Wednesday, June 17, 2015

too black, too strong - weak negroes not gonna get it


newyorker |  The easy presumption about Dolezal, who has two white parents and light skin and eyes—and hair that has ranged from blond to brown, though she has worn it in ways that are culturally associated with black women—is that this is an instance in which someone finally pointed out the obvious: the emperor is naked. But, in truth, Dolezal has been dressed precisely as we all are, in a fictive garb of race whose determinations are as arbitrary as they are damaging. This doesn’t mean that Dolezal wasn’t lying about who she is. It means that she was lying about a lie.

Dolezal’s name has been added to a running discussion of racial appropriation. Two weeks ago, Chet Haze, the putative rapper and son of the actor Tom Hanks, took to Instagram with a questionable syllogism. Because hip-hop is, in his view, “not about race,” and because he so closely identifies with the genre, he should be allowed to use the word “nigger” (or its variant “nigga”) without recrimination. His comments recalled the feeble musings of John Mayer, five years ago, when he lamented to Playboy that his level of black cred was high enough, his standing within the race so unimpeachable, that he ought to be able to toss the epithet with the same sort of entitlement as Jay Z. And last week, the Washington Post published a timeline of the career implosion of Iggy Azalea, the white Australian rapper notable for her transparent racial affectations.

Among African-Americans, there is a particular contempt, rooted in the understanding that black culture was formed in a crucible of degradation, for what Norman Mailer hailed as the “white Negro.” Whatever elements of beauty or cool, whatever truth or marketable lies there are that we associate with blackness, they are ultimately the product of a community’s quest to be recognized as human in a society that is only ambivalently willing to see it as such. And it is this root that cannot be assimilated. The white Negroes, whose genealogy stretches backward from Azalea through Elvis and Paul Whiteman, share the luxury of being able to slough off blackness the moment it becomes disadvantageous, cumbersome, or dangerous. It is an identity as impermanent as burnt cork, whose profitability rests upon an unspoken suggestion that the surest evidence of white superiority is the capacity to exceed blacks even at being black. The black suspicion of whites thus steeped in black culture wasn’t bigotry; it was a cultural tariff—an abiding sense that, if they knew all that came with the category, they would be far less eager to enlist.