This is a guest post for swpd by thesciencegirl, a 20something medical and graduate student living in Chicago, IL. She describes herself as biracial, having both black and Italian-American heritage. Although her professional focus is in science and medicine, she has a long-held personal interest in understanding and combating racism and other forms of prejudice.
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is in the news (again) for saying something wildly inappropriate. In an Esquire interview, he was quoted as saying,
I’m blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up.
It’s clear what Blago’s conception of blackness is: poor, shoe-shinin’, not whatever Barack Obama is. So often the only view of blackness that whites have is only reflective of one segment of the black population, and even that segment has been reduced to a stereotype: poor, uneducated, inner-city, inarticulate, from broken families, criminal, etc. Rarely is there open white acknowledgment of the black middle class, of healthy black families, or of a wider range of interests and styles beyond hip-hop culture. And then there are all of the character traits (or lack thereof) assigned to blackness, and this is most telling in how white people react to black individuals who counteract their ideas of blackness. “You’re so articulate/clean/intelligent/pretty/educated/etc for a black person.” Or “you’re not really black.”
Remember VP Joe Biden’s comment during the 2008 presidential election about Obama?
I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.
It often seems as though whites are heavily invested in the idea of a black monolith. They can easily conceive of diversity within their own ranks, but not amongst black people.
So, my preliminary questions are these:
How is blackness defined by whites? By blacks? By others?
Why do you think that this narrow definition exists?
How is a limited definition of blackness damaging to black people?
How do you define blackness?