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‘Authentic’ Blackness Debate Continues

Last week, a few journalists argued that President Obama waded into the often precarious “acting White” debate when he responded to a question from a young Native American man who inquired as to what the federal government was doing to help his ethnic group “revitalize their language and culture.” The president, in his usual measured and thoughtful comments, responded somewhat pastoral as he quoted the bible, commenting that, “without a vision, people will perish” and how an absence of such an identity can lead to further erosion of one’s physical, psychological and emotional health. He later transitioned into a DuBosian moment when he said that there was nothing wrong with embracing the larger culture while simultaneously celebrating and preserving your own.

For the record, the usual anti-Obama Wall Street Journal praised the president and his administration for establishing the education initiative. There were others like blogger, CNN commentator and frequent Obama critic Dr. Boyce Watkins, professor at Syracuse University, who argued that the program was “too little, too late.” Watkins further argued that the President, his administration and inner circle have failed to address the issue of persistent discrimination and chronic unemployment that plagued large portions of the Black community, particularly lower income and urban communities. A number of media outlets weighed in on what they saw as President Obama re-igniting the “acting White” controversy.

Several years ago, I wrote a column for Diverse where I tackled this issue. Later in 2011, the topic was ripe in the bloggersphere after NBA basketball star Grant Hill masterfully and eloquently responded to Jalen Rose’s critical comments toward he and other Black athletes (and Black people in general) who are the products of more upscale and privileged backgrounds. Speaking of sports, I still have not forgotten how in 2012 former ESPN commentator Rob Parker posed the question as to whether NFL quarterback Robert Griffith III was a “real brother” or a “cornball brother.” Parker referenced Griffith’s rumored Republican Party political affiliation, his White then fianceé and what he perceived to be Griffith’s other supposed “misguided” decisions. After hearing such a screed, you would have thought that Parker was one of the gatekeepers of Blackness and a card-carrying member of the Black thought police. Reaction to Parker’s comments from people of all races was swift, and he was dismissed from ESPN soon afterward.

Speaking closer to home, I wonder if someone like myself who likes to listen to Peter Frampton, Band of Horses, One Republic and Irish music is in the “danger zone” of losing one’s authentic Blackness. Perhaps, it might be best for me to shout from the mountaintops that I love, love gospel music. Cry passionate alligator tears that I love a fair amount of jazz and blues. Swear on a stack of bibles that I actually do love the late Michael Jackson (as do many non-Whites), adore Aretha Franklin as well as classic R&B and soul music in general.

The fact is that Irish music is indeed, very soulful. It is the European version of Black gospel music. Not to add insult to injury, but I am a voracious reader! And get this, sometimes I read books that are absent of Black subject matter! Am I suspect? For the diehard members of the Black thought militia, I have probably come close to committing racial treason. At the very least, I am a poor excuse for a Black man, unreliable and largely artificial. After all, in their eyes, deviating from such supposedly “authentic Black” behavior may have almost certainly qualified me as a prime target for a Dave Chappelle skit.

Goodness knows, if there is any group of people who should know how demeaning it is to be pre-judged, assumptions made on how you will behave, how you think, how intelligent you are (or supposedly not), etc., based on the pigmentation of your skin, it is Black people. Yet, some (not all by any means, but probably too many of us) from barbershops to beauty shops, to houses of worship to soul food diners and other similar venues have no hesitation in engaging in racial histrionics, either ratifying or disqualifying one another based on what are far too often superficial values. The degree of hypocrisy is real.

The fact is that most of us who are Black, regardless of socioeconomic status or educational level, at some point in our lives will be confronted with the reality that our skin color will render us vulnerable to the fact that we are the “other” in the eyes of some Whites and some other non-Blacks. There is no need to engage in unscientific racial litmus tests to do so. There are enough issues plaguing the Black community, internally as well as externally. We are all pretty much in the same boat. There is no need to add unnecessary baggage.

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