My life matters. That should be obvious. How could it not? But I’m not representing myself as having a #BlackLife that matters. I’m not that kind of commodity. I own my own blackness and it’s not up for symbolic manipulation. There is no victory in that game. People might think it’s not the same old skin game, but I think it is. Either way, my investment is particular, nominal and minimal.
It wasn’t always that way. I can remember when Debra Dickerson wrote a book called The End of Blackness. The very idea got on my nerves. That’s because I was making a name for myself as a black blogger, and in particular as a black conservative Republican blogger. Maybe her blackness didn’t matter, but mine did, and I resented her representation. I might have come to some arcane cul-de-sac of black cultural significance which might seem like a dead end, but I always found a way, back then, to invest in a new path.
For most of my adult life, I wrestled with my own blackness mostly because it was so easy for me to be black. I had no Duboisian dual-consciousness dilemma. I struggled to understand other black American struggles and find common ground. So I’d find myself writing essays about my own identity that I had to write and rewrite. The essay was always entitled ‘The End of My Blackness’ and I first wrote it somewhere around 1986 when I started working full-time at a Fortune 50 company that had already awarded me three summer internships. I was in Corporate America in a technical job that was not an Affirmative Action hire. I worked in the executive suite of division headquarters, had my own large office with two desks and got along with all my non-black peers. I didn’t have to shave or even explain to my boss why black men can’t be expected to be clean shaven every day. I did watch the Cosby Show and I did walk, talk and dress like them. For many people in America at that time, my life seemed unreal. Unreal for a black man. So while there were still plenty of things I enjoyed about being black and being me, I was gradually experiencing a gulf between the reality of my life and what people commonly called ‘the black experience’.
Writing the essay was just another thing that I did, more often than not, just to mark the passing of time. But in fact it was always true that there was some conventional barrier I passed that seemingly vaulted me into some area of unreality. These days I would have to look back to find something that I might still resonate with emotionally. I’m perfectly happy being considered unreal, a unicorn. I don’t get upset by other people’s failures to see me for who I am. I’m not trying to ‘be’. ‘Do’ is more important than ‘be’. My identity is largely irrelevant to what I do, even though some people wish it were otherwise.
What I say these days is that “I’m from a small town called Black”. I ‘never forget where I come from’ but that never determined my aim. I can’t go home again, and I don’t need to. I don’t need to hear it every time the Grammys are awarded, that Clifford Brown was a great black musician. It doesn’t bother me that I can’t hear him on the radio when I turn to the (ahem) Urban Contemporary station. I already fell in love to Clifford Brown’s music. I already married that woman, and I own the album for myself. Whatever is said about ‘black culture’ today is not something I need to squabble about. That’s what it’s like to come to grips. I embody all the blackness I ever was, good, bad or indifferent. If Chaka Khan is every woman, I’m every black man I ever needed to be. I have that dignity; I’m shamelessly self-possessed and I don’t particularly care that I am. I am what I am. Sobeit.
That sense of well-grounded confidence is not negotiable. Not with the ‘white world’ nor with the ‘black world’. These are oligopolistic markets for dignity and certain fingers are on the scales of #BlackLives. So I’m not going to stand in line and weigh in. I don’t need the drama, or the approval. I’m not defensive or offensive about it. I’ve solved my own race problems. I guess I always have, which is why I struggle with the idea of Blackness which is mired permanently in the zone of, well, The Negro Problem, something I don’t have.
Have I transcended race? No. I haven’t transcended humanity so I don’t expect to transcend human folly. I could be shot dead tomorrow by a Klansman, run over by a drunk driver, drop dead of a stroke or fall off the beach-facing balcony of my house. Everybody with a racial theory will figure out some racial proximate cause for my demise. I don’t get to argue with the chorus of “I told you so” after my death. While I’m alive, it’s a different story because it’s my life as I define it. Mine is not your life, certainly not your vision of blackness or #BlackLife.
Some people will read this and think it must be awfully difficult for me to find my way in America, given this country’s history (whatever they interpret that to mean). I’ve come to expect that sort of thing. Call it ‘racism’ if that makes you feel comfortable, but don’t try to tell me that you’re fighting on my behalf in the streets because you know my #BlackLife matters. Don’t try to tell me what wall my back is up against, or what demons I must face.
I’m pretty happy with my life. Clap along.