Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fear of a Black Discourse

One of those men who is vaguely familiar to everyone he meets asks:

Is Black now preferable to African American? And is there a place for Utopianism in the political discourse?

What handy questions you have proffered. Here I am, reading your note while drizzling HFCS-free sweetener on my spelt and quinoa pancakes. Just after reading your query, I took a sip of my low-acid, region-specific coffee.

Black coffee. I prefer my coffee black. I need not pause to consider the implications of the color of my coffee. I simply prefer it without any additional ingredients most times. That is my preference, which can sometimes change. I am, as I have recently been reminded of, human. I have whims. My beliefs sometimes change. I can be moody.

To a less perceptive answering device, your two questions seemed largely unrelated to each other. However I have found that, in these two apparently asinine pseudo-intellectual questions you have raised a larger, deeper question about the underpinnings of our socio-political lives. You have asked "how does the perception of an individual affect political outcomes?" The questions say so much about the asker, my friend. I raise my cup to you. Forgive me if it is now tepid and half full.

Now, let me connect the dots for the rest of my readers.

The first question, "Is Black now preferable to African American?" Should be trite to any vaguely aware individual. Over the last several decades, groups have tried to control the syntax used to describe them. Negro becomes black becomes African American. Homosexual becomes gay becomes queer. Many folks outside of the group grow aggravated trying to be conscientious. This is due to a critical misperception: that these standards are unanimously adopted. Looking closer at these shifts in naming rules, they are the will of an organized sub-group. It is their preference and they lean the shoulder of some sort of public relations machine into the public boulder to push us all towards their preferred taxonomy.

And why? We all want to know why we have to do search-and-replace operations on all of our documents to prevent our innocuous tracts from looking like hate speech. Why was the phrase that was acceptable yesterday unacceptable today?

It is about mood. The shared mood of a named group. Their need to change names is a legitimate desire to re-imagine themselves. However, the larger social group may not be aware of the underpinnings of the name change. We do not share their mood.

This is where the questioner’s second question comes into play. He asks, “is there a place for Utopianism in the political discourse?” For our purposes, let’s define utopian as “easy group living.”

Most thinkers believe that a shared mood would make it easier to achieve utopia. Many utopian (and dystopian) novels, film reels, graphic novels and what-all suggest the same. The difference between the utopian and dystopian version is always pretty simple:
  • Utopian: “Why not share the same mood? The value difference is so minimal and we can prevent conflict.”
  • Dystopian: “But I want tater tots instead of fries!”
As I have often said, those who are not able to even order dinner together will not be able to resolve their conflict.

The utopian folks are always strolling around in a struggle free life, usually wearing some sort of robe and moving their arms stiffly. They tend to not move their necks. Instead they turn to you by twisting their shoulders. Then a rag-tag group of individualists come in with their shorter, sexier robes and their ability to turn their heads freely. With a well placed speech and some sort of wizard-behind-the-curtain act, the rag-tag individualists ruin everyone’s pleasantness.

To announce that your organic subgroup requires a new name is a powerfully utopian idea. You are asking the larger community to share your mood, to understand your feelings about labels. While it may be misplaced energy, while it may be highly intrusive to the larger socio-political discourse, it is a profoundly hopeful act. Even if the announcement is done with militaristic spite, the act is an attempt to share your consciousness with your neighbors.

We must make a place for utopian thinking in our political discourse. Otherwise we wake up without any hope. Hopelessness is known to make the coffee taste bitter.

Excuse me. I am right now without any coffee and need a refill.


  1. Coffee.
    I have become bored with drinking alcohol. My wife has bought a juicer. I wonder if this can take it's place? Until, of course, I become bored with juice.