Monday, November 19, 2007

White Values and Convergence

Recently National Public Radio reported on the results of a national poll that suggests there is a division among black people about what it means to be black. NPR’s Juan Williams’ report, Redefining What It Means To Be Black In America accompanied the poll results. In short, the poll suggests that black people these days think there are two sets of black people in America – one set, those ensnared by poverty and donning the trappings of the thug life and the other, those financially better off, genteel and more visibly responsible.

The results of the poll are what they are, an indication of the desperation that all black people feel about the abyss swallowing up so many of our kind. This abyss is creating a value system and a mode of being in the world that is unrecognizable to many black people. Hence, many black people feel that two separate sets of black people are emerging. There is nothing spectacular about diverging classes of people thinking that they possess divergent value systems. In every society in the world class has served as a proxy for all manner of divisions, not the least of which are value systems.

The real problem with the report is its core claim, that the group of black people who work, are civic minded and oriented around responsibility are converging on a white value system. The claim is essentially that the value system of "good" blacks is converging with the value system of whites.

The degree of arrogance and paternalism in this claim is astonishing. Does it need to be explicitly pointed out to white and black people alike that white people are not the model against which the rest of humanity is referenced? If the value system personified by 50 Cent is supposedly representative of a separate set of black people, why is not the value system of avarice, deceit and ignorance personified by George Bush representative of a separate set of white people? Why are not the dishonest, unethical and inhumane value systems of Jack Abramov, Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney and Tom Delay representative of a separate set of white people? Why aren’t the redneck whites who hang nooses from trees, who dragged James Byrd to death, who rapped and sodomized Megan Williams, who rape and ravage Mexican women crossing the border and Indian women on their reservations considered a separate set of white people?

White people do not have a monopoly on righteousness or on sound value systems. They are every bit as susceptible to the frailties and ugliness of the human spectrum as everyone else. The claim that responsible black people are converging on a white value system implies that I am converging on a white value system – that somehow the values ingrained in me through the particular journey of my family, my faith, my life and my own critical thought has led me to the doorstep of the temple of white values. Not only is that notion ridiculous, it is personally offensive. Indeed, that idea scorns the morality born of my ancestors’ resistance to oppression meted out to us by the very white people whose value system is now thought to be impeccable.

I find it shameful to have to make this argument so far along on our supposed path to enlightenment. White people and the value systems they employ are neither the standard nor the metric. Value systems ought to be referenced against goodness, against kindness, honesty and human decency. Acquiring that system is a human challenge that we all face.

kamau

5 comments:

luvlife0702 said...

so "all blacks" feel desperation about some abyss swallowing up our kind? hmmm i don't. no desperation here.

as for 'white' values or 'black' values.... could we get a vote on this. since when did values sport a color?

who are these goddamn white people anyway? who are their representatives? are they the white folks of greenwich, connecticut, the bayous of the delta or the trailers i saw on my way from atlanta to savannah or maybe they are the condo dwellers of the urban core?

as for avarice, deceipt and unethical behavior, as far as i know they kinda cut across color, creed and even eras and i'm sure the caveman had issues with his neighbors values.

'white' people aint got no value system that precludes other people. we can talk about nations or cultures or subcultures but melanin and values don't go to together.

you know, if it's the ONE very frustrating thing i cannot stand about this country is its black/white dichotomy which ignores diversity of all kinds and attributes all sorts of things to the expression of melanin. just as we don't want to be some collective non-individualized colussus of 'black people' neither should we own such a claim because that is the division on which all prejudice and sweep with one color (excuse the play on words) that we hate so much and yet we do to ourselves.

once and for all, there are no collective 'white people' as there are no collective 'black people' unless we're living in the jail systems of california.

but as bob would say, it's the mental slavery that holds us tighter than that put upon us by others.

luvlife0702 said...

PS what it means to be black in america is that i am black in america. it means a lot more to other people than it does to me. so far, i've got what i've wanted and i help those who haven't and i know that if some people are in do-do then we're all in do-do black or white or brown or red or yellow.

for me, to be black in america is that people like to imbue my experience with more meaning than is warranted. and since i bond with sufferers regardless of color or creed and feel no special hurt for black (brown?) folks being black means i'm visible in a sea of white and not so much in a sea of brown.

shit happens. being black is just one 'shit' that happened, just like for my white friends. there's a lot of other 'shit' that happens and this one is no more important than the others. don't get me started on being female LOL

chris said...

I have to take issue with some of the tenets of your latest blog. I read the report and as you suggested listened to the interview.

I know I am getting old and deaf and all those things but I do want to defend Juan and say at no time did I hear him admit “that the group of black people who work, are civic minded and oriented around responsibility are converging on a white value system.” He seemed careful not to say that and to reiterate what the Pew Research Center reported - "values held by black people and the values held by white people (have) become more similar." You are in danger of embracing a trusted value of Fox News…spin! LOL!

Having said that I also have a problem with the notion that there are black or white value systems? Surely it is an oxymoron that a value system is based on skin colour? I know, I know - this is an oxymoron that has been propagated in many other systems in society to the detriment of black people and minorities generally but that still does not make it right or even real…it is the consequence of it that makes it feel real to the victims. Value systems really develop through cultural, tribal, national and religious groups and probably some others I can’t think of at the moment…we now know there were value systems back in the days when the whole world was black!

The examples you quote are not synonymous with skin colour either – they are really, I hate to tell you, more synonymous with modern American values which sadly are being rapidly disseminated around the globe. If you still wish to persist with your colour difference argument may I remind you that, as far as the world’s demographers can ascertain, there are 600 million white people in the world, 40% of whom live in the USA - I think the remaining 60% might have something to say about greed, avarice and selfishness as white values! That temple you see before your eyes is the dome of the Capitol building…be afraid, be very afraid!

NikkiJ said...

I think the whole point is, why are the value systems of African Americans even being discussed as if at some point in American history we were all heathens who couldn't be controlled? It's insulting. To add insult to injury, white folks are brought into the analogy. It doesn't matter how careful he was not to flat out make the comparison. Don't sit back and discuss me and my ancestors as if we've evolved mysteriously somehow into a civilized group and then say that some of 'em are more civilized than the others, and oh yeah, I think it has something to do with how much money they earn.

Did you they mean to say that America has tried to crush and shape our values and dehumanize us, but still we overcame? Black folks have always had a value system and how dare anyone imply otherwise.

I wonder who else was involved in that conversation. Probably that white teacher from Everbody Hates Chris.

kamau said...

i don't argue that there are value systems based on color, rather i'm responding to the suggestion that black people have a value system, that there is something called black values, the good portion of which is supposedly converging to white values. the examples of men whose value systems are characterized by avarice and inhumanity are not designed to suggest that those are white values, but they are equivalent examples to those used to determine what "black values" are. in the end i suggest that human values of kindness and honesty are those that we ought to all seek and acquiring those is a challenge that all people face.