Glenn Beck on Blackness
On his radio show yesterday, Glenn Beck was his usual self. Essentially saying stupid and shocking things and sounding like an old guy trying to kick everyone off his lawn. Yawn. Same old, same old. Of course he had a segment where he used Black people as an example for some agenda without actually knowing ANYTHING about Black people, but that’s kinda what he does everyday. Not a really big deal. But then I saw the transcripts of what he said and realized that on this issue, he’s not really some loony guy in the corner mouthing off. On the issue he raised, what exactly we call Black people, I think there is a lot of public debate as to whether to use “African-American” or Black or whatever.
He started out by lamenting (out of nowhere) how “stupid” it was to use the term “African-American” anywhere else on the Earth. Then he wondered why we can’t use the term “colored” anymore because they use it in South Africa for a group of people (he didn’t bother to look up what the term actually means there, but whatever). Then he said:
“African American” was not made to do anything except try to create a super man. “Oh don’t you dare feel bad about yourself! You’re African American!” No. You’re an American. Instead of building the country up and saying, “Lookit. We all have the right, here in this country… Look at what happened with Martin Luther King. That makes you an American. ‘Judge not by the color of your skin.’” And you weren’t over in Africa! Your great-great-great grandfather was, your great-great-great-great grandfather may have been, but you weren’t!
And sure this country sucked for blacks. Sucked. Beyond sucked, for a long time. But it doesn’t now. It doesn’t now. Be proud to be an American.”
Check the video here. In the blogosphere, I’m seeing a lot of support for Beck’s comments, and I’m sitting here wondering what the hell is going on. It seems people really are taking a disliking to having to call people “African-American” as opposed to whatever they want to call us. And I’m calling bullshit. For one, if Glenn Beck had even bothered to do any type of research, he would know that South Africa is one of the most racist countries in the freaking world, even post-apartheid, and that the word “coloured” used to describe people came from a legacy of even deeper white privilege and racism than our own. Essentially, to save themselves the trouble of actually having to classify people by real qualities, the European ruling class created two underclasses, the coloureds and the Blacks. Blacks were essentially the indigenous peoples and the coloureds were anybody who had some origin not of indigenous South Africa or Europe. Essentially, the system would be like if we had an official codified system that just recognized “Whites,” “Niggers,” and “Lighter Niggers.”
Comparing anything to South Africa as a model of fairness in racial terminology would be like…well…comparing anything to the US as a model of fairness in racial terminology. Glenn didn’t even know what the term “coloured” referred to so I wouldn’t expect him to have a firm grasp of this concept. So no, I don’t think we should use “colored” again just because it’s cool in South Africa. As for his resentment of the term “African-American,” the term was a deliberate attempt by our communities in the 1980s to reclaim a shred of our pre-colonial identity after a centuries-long effort to de-legitimize African and Black history and strip us of any non-American identity. It was reactionary and didn’t really have an effect, but that’s all we had. And we are the ONLY group in America that has that problem. With assistance, most other people in this country can trace their ancestry back generations to other countries and continents. We really can’t.
So what seems to be Beck’s argument, and a popular refrain, that we need to “embrace” being simply American or whatever, doesn’t make sense to me. We are the 2nd most uniquely American group in this country. Our cultural memory beyond these shores has been largely erased, and we were created from capitalism. We WERE commodities. We helped build the infrastructure of this country and emphasize hypercapitalism through a lot of our art forms. Our music became American music. Our dance became American dance. We had to fight for our very rights to live and vote here. Our story IS America. That’s really all there is to say. To say that we somehow need to embrace being more American is to ignore how much of our identity has been shaped here as compared to other ethnic groups. Calling ourselves “African-Americans” is really just a way to try and claim a part of ourselves (a history) that every other group here already has.
The continued use of Dr. King’s words to say things clearly without having studied him, and the continued assertion that America is so amazing notwithstanding, I really think Glenn Beck in this case does represent a large portion of popular opinion in this matter. Despite the fact that we will NEVER be considered simply “American” by the majority, we are pressed to become more “American” and more thankful of the abundant and wonderful opportunities that have been so graciously bestowed upon us. Bullshit. Also, the notion that you can somehow change what you call us simply because you don’t like it really smacks of a time when whites DID control what we were called. That didn’t work out so well. A name is a name, and it should never be up to the whim of another what you should be called, whether we prefer Black or Blacker or Afro-American.