So my favorite Internet provocateur, Jill Is Black, has this really smart video about “the revolution” in which she skewers those black people that imagine themselves in be in the cultural vanguard for using respectability politics–which are really just a set of behavioral expectations black people have compiled based on how they want white people to see us–to determine who can and cannot “fight” alongside the “true” race warriors when the shit goes down—
For those of you that may have gotten lost in that last paragraph, let me clarify a few terms and key concepts for you. So we’re all on the same page. (Unlike the critical mass of “woke” black people and all the rest of us, as Jill suggests).
The revolution is the mythical unified effort that black people will exert against the white majority in some perennially futuristic time that will somehow–despite the fact that white people make up over 70% of the population, run the Fed, run the military, run law enforcement, run the infrastructure, and run the gun trade–ultimately free us from institutional racism and historic oppression in America.
Respectability politics are, as I said, the narrow-minded, self-abnegating, largely sexist, and extraordinarily divisive set of concepts of what is “proper” for black people to do in order to be considered a “credit” to the race.
Examples include having married parents; speaking Standard English and having impeccable written grammar; finishing high school with a diploma, not a GED; obtaining a degree, but in something prestigious and lucrative like engineering or medicine; being a Christian or Muslim; never needing an abortion; never needing a psychologist; wearing your pants up on your ass, if you’re a man, with a belt; only wearing silky weaves in “naturally occurring” colors, if you’re a woman, or wearing your natural hair or braids or dreadlocks that are meticulously groomed, preferably by a professional at a salon; refraining from shit like twerking, drinking alcohol, smoking weed, using profanity, and having unmarried sex–all sins–while dismissing, vilifying, hating, ostracizing, harassing, and even abusing “flamboyant” members of the black LGBTQIA+ community, “ratchet” members of the black working and middle class, black feminists, black members of the mentally ill community, and black weirdos (the mass of black people whose habits cannot be easily or comfortably classified) in repeated supposed efforts to “help” or “save” them–somehow not wrong.
(Take it from one of those black feminist mentally ill weirdos. I’m painting in broad strokes, but there is truth in what I’m putting up. Black people know it, even if they don’t want to admit it.)
The subset of “respectable” black people most frequently associated with the idea of the revolution–the “ones” expected to galvanize black people when it somehow finally pops off–are the “woke.”
Their version of respectability politics revolves around this absurd concept of effecting a sort of “purity” or total freedom from European (not really a thing) or white indoctrination and becoming a sort of African (also not really a thing) anew through Afrocentrism (natch), veganism, nationalism, militantism, historicism, anachronism, sexism . . .
Just think of a millennial version of, say, Speech from Arrested Development at the height of that group’s fame or Erykah Badu without the radical sexual freedom, slight thuggish air, gift for self-reflection and disclosure, or complete and utter lack of fucks about what society has to say about her–the Badu we all thought she was back in the day, with the three-foot gele and mudcloth wrap-dress–as frames of aesthetic reference.
The “woke” claim to love all black people and want all of us to unify and fight together as one against white supremacy and hegemony, but only after the “rest of us” get our lives together, whatever the-hell that means in a race like ours and a place like America.
I say that to say this: colorism did not get left back on the proverbial plantation after Emancipation; misogyny is no less destructive to black women when it comes from black men; fear is a hell of a drug; rage is even more powerful than that; poverty is the supreme form of disempowerment in a capitalist society; self-hatred is even more endemic in the black community than poverty; and “crabs in a barrel” is not the name of some cute children’s board game nor is it a mere or meaningless cliche when you use the phrase to describe the black community.
Homophobia is a cultural stumbling block for black people; transphobia is a cultural stumbling block for black people; complacency is a cultural stumbling block for black people; nihilism ain’t a river in Egypt but it does flow through the veins of a lot of black youth; Africa doesn’t have any more answers to our problems than Sway did to Kanye’s (Nigeria, Central African Republic, Sudan, Congo, Mali, Algeria, Libya, Somalia, and South Africa are all plagued by violent conflicts and/or widespread racial tension); and strength comes from more than ideology and rhetoric; people need clean water and adequate food in order to do anything, but especially to grow.
Individual togetherness for black people might be even more elusive than collective togetherness for black people, and collective togetherness for black people is elusive as fuck because we only seem to be able to trust each other when our levels of hope are excessively high (see: 2008).
It’s 2017, and America has just had eight years of a black President. Yet, black people haven’t made much progress in economic or political terms. Integration and assimilation may get us a figurative seat at the table, but we only get to drink water or eat appetizers while we’re sitting there.
The One Percent are still hogging all the main courses and ordering more on our dime. And, if we don’t want to watch them while they feast, too bad, because, even if we take out of cell phones to peruse our social media, every platform is full of distressing news story about their doggish demagogue, both true and false.
The KKK isn’t closeted anymore; Jeff Sessions is drawing comparisons to George Wallace; Meryl Streep sounds more Presidential speaking at the Golden Globes than our President-elect; the inauguration is only eight days away; and the only actual politician that seems excited about it is Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin.
Nevertheless, the “woke” contingency of the black community maintains that they are good (and “good”), and all the rest of us need to do is get like them, then we’ll be ready when the revolution comes.
(The battlefield for them is apparently a “Field of Dreams”–“if you build it (the army of pseudo African warriors)–he–or rather it (the revolution)–will come.”)
And while waiting for us to catch up in the spectrum of authentic/transcendent blackness, they bide their time by policing us, despite all of the very real issues and obstacles we all face in eking out our various black existences.
In her video, Jill is speaking to these “woke” black people. “Why do you get off on your revolution being exclusive?” she asks them.
“How am I the right kind of black to be invited to your revolution?” she wants to know.
This is an excellent question whose exploration will get me to my discussion of the daily prompt (I hope): clinging.
If Trump’s election should have taught black people anything it’s this: white people don’t need to be the same kind of white to come together and get done the things they need to get done to secure their position in American society.
Trump won because rich and poor whites, educated and uneducated whites, urban and rural whites, white men and women, conservative and moderate whites, LGBTQIA+ and cis-hetero whites,”elite” and “trashy” whites united with each other on the basis of their whiteness and voted for him–in record numbers.
Blackness is not a monolith; we are not all the same, but we don’t need to be. In times of crisis, all we need to be to and for each other is black and certain of the best course of action for us.
In the same way we banded together to elect Obama twice, we should’ve banded together to keep Trump out of office.
No, Hillary Clinton wasn’t an ideal candidate, but I still think we understood–we could safely say–that she would make a better President for Black America.
As it stands, one of the only major pieces of legislation that President Obama passed that improved black people’s lives on a large scale–the Affordable Care Act–is the first piece of legislation Trump has promised to attack.
If, last November, we had paused in our squabbling back and forth with each other all over the Internet about who is a king and who is a queen and who is a thug and who is a thot, gotten off our collective black ass, and voted for Hillary, we wouldn’t be biting our nails right now, waiting to see whether this asshole Trump will somehow figure out a way to repeal the 13th-15th Amendments as well.
But we didn’t mobilize ourselves because we cling to this childish, clannish notion that we should only vote for other black people. We cling to the notion that putting black people in formal leadership positions is the only way we can gain or harness any real power in this country.
Too, we thought we could make it all right if or when Trump won. We thought we’d survive just fine because we’ve survived ostensible worse. We also thought, secretly, like many poor whites that cast votes for Trump against their own best interests, that we could get him to view us more favorably somehow if we needed to.
Because we cling to this idea that by being the “right” kind of black, in large enough numbers, we can gain white people’s respect and acceptance and secure equality without having to fight for it.
Yes, we do.
We cling to the idea that our freedom from oppression can be “earned” by our compliance with punitive, racist “mainstream” cultural standards.
As the renowned black poet Yusef Komunyakaa says, “Second-class citizens can be awfully puritanical, and this is especially true when they’re striving for acceptance by the dominant culture.”
So we cling to the idea that if we can be morally or ethically superior to each other, and white people, we can “deserve” fair and equal treatment.
We cling to the idea that if we jettison the so-called worst of us, the so-called best of us can do better; we secretly buy into the white binary of the “good” and “bad” sorts of blackness.
Too, we cling to the fear–subconsciously–that we are the inferior beings that white racist stereotypes portray us to be–the constancy and conviction with which we are oppressed impels us to bridge the dissonance between what we see in ourselves and what Others pretend to see in us with the false, compensatory belief that we, not they, are wrong or delusional since we have such a profound distrust of ourselves–seeing as we are descended from the captured and not the captors–and this necessitates that we prove, continually, that we are not the niggers that would perhaps deserve to the sort of oppression we suffer at the hands of White America if they actually existed.
We cling to the idea that Africa was a utopia before slavery, and we cling to the idea that antiquated, ahistorical traditions and practices from its various clans (tribes)–which many of us adopt really rather haphazardly–that we did not retain in an organic fashion and that have not been allowed to evolve organically along the same timelines as our culture and collective identity–can “fix” us.
We cling to the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with being the descendants of slaves, even though slaves are largely responsible for making America into a global superpower, and the descendants of slaves have participated in the building and betterment of this country, from its inception, in some of the most innovative and important ways that any one people can be said to have participated.
And because we cling to the idea that we are deficient because of our slave past, we cling to the idea that we need to look outside of ourselves to determine how we should “be.”
We debase, degrade, refute, and exploit black culture, even though it is comprised of a perfectly decent and hugely impressive body of knowledge, beliefs, customs, and habits that are rightfully ours and have sustained us here–in America–for centuries.
We cling to the idea that because we have been victimized by white supremacy, we should pay more attention to stopping and healing that trauma than to stopping and healing the trauma we inflict on each other, which is much more urgent and plausible because we live in families, homes, and neighborhoods with each other, and we are infinitely more invested in each other. Not to mention that if we were more whole individuals, we would be less codependent on white approval, acceptance, and affection and more able and willing to take up for ourselves.
We’re not doing such a good job of that right through here, though. Regardless of the claims we use to admonish each other across intraracial lines. We could be standing shoulder to shoulder, facing down this incoming administration, but we’re not. We’re clinging to select groups of each other and continuing to miss the bigger picture.
We’re clinging to the belief that we need one true heroic male leader to get us up and over the mountain of our history and into our destiny.
It seems to be the only thing we can do in consistently large numbers–cling.
Black men cling to the idea that if they can dominate black women, they can gain “legitimacy” and some semblance of that approval, acceptance, and affection from white men.
Black women–even some feminists, even some lesbians–cling to the idea that if they can placate black men, they can gain “legitimacy” and some semblance of that approval, acceptance, and affection from black men and white people as a whole.
Black people as a whole cling to the idea that the revolution will “come”; it will arrive, like a day on a calendar, and strike an instinct in us like we are human lemmings, and we will suddenly, magically know how and be able to fight off our oppression.
But I think the revolution–if we remain in America–as long as we are a 12% minority–can realistically be nothing more than the collective realization and acceptance that black people will need to remain in a state of perpetual readiness to respond to crises like the Trump election and a state of functional togetherness so our responses are impactful.
The revolution cannot be exclusive. It cannot play out in a militaristic fashion; we’ll be exterminated.
The revolution will issue from us. It will have to be strategic. It will have to be encompassing–take the kings and queens and thugs and thots.
Jill says it in the caption beneath her video:
Too weird. Not weird enough [she writes]. Too intersectional, but[,] look, we really just need to focus on one thing right now, okay? Too capitalist, but we’re looking for donations. I don’t fuck with the government [,] but I just applied for a grant. Hey, how about this: just let me know right from the start that when you say you love blackness, you love YOUR blackness. You love people who agree with you. You love people who meet your requirements for blackness. But know that your exclusivity isn’t a revolution. It’s a club.
Blackness is not a monolith; whiteness is not a monolith. But white people have learned to–on a wide scale–come together to function as a needful unit. Black people need to learn to do that, too.
A club can’t go up against three-quarters of an entire country. We are going to need all hands on deck if we’re going to, say, regain the Democratic majority in Congress in 2018 or elect a more qualified and dignified President in 2020.
“The change that we need is the change that we create,” Jill writes in another post on her Instagram page. “But you knew that already.”
Black people–we have to let go of this stubborn, counterproductive notion that there is a “right kind of black.”
We need to stop clinging to the fairy tale of a revolution that will somehow happen in spite of our backward battling with each other.
You can say what you want in response with as much righteousnesss as you can muster, but you cannot deny; the proof is in the poll tallies.
And they show that the people that vote together, when it’s all said and done, get to gloat together.