on the thinking of anyone calling themselves or who once called themselves 'Black'. It is, for all intents and purposes an intellectual one drop rule. If you ever thought orthodoxically black, then you are for all time wedded to and responsible for Black Thought. No matter what Black Thought must become, you must become part of it as well. It is a never-ending Struggle that must always continue and always occupy proper, moral men's minds.
Except that it can't, it doesn't and it becomes more ridiculous with every passing day that it tries. Black Thought requires an immanent apocalypse, a shadow force of Klan-like proportions, a rhetorical threat used to hush dissent. There is no endgame, because in the end, the only real game is about control of the putative Black mind. Once I thought: "I'm beginning to think that it is reasonable to believe that the end of black politics will come when we have a black President, rather like the end of Irish Catholic politics." But then we got one and he's not really Black and there are other evasions. But eventually, all will have to admit that Black Politics is a fiction, or essentially a useless tangent absorbed into whatever sentient neo-liberalism that emreges from America's Democrat Party. All of it boils down to the same invective. These here are 'our nigrahs', and everybody else ought to keep their hands off because we know what's best for them.
Dick Feynman once said, that simply because you've lived under the effects of gravity for your entire life is not a sufficient condition to make you understand gravitational physics. And with that warning in mind I have always looked at race as an intellectual problem. My own history of being black is only tangential to what my research and discovery help me to know. And so I have always wrestled with the intersections of that knowledge and my own identity. But having ignored race and de-emphasized it for so long in other pursuits it only recently occurs to me that it really doesn't matter what experience I claim. There's always a black ball rolling somewhere, and it's not always useful to find it, hop on top of it and gain balance. It doesn't matter how black one claims to be or how intense one feels ones soulful roots, it's only ethnicity. Ethnicity is rarely more than tribal, and such claims are not useful in working out the problems of this republic. Nor is seeing things as if most claims were tribal, because they are not. What I observe is a constant dissonance among people who never want to *be* racist or support racist agendas, and yet the subtext is that there remains a persistent bad faith. That is the tragedy of American race relations - a perpetual pollution - an obsession always seeking that one drop of causality, always passionately disturbed at a lack of unity, against a perceived unity of the Other-Americans.
It must be, in the end, a peasant fascination. That only re-generates opportunities for intellects to exploit in every generation. We are fortunate to have a tradition of emergence and defense of civil rights by hook or crook in this land that while it may seldom produce bravery, it always promises freedom. There is something natural to natural aristocracy and that concept does not lie dormant but renews its truth despite meddling and advocacy one way or another. So people *do* finally realize they belong to themselves here in America. May that continue.