February 5, 2008

He Who Defines You, Controls You

My favorite newspaper columist is Jim Clingman. He regularly publishes in Black newspapers around the country. He wrote a column last year that I didn't share at the time. I want to share it with you today...

He Who Defines You, Controls You

The Pew Research Center reported, "African Americans see a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor Blacks, and nearly four-in-ten say that because of the diversity within their community, Blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race."

Black people can now play out this doomsday scenario with a clear conscience and without remorse for the dismal future we are creating for our children. Now that Pew has done its research and revealed that Black people are so fragmented by "class," is there any reason for us to continue to espouse collective and cooperative anything among our people?

You have heard the saying, "He who defines you controls you."

Well, Black folks have now been defined for what may well be the final time, because if we accept the "spinning" of the Pew report, it will be the death-knell that many have longed to hear since free Black labor went out of style.

The initial reporting of the information was centered on the contention that Black people could no longer be considered as "one race." Then I looked at the actual report and found that 37 percent of those polled believed that nonsense, but 53 percent did not. Well, that’s funny, I thought. Why would the emphasis be placed on the 37 percent rather than the 53 percent? Then the age-old phrase came to mind, He who defines you…."

I was also reminded of another conversation that went something like this: "What’s your name?" The young man replied, "Kunta Kinte!" After having the Black overseer apply another stinging lash to the young man’s back, and with the other enslaved Africans watching, the White man said, "No, your name is Toby, and it will be your name until the day you die."

Click here to read the rest of Jim's column

Any thoughts on comments on what Jim shared with us?


Anonymous said...

I get your point, but I think the Pew report has highlighted something significant.

Once upon a time, all black people faced pretty much the same issues and the same struggles. Then, collective effort made sense in people's minds because what benefitted all (i.e.) the entire black community) benefitted the lives of one black person or family. Collective effort and individual effort were intertwined.

Nowadays, however, it's not the same. It's partly because we live in a more individualistic society which emphasises the individual over the community. More significantly, however, black people HAVE become stratified by class. This is undeniable.

Personally, as a middle class black, I do not have the same struggles as working class black people. My experience of racism is different; the more oppressive forces are lessened in my life because of my education, and even because of the way I speak. I care about collective effort because I choose to, and it matters to me... but I could go about my life not caring because many of the issues that apparently affect a large number of black people do not really affect me personally.

So, that's where we have got to in 2008: people's individual (which is what they care about) struggles are different now. Some black people are still facing poverty, lack of educational oppportunities and everything else. Some, however, are simply not. Some are just no longer in that place, so there is less need for them (in their minds) to invest in or even care about a 'collective' effort because 1) it has no effect on their lives and 2) everyone's struggles are no longer exactly the same anymore. So, really, what is the 'collective' effort?

Maybe the reason why some issues are still so prevalent is because there is a lot of talk of 'community' and 'collective' but not everyone is aspiring to those ideals anymore. I'd go as far as to say that 'community' and 'collective' are now divided to the extent that the terms, and our focus on them as a force for change, are becoming redundant...We need to realize that as class continues to separate black people, there will be different communities within the larger black 'community' with different needs and interests - the key is to link them up with each other and encourage those who are more fortunate to identify with those who may not be.

Unknown said...

Something 2 Say - First, I want to thank you for sharing your village voice with us. This is first time that I recall seeing you comment and you provide much for all of us to consider. I hope that other villagers will weigh in with their thoughts.

I understand and respect the issue of class differences. However, it is my observation that the oppressive nature of race relations in our country is such that most African Americans ... regardless of economic standing are reminded by white culture of our Blackness at some point or another ... in our workplaces, neighborhoods, churches, and schools.

It is my belief that our economic status is something that can change ... while our Blackness cannot change. As such, I'm committed to work at uplifting our peeps. We are a large group and I can't do it all. By definition my efforts reach out mostly to those with economic status enough to allow ownership of a PC and access to the Internet.

Anyhow, you bring out some good things to think about and I appreciate it...

KMyles said...

Clingman highlighted a phenemena that is often used against our community wit great effect. "Mainstreaming the Minority" is the process by which a minority held viewpoint is held up as being so 'progressive' that it is Proclaimed to be representative of an exciting new and rising tide of opinion. It is then presented to us as being worthy of our focus; nevermind the fact that it is rejected by the majority of our folks.

The "conservative revolution" among black folks is one example that comes to mind. There are probably as many members of the Nation of Islam as there are authentic Black Conservative Republicans. But the paltry few are held up as through they somehow represent a different and equal 'strain' of black mainstream political thinking.

It's all hogwash to me... Our history of poverty and protest has resulted in remarkable degrees of variation within the black community, but to claim that different economic conditions make us different people is an intellectual booby-trap.

Unknown said...

Kevin - Thank you for sharing your village voice and insights on the issue. Had you heard of Jim Clingman before?

Mes Deux Cents said...


The interesting thing about Mr. Clingman's piece is that he speaks against others defining us and yet isn't that what he's doing?

If some Black people feel that class defines them more than race isn’t it their right to feel that way?

It’s sort of like Feminists fighting for women's rights and then telling housewives that their contribution is not valuable, because it doesn’t fit with their (Feminists) idea of womanhood.

Do you see the irony of his words?

All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

i agree, thats why i am a research scientist

Anonymous said...

Black people are not a monolith. And yes, there are major differences in values between groups of black people, some are so extreme that the only thing in common they have is skin color and hair texture.

That has nothing to do with class. There are honest poor people as well as violent and untrustworthy rich people, and vice versa.

While the separation between the groups is not a difference in 'race', it's DEFINITELY a difference in ethnicity.

I am not of the same ethnic belief system that promotes self-hate, ignorance, materialism or violence. I am not in the habit eat foods or drinking beverages that harm my body, no matter how good they might taste. I hate misogynistic and thug-style rap. It actually turns me on to see a black man with his pants hiked to his his waist, with a tie on, and with neatly brushed hair. If he plays classical music, I am DONE.

I have been told MANY TIMES online and in person that I am 'not black' because of these things, and so have many other people like me. So why is it ok to have this said against people like me, but NOT ok for us to say it back to you?

I love blackness, and refuse to allow other people to define it for me. However, they can not claim to have a shared destiny with me, because we diverged paths a long time ago. We are headed in opposite directions, and while we may look alike, we are as different as the Chinese are from the Italians.

Unknown said...

Anon - I think that the columnist was simply pointing out that it is never good to allow others to define us. Obviously, we are encouraged to provide a self-definition. Yours sounds good. I meet all the qualifications except that dayum classical music one (smile)...