Wednesday, July 9, 2008

CNN Black In America Whoopi Speaks

From the previews that I have seen about this series, I think that it  is something that we all need to watch.  A conversation needs to happen about race, and the ways in which bodies of colour are marginalized, and "othered".

In this short little clip Whoopie brings up a point that has bothered me for a long time.  Being told that you are articulate, or that "you don't sound black" is offensive.  There is this idea that somehow if you are brown or black, you do not possess a working command of the English language.  While those making this statement think that they are giving you a complement, somehow pointing to you as a "credit" to your race, what this actually is, is  demeaning racist commentary.  The inability to speak the "queens English" is not a function of race, it is a function of class, and a statement about how the education system discriminates against bodies of colour.  It is always, you're not like a "regular" black person, like I am some kind of scientific achievement, a pet science project that went right for a change.

Even if for some reason, I did not have access to the education that I have received, that would not mean that I would somehow become less intelligent. It would simply mean that I had not acquired a certain knowledge, or skill set.  The idea that we can prejudge someone based on skin colour is about maintaining racial privilege. To be clear, the whole concept of race was invented to justify exploitation, and so when white people make assumptions about bodies of colour, what they are doing is helping to maintain the racial hierarchy that is currently in existence. She/He who has the power to name, also has the ability to either uplift, or reduce a person, or group.

Just as with Whoopie, my blackness is something that I carry with me everywhere I go.  The moment I leave the security of my home, my race along with gender mark me as different.  When people first interact with me, what enters into our conversation is the hidden elephant in the room so to speak, it is all of the social conditioning that we have all been subjected to throughout our formative years.  It is not possible to completely ignore my blackness but somehow it is the conversation that never directly takes place. To acknowledge it would be to admit to the ugliness of racism, and the history of brutality that has been waged in the name of difference. So I agree with CNN, it is time to start talking about the pregnant pauses, and the uncomfortable truths, because it is in the not so obvious spaces that black people reside.


3 comments:

Ebony Intuition said...

I will be tuning into this program.

And I agree also about the statements white people will make thinking that they are complimenting us but in reality is rude and insulting . I 've experience this at work too.

cooper said...

I can't wait for this. I love Whoopi, and hope to learn form here always.

CNN does some good stuff off their main rack it almost makes me forgive them Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck - not quite though.

Octogalore said...

Looks like a great series. I've seen the previews and will be checking it out.

I don't know how anyone can think "doesn't sound black" is a compliment as it suggests "not black" = "good" which is offensive. I mean, nobody likes hearing "you don't look like a MOM" or "you don't look like an ENGINEER" as that means they think those things are frumpy or geeky. And those expressions are much less offensive for obvious reasons.

But yeah, since well-meaning (or maybe not) people say it, maybe someone needs to drive these things, and subtler ones, home. I always think I know how to avoid racist phrasings because of my family background, but that's probably not a safe assumption.