Sunday, November 15, 2009

Glenn Beck Wants To Know

Why should Black Americans self identify as African-Americans? Glenn Beck wants to know, asking a studio full of hand-picked minority conservatives. Why not, he asks disingenuously, just as Americans? After all, he, Glenn Beck, is just American.

Like it was their idea, like simply identifying as “Americans” was a choice that they could make.

Well, Glenn, it’s not their choice. Blacks are always identified as such. Black Republicans; Black Conservatives; Black, Black, Black. We do it, Glenn, you and me, we White people.

Myself, I find it onerous, and I would prefer a colorless world.

Maybe “American” is not an option, but I don’t find African-American very satisfying. After all, I don’t feel comfortable identifying as a “European-American.” It’s overly broad, it includes twenty-something countries that I have no connection with at all. I’m ok, though, with “Irish-American,” because most of my blood came from that country, and I celebrated those holidays and Saints growing up, and I heard those stories, and my progenitors suffered from being identified as “Irish” in the New York City labor market. Black Americans don’t have those luxuries. Most Black Americans don’t have the certain knowledge of what country or culture their families were taken from. Calling them “African-American” just highlights this failure to preserve the information. I find it offensive.

“Black” is cool. After “Negro,” and “Colored” were rejected as unfairly negative, Black Americans in the Sixties set on “Black.” I thought that “Black Americans” was fine, I was agreeing with them, I went with it, and I’m sticking with it. Black American culture has very little to do with Africa. Africans don’t even particularly like Black Americans. Black Americans, largely denied any expression of their cultures or traditions, created a new life in America, with a unique culture and traditions of their own. It’s American, and it’s Black. That’s all there is to it.

I live in Bangkok, and I can look at a Black man fifty yards away and tell you if he’s American or African. I like the Africans well enough, but I love the Americans. They’re my people, I value their contributions to my culture, my education, to our country. Black American culture and my culture, they’re not the same thing, but they’re like those charts with overlapping circles. This part over here is Black; this part over here is mine; this area in the middle is ours.

Glenn Beck is an idiot, and I resent every moment that he occupies my consciousness. I don’t know why someone like him should even be admitted to these discussions. He put in his two cents, and I came across it, so here’s mine. “African-American” degrades you, my Black friends. Your culture is an expression of your experience, which, for better or worse, has put you in the forefront of the shared culture of the entire world. You may have come from Africa, but now you belong to the world, at the cutting edge. You did it yourselves, in your new country, and it has been a spectacular success. The rest of us owe you a great debt of gratitude.

Some day, and I will not live to see it, we will all be simply “Americans.” In the meantime, Americans can self-identify in any way that makes them comfortable, but I will continue to call my Black brothers and sisters “Black Americans.”

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