During a commencement address at Howard University President Barack Hussein Obama dropped so many ‘intellectual jewels’ that it was quite simply, 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 straightjacket, there’s no constraints, there’s no litmus test for authenticity.”
I have pondered this relatively routine statement since President Obama uttered it; I must tell you that it has increasingly disturbed for some reason. Now let me first say that I most definitely agreed, at least initially, with Obama’s assertion 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’ to such individuals. Ironically, I was being called to validate my ‘blackness’ to fools who were quite simply doing unconscionable damage to the brand of what it meant to be a Black Man in America with their criminality, drunkenness, vulgarity, and overall objectionable existence within our community.
I am absolutely certain that if my peers constructed a ‘litmus test’ for blackness, I would have most certainly failed to garner their approval. Unlike so many of my peers, 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, Assata and Ella Baker were prior to exiting middle-school, the years that they should have been engaging matters that I intuitively realized were more ‘weighty’ than a liquor bottle or ‘joint’ were unfortunately spent in either a chemically altered state of mind or pursuing some morally questionable ‘social’ opportunity.
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 such people undoubtedly are still equating with ‘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 have narrow definitions of what it means to be ‘black’, however, without any definition, one is left to ponder if ‘blackness’ 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 a treasonous manner in regards to ‘the liberation and salvation of the black nation’; 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 pre-requisite 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, and overall heathen.
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 solidarity and collectivism that moves us closer to “the liberation and salvation of the Black Nation”.
Hopefully, I’m Black enough for ya.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016