“Black Somewhere Else”

Literature, Social Issues

Sorry for not sharing anything for a while. I was actually going to write about a Paul de Man essay I encountered. I was not all that familiar with him until I found his essay “The Resistance to Theory” in Modern Literary Theory 4th Edition. I’m sad to say that the more I’ve learned about him, the less inclined I’ve been to respond to what I came across, but I will more than likely share something of that experience another time.

I decided to pick up a Suzan-Lori Parks collection, The America Play and Other Works. Some time ago, I read The America Play itself and it was quite a ride, guided by a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic professor who was a great fan of the good lady. Well, she effectively sold Parks’s works to me, as here I am now hoping to catch only a fraction of your attention.

The book begins with short essays, one of which is accompanied with fairly crude drawings provided by the author, and others with equations for drama with black people— as far as formulas for common “black dramas” that focus on the oppression of black people. Parks recommends shifting away from these and instead she advocates such dramas whose formulas introduce new and unknown terms. The experience of black people all around the world will vary greatly, constantly questioning exactly what being black means. A very hilarious anecdote from Parks that illustrates this can be found at one point in the extensive and random exegesis strewn throughout the book’s intro:

A black man from Nigeria asked me once “What is this interest with watermelon you Black Americans have? I do not understand.” His not understanding does not make him non-Black/White/an inauthentic Black man. His not understanding simply means that he grew up Black yes! But Black somewhere else.

There may always be debate about whether blackness is ethnically, mentally, or performatively based. I guess you can say this about any group identification in the end. What does it mean to be tall? Fat? Young? A nerd? A woman? A leader? A douchebag?

As far as being black (or any race), clearly it is very popular and common to base identity on physical features. Just due to how I look, I can’t help but to identify as black when pressed to choose an ethnicity and I have seen others do this on my behalf time and time again, even when I’ve provided little to no personal input. But if someone is asked their ethnicity and they insist that their appearance, personality, or both should clearly communicate the answer, I can’t help but to agree to their identification. Rather than “agree with”, which I feel implies that I’m right there with them and understand exactly what they are saying, I “agree to”, in that I agree to meet them where they are, acknowledging that I can only do so by my own means of understanding. And I do hope to inform my understanding with theirs, not “inform” in any didactic sense, but in the spirit of paying attention to new information— and even like def. 4 in the 2012 Random House Dictionary.

And then… to my utter shock and amazement, I find the following article (which I recommend reading in its entirety), entitled Why don’t black Americans swim? currently number 6 in the top read articles on BBC News:

A month ago, six African-American teenagers drowned in a single incident in Louisiana, prompting soul-searching about why so many young black Americans can’t swim.

When 15-year-old DeKendrix Warner accidentally stepped into deeper water while wading in the Red River in Shreveport, he panicked.

JaTavious Warner, 17, Takeitha Warner, 13, JaMarcus Warner, 14, Litrelle Stewart, 18, Latevin Stewart, 15, and LaDarius Stewart, 17, rushed to help him and each other.

None of them could swim. All six drowned. DeKendrix was rescued by a passer-by.

…… according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the fatal drowning rate of African-American children aged five-14 is three times that of white children.

Enter yet another man from Nigeria: “Why are you black Americans not able to swim? I do not understand.”

What say you?

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