The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Black in Black

At long last, here is my post on accepted forms of racism. As this is a large, sprawling topic, I will focus on only one aspect of it.

We like to think that racism has become extinct in North America. As any intelligent person should know, this is simply and sadly not true. It is often said that, especially in Canada, racism is less overt. The particular phenomenon I am about to describe qualifies as covert because, as far as I know, no one has pointed it out.

What I am talking about are utterances often heard in the media (not the street) that are deemed humorous, but the logic is just as racist as something from a KKK pamphlet. I recently mentioned Will Smith, so I will use him as an example. More than once, I've heard various voices in the media exclaim that "Will Smith is not black" or other similar statements tending towards the same meaning.

Let us examine the logic of this particular statement.

First, to say that "X is not black", implies that the utterer knows what "black" is, regardless of his own race. The person clearly knows what black is, and demonstrates his disapproval by claiming that so and so does not live up to that status. Thus, before continuing, we must convict the utterer of essentialism, which is a crime in the 21st century. Essentialism (or essentialist belief) posits eternal characteristics to a thing or group. Thus, to say that "X is not black" means that all blacks have (or should have) the same characteristics and traits. By the same logic, one can say that "all women are x" or other similar statements. Essentialism ignores the manifest heterogeneity of any group.

This leads to a second problem. As I've mentioned already, any statement like "Will Smith is not black," which is merely a rephrasing of "all blacks are X," is essentialist. So just how is the person essentializing blacks? He is claiming that blacks have certain characteristics of which Will Smith is not possessed. What precisely are these? First, Will Smith is apparently not black enough. Second, for the most part, he plays stereotypically un-black roles. Similarly, he is not into guns, "bitches," and cars, as far as we know (if he is, it is not part of his public persona). Last but not least, Smith is fairly articulate and "nice." This reminds me of the film Idiocracy (funny movie) in which future rednecks accuse Luke Wilson of sounding like a fag because he speaks in the manner of a semi-educated person.

I will summarize my chain of reasoning. First, by saying that Will Smith is not black, the utterer of the statement has already essentialized black people. Next, the utterer is ascribing certain implied, unspoken characteristics to blacks, and we can deduce precisely what these are by observing what Will Smith is not. In sum, our utterer is claiming that blacks are very dark skinned and are (and must always) dress, act, and speak in a certain way (i.e, violently), otherwise they cease to be black. Blacks, the logic tells us, are not (or shouldn't be) nice; they are violent.

Therefore, our utterer is just as racist as any KKK member, but, of course, far less openly.

Personally, I'm disgusted with statements of this type. I find it refreshing that we have people such as Will Smith who are challenging racial and cultural stereotypes.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

time masheen


10:35 a.m.  
Blogger Hockey Jones said...

Along those lines, why is Obama considered black? Genetically he has one white parent and one black parent. Shouldn't he be considered not black or white but with a mixed racial heritage, is that too nuanced?

5:50 p.m.  
Blogger tedt said...

I think the most prolific example you have is Bill Cosby, who although is very dark-skinned, is deduced a racist by extreme left-leaning "whites" because he portrayed Africans in the United States as positive people (i.e. the Cosby Show), and derrided modern forms of "Black" culture, such as rap music, as having a negative impact on the black community because it reinforces the idea that poor language skills are alright to have.

Speaking as a middle easterner who was born in the Middle East, I find this last point especially prevalent in my own ethnic group where my English accent and English language skills were far more advanced than others with my same heritage who were born in Canada, with lackluster language skills.

Good post on an interesting topic.

8:29 p.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...

You both raise good points. This topic could be continued ad infinitum, but I left it as is for practical reasons.

HJ, the issue of the "blackness" of people of mixed origin is another kettle of fish. People who are visibly mixed have it tough because they are often rejected by both groups (not black enough AND not white enough, for instance).

Personally I think we still have trouble with that because we tend to think in black and white (no pun intended).

Perhaps that's a post for another day.

2:46 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will Smith isn't black though. He's from the Smith Family. Check out the site. He's white anglo-saxon.


2:52 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

KKK members aren't racist. They are concerned about the environment

2:53 p.m.  

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