Lately I have been doing a lot more reading of both books and blogs, than blogging myself. It’s like I’m going through an intellectual and spiritual growth spurt and I’ve been enjoying the time, reading and reflecting on what I’m taking in. At the same time, I have taken a self-imposed moratorium on watching or reading anything that is primarily about the U.S. presidential race… if I can help it! Even here in Canada, although we are going through a federal election ourselves, we get inundated with overwhelming election fodder from south of our border (see here). The coverage has gone from being ridiculous to lunacy… and it’s all become very “Jerry Springer-esque”!  

(To my brothers and sisters south of the border, I’ll let you in on a little secret…  whether Obama or McCain get’s elected: 1) you still won’t have universal health care; 2) you will still have troops in the Middle East protecting American interests, if not in Iraq, then somewhere else; 3) you will still have a public educational system that will continue to be substandard in relation to other industrialized nations… and even some developing nations; 4) you will still be addicted to oil; 5) the rich will still get richer and the poor will matter even less; 6) you will still be battling political, economic, social and cultural discrimination… and it is gonna get worse for you before it get’s any better! As I heard Ice-T once state: “If voting could change anything they would outlaw it.” But I digress… this rant is not the purpose of this post… lol!)

I read an interesting article by Jose Vilson entitled “The House Negro”, which along with some other stuff I’ve been reading, inspired this post. He asks what do we perceive and therefore define a “house negro” to be? I find this interesting because it’s certainly not clear to me if there is a universal definition or agreement within the Black community of what is a “house negro”. Plus I am of the opinion that today, this whole idea of branding someone as a “house negro”, is primarily an African-American phenomenon that is used as a form of punishment… a “groupthink” control mechanism utilized mainly by (so-called) Black progressives to censure (so-called) Black conservatives. I call it: tribal intellectualism. I find that it is used primarily to discredit the beliefs, opinions and arguments, not by offering opposing arguments or engaging in a constructive debate, but by this very pointed personal attack. So instead of focusing on the debating the issues, you discredit them by calling into question their loyalty to the Black community. The term is also used to label particular African-Americans who have achieved a certain amount of financial and/or social success, as well as those who may have chosen to live, work, marry, speak, travel and engage in a lifestyle that is not considered “Black” or “Black-enough”…. whatever those concepts may represent to the name-caller… and therefore are seen as turning their backs on the Black community. They may also be referred to as an “Uncle Tom/Aunt Jemima”, “sell-out” or “acting white”.

One of the blogs I read frequently is The Field Negro and on the right margin he has a spot for the “House Negro Of The Day”. There are a variety of personalities… male, female, conservatives, liberals, democrats, republicans, politicians, sports figures, celebrities, and even some white folk, upon whom he has bestowed the designation. He explains why they receive the moniker for that moment and it’s usually for some behaviours, opinions or statements made, which he feels has a negative impact on the Black community. Most times I agree with him and I must also add that more often than not his choices and reasons cracks me up. The fundamental question though is what’s the perception The Field Negro wants his readers to have of the person whom he has labeled as a “house negro”… and more importantly what is the perception “we”… the reading audience… now have of that person… regardless whether we agree that they are a “house negro” or not?

An interesting twist I found regarding this issue was in a discussion I was following among Regular Brotha, Brotherpeacemaker, and The Black Sentinel. The discussion is a snapshot of a continual debate within the Black community between those who believe that some of our behaviours and/or choices is what is primarily holding us back, as opposed to those who believe it is primarily the actions of white society. The Black Sentinel surmised that those like Regular Brotha (like myself) who hold to the former position, are suffering from a psychological disorder: The Stockholm Syndrome! In effect, as she quotes: “The captives begin to identify with their captors. At least at first this is a defensive mechanism, based on the (often unconscious) idea that the captor will not hurt the captive if he is cooperative and even positively supportive. The captive seeks to win the favor of the captor in an almost childlike way.” Is this a blueprint for the classic House Negro!? Although this discussion spanned across 3 blogs… across a number of days, I will share one post of each of the participants which I found rather insightful: “Blacks Display Stockholm Syndrome” by The Black Sentinel; “Sentinel, I don’t want no trouble” by Regular Brotha; and “Wasting Keystrokes” by Brotherpeacemaker.

One of the issues which is often overlooked is that the Black community in North America is neither homogeneous in their beliefs, experiences, economic and/or social position… nor country of origin. There are many immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, South and Central America who may be “black” in skin tone, but have different (and a variety of) values, opinions, desires, motives and methods to achieve success, than those who are born on North American soil, especially in the USA. I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled: “Black in a New Light” which argues that Barack Obama and his presidential candidacy has “sparked a debate about identity in the African-American community”. One of the sources the article quotes is a 2007 Pew Research survey which found that almost 40% of Blacks said the values of poor and middle-class Blacks have diverged so much that they can no longer be thought of as a single race. If we accept that all this is true, even a significant portion of it, what does it mean today to be “Black” and from this premise, who do we now define as a “house negro”?             

The reason I say that this labeling someone “a house negro” is “primarily an African-American phenomenon” , is because growing up and living in Jamaica and Canada, visiting some African countries, as well as having discussions with my Canadian, Caribbean and African friends, we never use this term to refer to other Black people who have a particular belief or lifestyle. However, when I was living in Jamaica, we would refer to those in the middle or upper economic classes… those considered “establishment” Jamaicans… as “baldheads”… as opposed to “dreads”. This came from the idea that Rastafarians, who wore “dread”-locks were anti-establishment, non-conformists, cultural and political revolutionaries… while those who cut their hair… “baldheads”… did so to conform with the (neo)colonial standard of an acceptable Black person. Hence the song by Bob Marley: “Crazy Baldhead!” Dreadlocks is now becoming a more widely accepted fashion statement and Bob Marley is now a Jamaican National Hero and worldwide cultural icon. However when I was growing up in Jamaica, wearing dreadlocks could literally get you killed. People forget (or don’t know) that in Jamaica, in the 70’s, some in the political establishment tried to kill Bob Marley because of his political and social stance on issues. They saw it as too revolutionary and a threat to the status quo!

For me, my categorization of a “house negro” would go from rappers who strive to “get paid” by corporations for promoting genocide, materialism and misogyny within the Black community… to a Barack Obama who calculates it is more advantageous to his self-interest in the quest for the presidency, to step in for Ted Kennedy to address the future aspirations and endeavors of preppy “white” Wesleyan University graduates, than to make the time to attend the “State of the Black Union” forum in an effort to address the issues and concerns that are important to the survival and uplifment of Black America.