What is Black?
“Race is obsolete.” My Dad
I didn’t believe him. After years of questioning who I was, after being excommunicated on numerous occassions for insufficient blackness, who I was – I thought – was settled: A Black Man. But am I? Am I really sure that I am a black man, that that is what I am? Is that understanding, a freedom, or another cellblock that provides a comfortable incarceration?
Paris 2002. I had the good fortune to meet a wise and wonderful poet, James Emmanuel. I spoke with him at length about matters racial and human. He told me about his upbringing in Alliance, Nebraska, population minimal; about his trek accross country, his love of literature and teaching, the primacy of writing in his life.
Mr. Emmanuel also told me of his exile from America, how his son was brutally beaten by police officers in California and how following that savagery, the young man committed suicide. Since departing the United States in 1984, he has vowed to never again set foot on American soil.
I asked him what race meant to him as an expat. To paraphrase him: “Race is something that needlessly occupies the thoughts of people when they should be thinking of something else. Someone profits by our obsession with race.” He went on to say that an article was written about him entitled, “From Negro Poet to Earth Citizen” For him, that is an apt description, because he identifies with no country or flag, but with the earth.
However…because so many consciously, and many more unconsciously, list in a racist/white supremacist current – the rocks off the starboard bow have to be called out, exposed. Its a noose, woven with phony threads, but it will hang you just the same. How do we acknowledge our common humanity above flag and country, and remain deeply aware of the subtleties of our ‘needless’ obsession with race and all of its corrosive manifestations?