Sunday, April 3, 2011

Reflection Paper #4: Iterations of "Blackness"

 It's necessary to constantly remind ourselves that we are not an abomination. 
--Marlon Riggs
Franklin, from "Peanuts"

There's a phrase that many of you may have heard: "Race is a social construct," meaning, race is not biological--indeed, science has determined that true human variation (statistically speaking) is virtually non-existent--skin pigmentation is simply a matter of the amount of melanin one possesses. Racial difference is socially constructed--society determines it and creates categories/classifications called "race." We have seen, in many of our texts (as well as in many of the photos I have posted), individuals categorized as "black" but who, in terms of phenotype, are racially indeterminate. Why, then, do we persist in our use of phenotype to judge "blackness" in all its variations? Why do we add to that discussions of intellectual capability and moral rectitude? 

When Barack Obama was running for president back in 2008, there was a discourse (among many blacks) about whether he was "black enough" to be representative of African American struggle in this country, given his background as the child of a Kenyan father and white American mother. In addition, there was a focus on "class" distinctions, social mobility, elitism, and skin color. What did all this mean?

We say that race is "socially constructed...meaningless...we are the world.."and all that jazz--but the truth is, society does not live out the ethos of racial "blindness." Color prejudice persists, racism persists, and injustice persists. When I put your words on the blackboard the other day, what emerged was a medley of ideas of what constituted blackness. I want you to reflect on the meaning of "blackness" as you define it, but incorporating into your response one or two of the texts we have read during the course of the semester, including the Riggs film, Black Is...Black Ain't. 

Valerie, from "Josie and the Pussycats"
You may want to ponder the blackboard words as you consider this. As scholars, we are on a continual search for “meaning”—how do you interpret the meaning of blackness as delineated by the authors/speakers you have read/heard? How do those meanings converge with your own definitions? Is blackness a cultural identity? Can "blackness" be defined at all? 

I would like for you to have these reflection papers ready for me by Tuesday, 4/5. 

All best, 

Prof. Williams


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