Whose Black Is It Anyway???

“Philosophy is worthless if it is not practical.” – Frank Chimero


“FICTIVE KIN – Unrelated individuals who are addressed using kin terms”


I never really felt as disconnected from the overall fictive kinship that race promotes as I do in this era. This miasma of a zeitgeist of confusing political expressions vying for digital attention while neglecting to fill the voids left by expired luminaries in palpable space. I thought when I began to get older, I would want to be younger, like most sane well socialized United States citizens. But no. I just want to get older and enjoy the privacy of personal and sacred space before it is over. I no longer know who these US Blacks are, and I no longer know if I care to know.


I suppose it all occurred around that fateful day that we thought the negro was free. The morning of great tears of happiness and a pride born of distant identifications celebrating victories of individuals that would never know them. The sort of pride that comes when the baseball team branded with the same name of the city you are obligated by objective fact to call your nativity wins the World Series. It is an expected pride. An expected pride reflected in calls from your older cousin implying that you should get out and celebrate because, “Your city just won the World Series.” The day that Barry Obama walked across that stage with his wife at shotgun and his daughters in tow was like a National Nigga World Series win. A global Nigga World Series win, even.


And yet, after Albert Pujols decided to leave the city that had enshrined his likeness in metal, I considered the value of that statement, “Your city just won the World Series”. I mean, had St. Louis won it? Did every nigga from McCree to 82nd actually take part in that win? How does one measure the obligation to a city that does not pay them anything when leaders of sport’s teams that represent that city with a high volume of fan loyalty and financial compensation do not even find it fitting to be obligated? I drove around one night and everybody became a baseball fan. I woke up one morning and everybody became a goddamn nigga. And I began to ask myself, not only whose win was it, but also, whose Black is it any way?


Sociology professor Nancy Foner writes in 1999,”Kinship ties are an effective way to cope with uncertainty and economic scarcity.” “Strength” as it applies to interpersonal bonds can be defined as the degree and magnitude of emotional intensity, intimacy, and time shared that qualify a particular bond. Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu outline their definition of fictive kinship in “Black Students’ School Success: Coping With The ‘Burden Of “Acting White”‘ in this manner:

“What is fictive kinship?


*A kinshiplike relationship between persons not related by blood or marriage in a society, but who have some reciprocal social or economic relationship.


*A cultural symbol of collective identity (playkin, brotherhood and sisterhood, soul brother and soul sister, blood).


*A sense of peoplehood in opposition to white American social identity.


* The medium through which minorities distinguish the ‘real’ from ‘spurious members’.


*One learns the criteria for fictive kinship from parents and peers.


But being black does not result in automatic membership. One can be denied membership to the fictive kinship because one’s behavior, activities, and lack of manifest loyalty are at variance with those thought to be appropriate and group-specific.


One function of the fictive kinship is to invert the negative stereotypes and assumptions of whites into positive and functional attributes(dialect–ebonics, group loyalty in opposition to whites–O.J. Simpson?)”


Fictive kinship like territorial bonds pull at your emotional heart strings and forge these obligations that surpass critical thinking like traditional beliefs in a mythical creature. What makes OWL “Black”? And what does inclusion in said group entail? It would seem to me that social contracts based on shared genetic heritage or just historical territorial heritage are the easiest to render negligible. There is no national documentation of agreed upon terms that codifies one US Black person’s duty to another. There was never a Continental Congress for the Colored, which is probably why that term, “colored” encompasses so many other groups that share nothing but a supposed lack of genetic heritage with a group of people born on a particular grouping of land masses.


What truly bonds me with the nigga other than fear and misery? How feeble would a bond based on such qualities be? Thin enough to celebrate the victory of a man promising changes based on his skin pigment being slightly similar and yet his background and cultural heritage being nothing in common. Sort of like the residents of a city celebrating a victory they had nothing to do with other than live in the town that closed down the Black inner city schools to build the stadium the team that is branded with that town’s name plays in. Yet none of the players is tempered with any obligation to that city. In scope, the man promising the changes is not tempered with any obligations to his skin pigment.


I have watched Melissa Harris-Perry grow from a highly celebrated academic with a sort of cult following among young Black college aged girls, to a prominent media figure. A rise to immortality that comes on the back of a notion that she is a spokesperson for and expert in US Black Womanhood. And yet, her mother is a White Mormon. In the same way that Barry’s mother is a White Woman from Kansas and his father a Kenyan disowned by his family. A Blackness of one-drop rules, and in some instances, not even really a US Black drop, just any drop of blood that is not Whyte can include you into this little tacit thing of ours. What makes Barry or Melissa any less White than they are Black? When and where is the National Convention of Niggaz held this year so I might read the by-laws and run my finger through its rules of operation?


Black Entertainment Television(BET) the Washington, DC based entertainment company built by Robert Johnson was sold to Viacom for $2.3 billion in 2000, with finalized purchase by 2001. The year 2000. The year that was 14 years ago from the date of this writing you are reading. The company has been owned by a White company for six years shy of two decades but is still stamped with the appellation, “Black”. Whose Black is it?


ESSENCE magazine, a periodical and publication billed as catering to US Black Women readers sold 49% of its holdings to Time Inc in 2000. Yes, in the year 2000, which is 14 years ago from the date of this writing you are reading. The company has almost half(probably a majority stake holder) of its owner in the hands of a White business for fourteen years. In 2005, Essence communications, the company that owned Essence magazine sold the remaining 51% shares to Time Inc. In 2005, 9 years from the writing of this article you are now reading, Essence magazine, the magazine billed as for US Black Women, has been owned, en total, by White people. The company owned by White people for one year shy of an entire decade is still stamped with the appellation, “Black”. But whose Black is it?


JET magazine was pulled off of shelves with the final print issue published five days prior to the time of this writing. JET magazine and its greater sister publication, EBONY are published by Johnson Publishing, a Chicago staple. In 2011, JP Morgan purchased an undisclosed amount of shares of Johnson Publishing as a means to help the floundering company. Due to the agreement– and obviously, new authority at the shareholder table– the company was to use the funds to focus more on their interweb presence. This focus on the interweb digital presence seems to be the reason for the murder of JET magazine, a US Black cultural artifact, from print stands. How much of Johnson Publishing– the company that uses the appellations EBONY(Black) and JET(Black) as stamps on its major publications—is owned by Whites as opposed to Blacks, and whose Black is it anyway?


“Abstractions always distort and omit, because they have to. The trick is to be mindful it is happening.” – Frank Chimero


When did being “Black” become such an all-inclusive club? When did it become this exotic resort for the assimilated to bring their friends through like Jay-Z ushering Oprah through the projects he grew up in as if he had purchased them and turned them into some new commune of social evolution? How does a pride, a shame, a set of unwritten– and even worse, not agreed upon– set of standards based on a perception of inclusion represented by skin hue and tone help us? What powers of choice and resource are to be had when most of those worshiped and given authority in the group are assembled, associated, and assimilated in the very schools and corporate offices of the people that caused the misery that defines the bond based on “Black” blood to begin with? I fear that a capitalist system with its bourgeois radical notions and its consumeristic entrenchments of false status can never produce or nurture that type of social psychology that breeds loyalty to a heritage born in chains, torn mothers, and castrated maleness.


What further aches my soul(whatever that is) tends to be this need for a Barry Obama to walk as if he grew up in neighborhood or went to a school where “catting” even existed. A product of an extremely predominant White or very much other than US Blacks upbringing, I sincerely doubt he had much experience of the hourly reasoning behind the need to express a “cool pose” or whatever other superficial cultural artifacts so haphazardly gleaned through media representations of urban US Blacks on can imitate. I see this same appropriation, misappropriation, posturing (or whatever glossy hip term the alienated kids are borrowing from their sociology reading this year) when I watch Melissa Harris-Perry don braids on television. A hair style that images as recent as two months ago on Instagram show is not the hair style she wears when not on television. She initially styled her hair permed. But I suppose in this new media age we all must embrace the most nigga-like expressions. It all feels like overcompensation for lack of identity. I call it—hyperniggatude.


This childish echo of cries accusing “misappropriation” as if every artistic movement of US Blacks has not been met with this inclusion of all under the banner of “American” history. There is no US Black financed, funded, and solely operated museums of art that are globally recognized. Just like there are no US Black media operations that are solely Black owned, financed, and funded. Our loyalty to a skinship that is more volatile than that of most kinship ties has caused Shonda Rhimes to forget her loyal US Black Woman online powerbase in lieu of her “privileged” fellow alums at Darthmouth College.

I want to quote portions of her commencement speech for trajectory purposes, but I am also linking the transcript of that speech here as well as the video.


Rhimes starts with a shaky ode to fear and trepidation, and her need to express her own fear of public speaking and why she does writing behind the screens. Which is ironic given the most sticky portions of her commencement address. She continues her speech:

Look, it would be fine if this were, 20 years ago. If it were back in the day when I graduated from Dartmouth. Twenty-three years ago, I was sitting right where you are now. And I was listening to Elizabeth Dole speak. And she was great. She was calm and she was confident. It was just … different. It felt like she was just talking to a group of people. Like a fireside chat with friends. Just Liddy Dole and like 9,000 of her closest friends. Because it was 20 years ago. And she was just talking to a group of people.


Now? Twenty years later? This is no fireside chat. It’s not just you and me. This speech is filmed and streamed and tweeted and uploaded. NPR has like, a whole site dedicated to Commencement speeches. A whole site just about commencement speeches. There are sites that rate them and mock them and dissect them. It’s weird. And stressful. And kind of vicious if you’re an introvert perfectionist writer who hates speaking in public in the first place.


This is interesting here because later she will respond that her commencement speech is indeed a “fireside chat”. And also include that as her defense, because her fireside chat was only for those outdoors getting intoxicated from the fumes wafting through the “rare air” of Ivy League graduation. I personally think the “fireside chat” bit borrowed a few too many times in this era should have been replaced by what Rhimes titles the speech during the speech herself: “Some Random Stuff Some Random Alum Who Runs a TV Show Thinks I Should Know Before I Graduate”. Very apropos and extremely apt at pointing out the very flaky nature of the speech presenter.


She then in her “privileged Black chick from some eastern area” condescending tone begins to lament cynical criticisms of what she believes the standard commencement speech includes. She states that she believes being told to follow ones’ dreams is, as she words it, “I think that’s crap.”


(She’s such an eloquent troll.)


Her substitute for dreams? Fleeting actions with no direction. In her words,

“maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new”.

To be completely honest here for no other reason than I still have those really costly things called “principles”, I do agree with Rhimes. Of course, I also agree that one should follow their dreams and spend some time finding a passion and sketching out their visions. But alas, I’m just a lowly servile who has yet to taste the obviously meth infused “rare air” above Ivy league graduation ceremonies.


So, after Rhimes rehashes how she cried on the floor of her dorm room whilst her mom packed her bags after her graduation, she makes these comments:


Find a cause you love. It’s OK to pick just one. You are going to need to spend a lot of time out in the real world trying to figure out how to stop feeling like a lost loser, so one cause is good. Devote some time every week to it.


Oh. And while we are discussing this, let me say a thing. A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething


Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing on your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show. I do it all the time. For me, it’s Game of Thrones.

Once again, I agree with Rhimes. Not totally. And not to the extent that I would have not qualified every one of those sentences with a “but I love my fans that have made my lackluster show a ratings monolith due to their hashtags, and since many of them are also hashtag activists, I salute their efforts wholeheartedly.” But, I am not writing this while catching contact highs from that rare strain of air they breathe at Ivy League graduation ceremonies.


Unfortunately, for Rhimes, neither were her fans. As Rhimes once again left her Ivy League alma mater–alma mater a latin phrase denoting a fictive kinship encompassing a mother to child relationship– her fan base was taking to Twitter seeking an explanation to her comments about hashtags. And because Rhimes is so not a hypocrite, she responded to her fans, via Twitter. I am posting the Twitter response in full twice, one as a quote the other as an embed. I want to make sure this lasts for a few years.

“I see there is some drama about what I said about hashtag activism. Which makes me think some of you who are upset did not actually read or hear my speech (I invite you to watch it — the link is here). I was very clear. That speech I gave? Was for the 1100 or so students graduating from Dartmouth on Sunday. If you were receiving the privilege of breathing the rare air that comes with getting an Ivy League degree on Sunday, I was talking to you. I was talking to those to whom much has been given and I was reminding them that much is expected (Robert Kennedy) Hashtags are amazing for raising awareness. But I was telling them to go beyond that and do more. To actively try to give back in a hands on way. If you were not receiving a degree from Dartmouth on Sunday? I was not talking about you. I wasn’t even talking to you. I love that so many people saw and responded to the speech. But as I said in my speech, I was having a fireside chat with my Dartmouth peeps, remember?


Have a lovely day! (Am going back to my hiatus and my Orange is the New Black Watching)


#dartmouth14 #hashtag

The privileged and rare air of her fictive kinship and bond with the Darthmouth alum is obviously more important than the one shared with her and US Black Women online and off, that would seek her out for a less snarky and elitist response to a really simple concern. The fact that she felt the need to type these very snide lines points to my overall concern with blind loyalty to race, ethnicity, nationality, and just blind loyalty in general. Shonda Rhimes does not owe me anything, and whatever she does owe me, I better chalk up to the game—as we say. I suggest you do the same. Her “Black”—or whoever’s Black it might be—is not a Black that feels compelled to return a favorable response to a confused group of young US Black women possibly hoping to follow in her footsteps in the same manner those she is tasked to mentor vis-à-vis a commencement speech at that oh so privileged Ivy League university. Her accomplishments once planted a seed of hope and pride in the hearts and minds of those that she shared race and gender with, Rhimes thought less of those memberships.


Maybe we all should follow suit.