For several years now, I have been discussing fictive kinship obligations as they relate to media. What I have wished to communicate is a need for vigilance and criticism regarding those using racial capital to obligate viewers to view, listeners to listen, and more importantly, voters to vote.
While I do realize it is necessary to explain what kinship means to leading or adopted anthropologists, I also do not want to spend too much time and/or space doing so. Not because such an undertaking is unworthy, simply that I do not wish to spend another year detailing what I believe could easily become another tangent in fleshing out my thoughts therein.
As far as Black Media Trust is concerned presently, Media Driven Racialized Fictive Kinship Obligations are detrimental and must be criticized when located. In order to explain or properly define Media Driven Racialized Fictive Kinship Obligation, there are a few concepts I must unfold.
Most apparent at this time, is explaining fictive kinship obligations. If I unravel that, then I believe it will be helpful to also explain what is being stated by students in relevant fields as kinship obligations or kinship responsibilities.
My concerns also revolve around local versus distant, or for my purposes, media driven, racial ties. Kinship at local levels, or micro levels, tends to be less pernicious, more beneficiary, than its more macro, or distant variety, at least through screens and paper. This is not to convey that long distance relationships instantiated via social media or online correspondence cannot have strong and nurturing bonds. I differentiate “distance” not so much by physical proximity, but by familiarity–ie, how often involved parties are communicating and how intimately their communications are.
One danger of using race as a major qualifier of heritage is that race does not imply or even suggest descent. Descent is actual humans that I descend from. My racial heritage in many ways is a fictional device. By fictional, I do not mean fanciful, or fantastic, I simply mean an invention or adoption that is not necessarily an objective or measurable reality. My adoption of Malcolm X as racial predecessor whom I have received an extended racial heritage from is predominantly fictional.
In his collection of essays, “Class Notes”, Adolph Reed, Jr takes on this topic of race. He describes it more as a system of exclusion than a biological unit. He writes:
…race and ethnicity are simply categories of social hierarchy; they are just labels for different magnitudes of distance from the most desirable status on a continuum of “okayness.” The farther out a population is on that continuum, the more likely it will be seen as a “racial” group; i it’s somewhat nearer in, it’ll more likely be understood as an “ethnicity”.“Class Notes: Posing As Politics And Other Thoughts On The American Scene”, Adolph Reed, Jr, pg 139
Further, Reed, Jr explains:
“Race” is purely a social construction; it has no core reality outside a specific social and historical context. That is not to say that it doesn’t exist or that it is therefore meaningless, but its material force derives from state power, not some ahistorical “nature” or any sort of primordial group affinities…
…Racial difference is not merely reflected in enforced patterns of social relations; it emerges exclusively from them.ibid, 140
Expounding and expanding this particular line of reasoning vis a vis race, sociologist and historian, respectively, sisters Karen and Barbara Fields frame “race” as ideology. In their own words, they define “ideology” as such:
Ideology is best understood as the descriptive vocabulary of day-to-day existence through which people make rough sense of the social reality that they live and create from day to day. It is the language of consciousness that suits the particular way in which people deal with their fellows. It is the interpretation in thought of the social relations through which they constantly create and recreate their collective being, in all the varied forms their collective being may assume: family, clan, tribe, nation, class, party, business enterprise, church, army, club, and so on.
…Ideologies do not need to be plausible, let alone persuasive, to outsiders. They do their job when they help insiders make sense of the things they do and see–ritually, repetitively–on a daily basis.“Racecraft: The Soul Of Inequality In American Life”, Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, pgs. 134-135
Given this line of thinking they continue to define race beyond simply a social construction, determining to caution against conflating “race” with “racism”.
“Race” appears in the titles of an ever-growing number of scholarly books and articles as a euphemism for slavery, disfranchisement, segregation, lynching, mass murder, and related historical atrocities; or as unintentionally belittling shorthand for “persons of African descent and anything pertaining to them.”
…identifying race as a social construction does nothing to solidify the intellectual ground on which it totters. The London Underground and the United States of America are social constructions; so are the evil eye and the calling of spirits
formthe vasty deep; and so are murder and genocide .
Fields, ibid 100-101
…Race belongs to the same family as the evil eye. Racism belongs to the same family as murder and genocide. Which is to say that racism, unlike race, is not a fiction, an illusion, a superstition, or a hoax. It is a crime against humanity.
I realize that this a lot to consume in one sitting, so I will reiterate my thesis before incorporating above logic. Black Media Trust suggests that US Blacks use race, or racial capital, as a means to market texts/media production and influence other US Blacks without same scrutiny that would be expected of others doing similar, often extending a Messiah effect to those US Blacks despite whatever ulterior or mundane motives drive their actions.
I am adopting this idea that race is not racism. I am furthering that notion by arguing that racism on part of racist creates this all-encompassing fiction of obligation to people based not on “blood” or marriage ties. This blind obligation to strangers based on ideology –or ritual –of race cripples critical thinking and cognitive defensive strategies.
What Black Media Trust purports to point out is that “race” does not insulate us from manipulation, exploitation, or oppression. Actual or formal kinship bonds cannot even do this. Our actual relatives born of our grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces or nephews do not have some internal moral switch that prevents them from taking advantage of us or harming us. Humanity has learned again and again that shared color, and nationality set no automatic limit to oppression.
I do not wish for Black Media Trust to be confused for a complete attack on either racially situated fictive kinship or fictive kinship in general. I assert that media-driven and distant forms of fictive kinship where both parties are not familiar with one another intimately, or experience extremely high disparities of influence, authority or power are dangerous. Fictive kinship bonds that are established between individuals that know one another personally–while subject to any form of abuse any other relationship is subject to–tend to be less pernicious than assumed bonds based solely on presumed shared perceptions of group membership.
I would like to note here that research into US Black Families and Family structures during US Slavery does not reject my notions. Cited most often is work done by Herbert G. Gutman in his 1976 rigorous work on this topic, “The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750–1925”. In this document, he observes that children on plantations were instructed by other US Blacks/Afrikans to refer to their elders who were unrelated to them by blood or marriage by titles like “Aunt” or “Uncle”. This is reinforced by further observations that Whyte people did not practice these same fictive kinship obligations until after 1800s.
What I would remind my readers is that Black Media Trust is predominantly located in media theory. During 1750s to 1925, there was not much televisual or even broadcast radio penetration into US Black communities. It can be argued that during these formative years, most of US Black influence of US Blacks was local, intimate, and direct. This is not to suggest that Gutenberg’s awesome press did not have any impact on US Blacks vis a vis influence and persuasion, but this would be limited given limited number of literate US Blacks(as well as Whytes in colonies and early USA proper) during these years. Also, how we understand “race” in 2019(year that I am writing this) and early Twentieth century are different understandings.
In Twenty-First Century USA, race is an ideology limited to binary social positions of NonWhyte and Whyte. This modern binary arrangement complicates readings from prior eras and nations that locate race in a space that defined race more like national identities or tribal ones. This does negate Adolph Reed, Jr’s rendering of “race”, it just means more gradients vying for recognition as desirable.
Contemporary examples of this difference might include Kamala Harris’s reduction of race to superficial cultural practices like eating soul food or listening to
In examining Barrack Obama’s particular exploitation of race centered fictive kinship we notice how he plays overseer to US Blacks for Whytes. His manifestation is that of hegemonic liaison. In a discussion with Sway for MTV, Obama says “brothers need to pull their pants up,” despite sagging being a fashion trend among teenagers in general, not just US Blacks males. Pointing this out may have worked better in discussing why such laws are egregiously racist. Obama also was known for his respectability angle, criticized for his condescending tone with US Black audiences, specifically his 2013 Morehouse commencement address.
No other child of a Whyte mother from Kansas raised by Whyte grandparents in Hawaii would be allowed to publicly chastise US Blacks in such a manner. Obama’s perceived racial kinship afforded him this pass. Regardless of whether he actually had any ties or familiarity with those Kenyans that provided him his “Black pass”, he is allowed to represent Black people everywhere.
Obama’s specific demonstration of respectability notwithstanding, his embrace of US Blacks as a constituency flooring public grievance is even more appalling. His response to a Black child being murdered in Florida while walking home from a store with tea and bag of skittles and no arrest was instructive of his paucity of concern. His inability to respond with more than charming smiles and witty one-liners would trademark him as murders of Blacks by cops and other Whytes became a stamp on his entire presidency. His no show in Ferguson during protests for Mike Brown while his voting bloc endured teargas only accentuated Obeezy’s trademark pattern of distance. When he called protesters in Baltimore “thugs” for exercising their right to
This particular strain of racecraft overlooks local, or micro, expressions, experiences, and existential factors concomitant how people actually go about living life in collective spaces. Race in this thinking substitutes actuality for simulation. It no longer matters if one is aware of conditions related to a constituency, organization, or community–by virtue of skin color or ancestry assumed by
One-drop rule racism to my knowledge originates in US slavery. Despite its ongoing legacy of USA’s contribution to Whyte Supremacy and European expansion projects, US Slavery had another objective and purpose: capital. What I would like to discuss in this short span left are two conceptualizations of capital that inform Black Media Trust as they influence US Blacks. These two conceptualizations are social capital and racial capital.
Since racial capital is conceptually dependent on understandings of social capital, we will start with social capital first. Credited with its rise in popularity for connecting his ideas of social capital to rise of neoliberalism, sociologist James Coleman define social capital in his work entitled, “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital”. In this piece, he writes:
Social capital is defined by its function. It is not a single entity but a variety of different entities, with two elements in common: they all consist of some aspect of social structures, and they facilitate certain actions of actors–whether persons or corporate actors–within the structure. Like other forms of capital, social capital is productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that in its absence would not be possible. Like physical capital and human capital, social capital is not completely fungible but may be specific to certain activities. A given form of social capital that is valuable in facilitating certain actions may be useless or even harmful“Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital”, James Coleman, American Journal of Sociology, S98
As an illustration of this form of capital, Coleman references Jewish wholesale diamond merchant communities. He reminds us of level of trust necessary for diamonds to be exchanged(“In the process of negotiating a sale, a merchant will hand over to another merchant a bag of stones for the latter to examine in private at his leisure, with no formal insurance that the latter will not substitute one or more inferior stones or paste replica”). He explains that en lieu of formal protections, they have a set of social checks and balances to offset desires to violate or breech trust(“A given merchant community is ordinarily very close, both in the frequency of interaction and in ethnic and family ties…It is essentially a closed community”).
By this limited and admittedly cursory understanding of social capital, I would invite you to consider how much US Blacks lack these sorts of safeguards as we move into a discussion of racial capital. Race alone is not micro, or local, enough of a concept to provide de facto insurances against abuses or exploitations of trust. One cannot simply show up with a stylish kippah on and begin exchanging on a Jewish diamond market in Brooklyn. Race, ethnicity, and even religious affiliations of a purely ascriptive nature are too distant of a bonding medium to work as capital — or a “pass” or some sort of “barbeque/picnic invitation” — in this sort of well connected, closed community structure.
Black Media Trust suggests that trust in a fictive kinship obligation must be mitigated by a local or highly intimate set of connections. There needs to be a significant level of contact frequency of a personal sort. Fictive kinship obligations cannot safely be based on parasocial relationships. However, US Blacks are consistently asked to vote for persons outside of their communities with no direct ties other than race. It is here that I would like to borrow from Nancy Leong’s “Racial Capitalism”.
Published in Harvard Law Review’s June 2013 issue, “Racial Capitalism” explores race as a commodity in Marxian terms, diversity as a market motivator and aspiration, and how this gives value to
From her eponymous work:
Research on social capital and status markets, in conjunction with the Marxian concepts of commodities and capital, provides the foundation for the concept of racial capital. I define racial capital as the economic and social value derived from an individual’s racial identity, whether by that individual, by other individuals, or by institutions. The value is not always economic in the immediate sense, although it may often be transformed into economic terms…It might provide credibility in making decisions that affect public policy.
…racial capitalism — the process of deriving social and economic value from the identity of another — occurs when racial capital is exchanged in the market.
Harvard Law Review June 2013 pg 2190
At this junction, Black Media Trust is more concerned with an expressed usage of racial capital here.
Black Media Trust contends that US Blacks can be positioned in such a way as to use their racial capital to manipulate other US Blacks in harmful ways. As proven here, race is not enough to insulate members from racial exploitation any more than national identity prevents other members of that nation from exploiting citizens of that same nation.