For too long Black people have moved throughout the American public space with no real identity except that which is projected onto us. When our public figures, intellectuals, politicians, and celebrities speak out in regards to the general view of Black people, they do so either in resistance to or as an embodiment of an image that has been created (most often not by us).
Collective Identities and Stereotypes
Let me stop for a moment to debunk the idea that all stereotypes are bad; they are not. They are just stereotypes: a collection of ideas and known facts about a particular group. In many cultural groups there is a collective identity that the group finds acceptable as a sort of standard of describing, viewing, or relating to their group. This identity is in fact a stereotype; however, it is one that the group can live with. For instance their is a stereotype about New York Italians; they have strong accents, a history of mafia and mob culture, and they tend to be very outspoken. There is a stereotype about Jewish people: they are money conscious, business savvy, and they tend to favor entrepreneurship. There is a stereotype about Muslims: they are disciplined, socially conscious, and they have stringent expectation of women. None of these qualities describes every person that may fit into that group. Nor does any of these qualities denigrate the individuals within that group. They are generalities that one might use as a foundation for interacting with or getting to know individuals who identify with these groups. At any time one could meet someone who identifies with one of these groups for whom none of these presumed qualities is true. That’s okay. The problem is when the qualities assigned to a group are used to depict them in a generally harmful way.
For Black people there is an excessive amount of qualities associated with our group that are socially unacceptable or unfavorable. This is because many of these qualities are chosen by individuals not within the group or are individual qualities that do not at all describe the majority.
Black people usually describe the Black identity in the negative. They describe what we are not or how the image that currently exists is inaccurate. There’s nothing wrong with that; however, the problem is that these individuals rarely offer a suggestion to fill the empty slot of that which they decry.
One cannot define ones self in the negative. If we were asked the question: what color is the sky? And we proceeding to list all the colors it is not. We would get to the end of the list and find that we still had not answered the question of what color it is. This only leaves the questioner in confusion and forces them to make assumptions. They would have to decide what color was not named and assume that color is what color we are saying the sky is. God help us if we forget a color that it is not because then the questioner may inadvertently choose that color (because we didn’t name it) and assume that we meant that the sky is that color. So they go forward saying that we said the sky is that color. This is most often what has happened when Black people have attempted to describe the collective Black identity.
It is a dangerous thing to merge to identities with someone who has no identity. As America staggers to move forward and create a unified American identity that will no doubt be multicultural, Black people are at risk. We risk having negative presumptions projected upon us. We risk losing ourselves and the feeling of ownership for who we are. We risk losing the ability to control that which we want most: freedom and equality. In order to combat that we have to prepare for this merging by creating ourselves for ourselves. So that whatever merging occurs in multiculturalism, it will have some reflection of the Black identity.
In a previous post I began to think upon what it means to be Black (in a very poetic and abstract manner). I endeavored to think of what Blackness is instead of what it is not. I would like us to think very tangibly about the definition of what Black people are like. I believe that we should think on these things that are specific to our identity and let that be the guiding language we use to define ourselves. We need a collective imagining for what it means to be a Black person. We have no time to waste. It is an urgent need. If we do not accomplish this task, the future will engulf us and we will be forever lost.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man