A few recent events have led me to think about society’s notions of ethnicity and culture. How many times have I heard an African-American comedian start a joke with “You know how it is with us Black people, we’re…”?
What usually then follows is a listing of examples of ‘Black’ behavior and attitudes, typically of the negative variety. Baby mama drama. Drug abuse. Credit woes. No job. No income. Ni**a this, b*tch that. And so on, and so on.
Included among those laughing and rolling in the aisles are middle class, or upwardly mobile African-Americans. These are people who live lives so much different from that described on stage. People who persevere to get educated, people who save, people honor their obligations in family and business settings.
Why would they support the sordid commentary of many comedians?
My guess is that being entertained by these routines provides a reminder of what they have elevated themselves away from. From the other side of the tracks, a lot of that comic stuff is hilarious.
As ever more African Americans find themselves living ‘the Dream’, they find themselves in suburban communities where they may never see another ‘brother’ or ‘sister’. Their children are likely in schools where they’re a precious few of ‘us’ around. Yet, those kids are largely oblivious to issues of race.
People may even accuse them of not being ‘Black’.
It strikes me that the definition of ‘Black’ culture is increasingly that of the urban, inner-city set. Struggle, against society, against police, against each other, predominates. Acting ‘Black’ has come to mean behaving with a certain boorishness, an inherent disrespect for public authority, and an almost celebratory embrace of irresponsibility.
This is a far cry from the central vision of the US Civil Rights movement. The mission was to change society to where all who applied themselves, took advantages of opportunities for self-improvement and embraced sacrifice, would be able to reap the subsequent rewards.
So when people lambast someone for not being ‘Black’, take a moment to ask them ‘Tell me, my friend, what exactly do you mean?’