During his recent commencement address at Howard University President Barack Hussein Obama dropped so many ‘jewels’ that it was ridiculous.
From my perspective, there was no more interesting utterance than the following,
“Be confident in your blackness, there is no one way to be black…There’s no straight jacket, there’s no constraints, there’s no litmus test for authenticity.”
Over the past few days, I have pondered this statement since and become increasingly disturbed by the statement for some reason. Now I admit that initially I agreed wholeheartedly with the President’s contention that “…there’s no litmus test for (blackness).”
As a person who has rarely, if ever, participated in the social activities that bonded so many of my African-American peers together, I repeatedly found myself not only questioning if I belonged among such people, but also having to substantiate my ‘blackness’. Ironically, I was being called to validate my ‘blackness’ to fools who were doing much damage to outsiders understanding of what it meant to be an African-American male.
I am certain that it my peers were able to develop a ‘litmus test’ for blackness, I would have most certainly failed. I loved to read, they didn’t, I loved to learn, they abhorred education, I knew who Hughes, Baldwin, Cullen, Malcolm, Chairman Fred, David Walker, and Ella Baker was, they had no idea, they loved to drink and abuse drugs, I have done neither even once in my life.
Truthfully, I often feel that if many of my contemporaries could develop such a test today that I, possessor of two degrees in African-American studies and an additional two in History would still be found wanting by the asinine cultural qualifications that they would use to define their understanding of ‘blackness’.
In many ways, President Obama’s statement allows for anything to be a representation of ‘blackness’. Although I do agree that we should not seek to develop narrow definitions, particularly resting upon cultural qualifiers, regarding what it means to be ‘black’, however, without any definition of ‘blackness’, one is left to ponder if it exists at all.
Truthfully, I have been guilty of questioning the ‘blackness’ of others on occasion, however, those moments were spurred not by some cultural peculiarity rather a belief that one invalidates their ‘Black’ status when they willfully behave in what can only be termed a treasonous manner toward our community; a figure such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas or Fox News political pundit Stacey Dash fits the bill.
I guess that in the end, my only significant prerequisite to ‘blackness’ is that one has to desire goodwill for the African-American community. Such a qualifier, the desire for goodwill within our community, ensures that we are moving forward, yet still not pressed into a stereotypical caricature of what ‘blackness’ is such as being a deadbeat dad, drug abuser, alcoholic, heathen, and the possessor of vulgar language that is used in every setting.
Maybe that is the message of ‘blackness’ in America. It is broad enough for our uniqueness and peculiarities to be housed within, yet always serving as a ‘North Star’ that demands that we are working for “the liberation and salvation of the Black Nation” ‘by any means necessary’.
Hopefully, I’m Black enough for ya.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016.