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Being Black

Posted by: Edward Phelps
Date Posted: February 3, 2012
Categories: Race Relations | Values

In Baratunde Thurston's new book "How to Be Black " the author presents a funny and truthful premise for living in mainstream society as a black person. I feel it important to highlight that his entire thesis rests on what I describe as a premise of conformity. The assumptions present in his writing cover those who accept the paradigms of the mainstream, get a job, hold it and move through the systems before them. It does not touch on those who "question the values of the mainstream society around us" and subsequently choose to reject them. This motley crew of societal pirates fall into the plight of being either geniuses of insane persons. They are geniuses if they are successful at making a lot of money (regardless of how they use their monetary wealth). They are dubbed insane, ostracized, and suffer an often lonely life filled with unceasing (and often unfair) challenges if they do not make a lot of money.

This plight of those who question the world order is well documented throughout history. Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Malcom X, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (to name a few) all chose to oppose "the values of the mainstream society around us". They were societal pirates. Wikipedia defines piracy as "Piracy is the name of a specific crime under customary international law and also the name of a number of crimes under the municipal law of a number of States. It is distinguished from privateering, which is authorized by national authorities and therefore a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors." So essentially pirates are simply the other guys who do not agree with or accept the authority of the state. The first three films in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' series present a truly compelling tale of the rise of capitalistic world order, and the band of freedom loving pirates who oppose it. The films poignantly touch on the deep socio-political issues that free men and women faced (and face today) resisting tyranny veiled under the brands of freedom and order. The young blacksmith turned pirate Will Turner delivers my favorite line in the second film - "Somehow I doubt Jack will consider employment the same as being free."

So what does all this talk about piracy and freedom have to do with being Black you ask? Everything. For the same choices all men are confronted with when (and if) they examine and question "the values of the mainstream society around us" are especially relevant to persons with black skin. And the sad truth is that too often, in my opinion, too few respond with rejection of these values and choose to act in support of their freedom and self interests. Instead most see their self interests better served via compliance and conformity, where the comforts offered are deemed sufficient compensation for the loss of personal freedoms and the right to self determination. I have yet to meet a Black person (myself included) who in some way has not compromised their freedoms to "get by". Yet upon closer examination it seems that freedom is either had in full, or not at all. And so I question the effectiveness of these well rationalized choices daily.

Are we questioning "the values of the mainstream society around us"? If so, what choices are we making? Are we doing the same things and expecting different results? Does bitterness fill our hearts and underlie our actions? Do we respond and act with unceasing commitment in support of the changes we wish to see, or do we react out of anger and in opposition to present conditions and circumstances? In my humble experience these are relevant questions for all to ponder.

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