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June 16, 2005


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I was just peeping out a bit of the rage...good stuff - a bit too long for an old head like me...but I get where he's coming from. I also see how you would argue the reverse of his position. More accurately, however, NR contrasts "a thing to be" with "a way of being." I believe is subtly difference than "a state of being."

Black is a color...and it is also a recurring self-selected appellation of a people over time and space. American Blacks are not the first to choose this term, nor is this appellation unique to the post 1400 era.

Most importantly, the history of African peoples is clear that the culture is neither rigid nor static...it is principled and grounded, but much like a palm tree, it has roots, but can bend in gale force winds. We have certainly endured gale force winds.

The notion of "acting white" then is again about affect and feel. It is also a question of historical perspective. For whites to embrace academics after their long, hard sojourn in the wilderness of Europe was, according to many of white Greco-Roman, medieval and 18th century scholars, a sign of "acting black." My how times have changed. It can be argued that Silicon Valley is the first regional economy built on an information-based service since Timbuktu.

The fact that African girls are not outperforming white English boys in London's schools should reveal the limited sway of this notion. Only 4% of the world's Africans reside in the US. It's just not that big of a story - and there is certainly an African way of being which is recognizable to all - whether or not it is embraced is a different story. And that still matters not because the Ethiopians are just as African as the Yoruba - and they have a totally different vibe, but the best among us have consistently sought to build and serve in the East and West - while the worst among us have always sought to sow dissention from the center.

The ties that bind will not make us homogenous. The ties that bind will make us complementary. There is enough diversity within the BLACK to redefine this question...after all, what is "acting white" for white folks? At some point, it gets a bit absurd...when the real issue is so much simpler.



Excuse the typo. The African girls are outperforming the white boys in England.



So, by inverting my position on the "acting White" phenomena, is it your positon then, that those who are accused of "acting White" are actually the culturally timid ones, in that they seem to display no sense of "duty" or "loyalty"? Loyalty to who or what? I'll assume here that you mean loyalty to the community.

If a person is "constantly in the position of defending themselves against claims that they are acting white", they are only "too weak" insofar as they are culturally beaten down. Forgive me for being a realist, but telling someone that they're "acting White" won't exactly inspire them to "cooperation". In terms of having a cultural "initiative", it makes it very easy to sit down when no one wonders what you look like standing up. Or, it makes it very easy to sit back down when you stand up to say something and then have your audience spit in your face because of the "way" you said it; or the way it "sounded". You want "cooperation, initiative, loyalty, and praxis" without compassion.

Further, I wonder if you can see the glaring inconsistencies in the "acting White" phenomena: it simply doesn't make sense in America. Here is the reality; for example: There are certain young U.S. Blacks who might equate "acting White" with listening to Rock and Roll. Now, get in your car; turn to the local Rock station; and drive down a random street in a random inner city; roll down the windows; turn the music up as loud as it will go; now park your car in front of a group of teenagers; do this at your own risk; bring a camcorder with if you like; now get out of the car and strike up a conversation with them; leave the music on; at least one of them will ask you, "Why are you listening to this White-people music?" Now, was Jimmy Hendrix "acting White"? Is Lenny Kravitz? Or, the guy from Hootie?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but believing as you do-with Kant, Hume, Rousseau, and Locke-that race and ontology are one in the same, I assume that you believe in such normative ethical catagories as "White values"; or, "Black values"; meaning plainly that you believe in a type of biological determinism (being born Black determines ones comportment within the world). In the case of this country, I assume that you would be averse to this position and would say instead that you believe in a type of sociological determinism which is dictated in large part by "white values"; in short, that you believe in a racist (or racial) social ontology. And I would agree with you on this point, but only to a certain extent; meaning that, taking my philosophical cue from Heidegger, "white values" and "black values"-insofar as they have existed in the U.S. as social phenomena in a racist or racial social ontology-are not "timeless" or transhistorical when Time is factored in; meaning that the "white values" of the 1960's are not necessarily compatible with the "white values" of the 1990's, for instance. As such, the existence of such a racist or racial social ontology (particularly in the U.S.) would have to be considered a historical ontology when one factors Time into the social equation (as was the case with Jiw Crow when "white values" began to functionally contradict themselves). This is not to say that we should put all of our faith in a blind optimism that the future is guaranteed to be better for U.S. Blacks. However, I cannot help but feel a certain sense of cultural pessimism with regard to the persistence of the "acting White" phenomena; which I take to be an element of retrogradation in the overall progress of U.S. Black culture; an element which you seem have an unwarranted patience for. I'd like to be able to say with regard to the cultural secession of the "acting White" phenomena, "Just give it Time". But as it stands currently, it seems to be getting worse in some places of the country.

Lester Spence

Taking a step back for a minute.

I look at the concept of "acting white" thereotically in some of the same ways Fryer does. That is, I too think of it as a signalling process. But Fryer believes in what he calls a "two-signal model". An individual gets signals from the mainstream about what it takes to succeed, and then gets signals from her self-identified subgroup that are different...forcing the individual to chose.

I believe that it makes more sense to focus on those USING the phrase. What THEY are doing is using a shortcut. Jst lk yu r dng whn yu fl n gps hr. They are taking ephemera and then filling in those gaps. These cues continue to be used because in the aggregate they WORK.

Going back to your entry, written TO people who "act white" you ask them whether they too "feel more comfortable around whites."

I say these cues used by black people are used to identify those that DON'T feel comfortable around blacks. Those that feel superior to blacks. Those that choose to engage in a zero-sum game, picking "white" over "black".

In this way it isn't so much about the "thing" they engage in, but rather about the nature of the relationships "they" choose to engage in with black people and black life.

Now to your question.

Using shortcuts...making decisions based on limited information...is efficient but this process doesn't always lead to accurate decisions. In other words, people may err on the right side (thinking someone's down when they are not) or the wrong side (thinking someone isn't down when they are).

Here's where your audience comes in. In the aggregate I argue that if your population is the population most likely to not only be knocked around for "acting white" AND ALSO THE ONE MOST LIKELY TO BE WOUNDED BY IT, then they are most likely both too weak to work with. You say they are the strong ones for taking the individualist route? I say they are the weak ones for not being able to stand up to the force of interrogation.

Note that this is before we get to the discussion of "white" or "black" values.


OK. I can see the opposite formulation you are posing with regard to cultural timidity in the “acting White” phenomenon. Its essentially morality versus morality here. In your critique of the “acting White” phenomena, you assume that the accused are incapable of “being around” the accusers for “moral” reasons. (In this particular case, warped “moral” reasons which are informed by a type of race based morality similar to the One-Drop rule, in which a person of “mixed-race” identifies more with race “A” or “White”, in order to avoid the potential social stigma attached to race “B” or “Black”. The inverse of this is when a person of “mixed-race” identifies more with race “B” in order to avoid incurring moral judgments of “disloyalty” or “self-hatred” from the members of race “B”.)

You seem to be saying that it is likely, that those who are frequently accused of “acting White”, cannot in fact “be around” Black people, or are less likely to collaborate with them because the accusers are seen to be “acting too Black” from the perspective of the accused. In short, your assumption is that the reason that those who are constantly defending themselves against claims of “acting White” have to defend themselves so frequently is that for the most part, they ARE looking down their nose at the accusers. But you assume here, that the accused is looking down their nose at Black people prior to any accusation and that their “acting White” is evidence of that. So for you, the charge of “acting White” is, in all likelihood, warranted in a sense, because of the cultural timidity of the accused. To sum up your inversion of my position: the people who are accused of “acting White” are culturally timid because they show no initiative in embracing some outward representation of Black culture, which they find “morally” unacceptable; talking “ghetto” for example.

Assuming that the accused is in fact “looking down their nose” at the Black folk in question, your formulation of cultural timidity in the “acting White” phenomenon is from the perspective of some sort of community or social in-group, and goes something like this: “By acting/talking the way she does (“White”), it seems as if she is looking down her nose at us. As if we’re not good enough. Her ‘morality’ makes her timid.”

Assuming that the accusers are in fact “looking down their nose” or simply ridiculing the Black individual in question, my formulation of cultural timidity in the “acting White” phenomenon is from the perspective of some individual who may or not be part of the given community or social in-group, and goes something like this: “By telling me that I am ‘acting White’, they are looking down their nose at me. As if I’m not Black enough. Their ‘morality’ makes them timid.”

In both cases of cultural timidity, I am arguing that both the accused and the accuser are inflicted with the same cultural disease: I am saying that (regardless of whether they admit it or not) “Black” tends to exist as an ontological way of Being in both the mind of the accuser AND the accused. In both cases, moral judgments are made across phenotypical lines. When “moral” judgments are made categorically across phenotypical lines, they usually take the form of superficial racial dialect; that is the essence of racism; when this is put into action, it becomes racial oppression. Both the accused and the accuser are using the same cultural procedure as white racists, a select group of European philosophers, and certain narrow-minded U.S. Blacks. Somewhat following Craig Nulan in positing that “Blackness” is a form of interpersonal communication, the easiest way to “communicate” the counter-productivity of this cultural position, is to redefine “Blackness” such that a distinction is made between race and Being; namely, that it is not a way of Being.

What if both the accuser and the accused could agree among themselves that “Black” wasn’t a way of Being in the world? It would eliminate cultural confusion at the root. There would be no such thing as “acting White” or “acting Black”; the “cooperation” and “initiative” which you crave could flow more easily; “Blackness” would become seamless in America once it became free of petty “moral” sentiments and market-moralities; everything would be focused on better communication to create positive action, leaving a corrupt metaphysics to die in the stream of History; everyone would be that much closer to becoming a Black aristocrat; why would I care if someone appeared to be “looking down their nose” at me because they seemed to be “acting White” if I know in my heart that everyone is likely to have some conception of “Black” as way of Being?; People would start saying revolutionary things like: “Fuck that nigga, I’m a fucking Black aristocrat! Black isn’t a way of Being anyway! Lets go to the sto!”. (You heard me, “sto”, not “store”.) I am talking about a Black nobility which is beyond ALL of this bullshit!

Certain philosophical limits need to be placed on “Blackness” in the same way that parents used to impose limits on behavior in the Black community in the Old School ontology. Half of the time, the individual is simply being ridiculed for sport. I side with the courageous individual only to tell him what I think he/she needs to hear.

Lester Spence

You're working with a two signal model, or something similar to it. People who are "running away" from blackness have some type of idea in mind of what it is they are running away from, and this process is skewed. People who are the blackness "gatekeepers" have some idea of what blackness is, of what they are defending, and then in turn know when someone violates those standards. Given that the very idea of "blackness" is a mythical one driven by white supremacy, both "sides" are caught in a vicious cycle, with the end result being a truncation of individual liberty, which in turn truncates human agency and potential among black people.

I believe that box only exists to the degree you allow it to. And those most afflicted by it are NOT those who don't want to read because they think people will make fun of them--there is no data that proves this phenomenon exists. Those most afflicted by it are those who--for whatever reason--"don't feel comfortable around black people" to paraphrase. And again, black people have garnered the ability to recognize this and have developed a form of politics that while imperfect does a pretty good job of identifying those uninterested in cooperation, initiative, and loyalty.

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