Mama Tate says there are fifty black people in the world who know how to read and write, and they all know one another. Granddaddy Henry Grinner said no matter where you go in the world and no matter what you see, somewhere up in there you will find a negro.
As we saunter into the millennium the question arises, just whose black culture is it anyway? Who will define the terms of blackness for the next century? Our educated and privileged elites or our toiling masses and grassroots politicians? Our Fortune 500 companies or our hiphop nation? (If they aren't one and the same by the time you read this.)
Let's talk about Black, Inc. Who owns it, who controls it, who's making the big bucks by keeping it real?
In the late 20th century the question arose, Are you now or have you ever been a member of the hiphop nation?
You answered: I claim affiliation, but I ain't sweating Tommy Hilfigger.
The question arose: Are you black or are you a brand name junkie?
You answered: I am an endangered person of African descent seeking political asylum and consumer protection.
You know we have always wanted it all, man. The color of money and the communion of funk. The approval of white people and the remote distance of nigger heaven. Two souls warring in one body said W. E. B. Du Bois at the dawn of the 20th century, one African and one American.
All praises due to the prophet Berry Gordy. He forged our modern-day synthesis of black entrepreneurship and black pleasure. I mean, this is the man who taught the Civil Rights Movement how to dance on Wall Street.
Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, and the Black Panther Party. They're the ones who vilified the black middle class and deified the black revolutionary--armed, dangerous, and straight out of some ghetto mentality. Then came Blaxpoitation. The Bloods and The Crips. Crossover Dreams.
Time marches on and Ice Cube a.k.a. architectural drafting school graduate and two-parent-family-reared O'Shea Jackson invents Gangsta rap on NWA's debut album Straight Outta Compton. Thereby upholding a tradition Ralph Ellison commented on in Invisible Man of discontented, crafty, and charismatic middle-class black boys inciting the lumpen proletariat for existential fun and profit.
It might be unfair to say someone had to pay for Ice Cube's sins, but it turned out to be Tupac Amaru Shakur, who may also hold the dubious honor of being the last martyr of the 1960s.
In The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual Harold Cruse proposed to answer why all mass black political movements fail. Cruse thought they failed because none conceived of strategies which a la Berry Gordy synthesized cultural, political, and economic agendas. A simpler answer might be that, more often than not, self-interest prevails over group solidarity.
Black unity is a dream package that would have us believe police informers. Molotov tossing anarchists, lesbian literati, and Jesus freaks can co-exist on the same race platform. They might reside within the black body more comfortably than the black body politic.
We may easily agree about the need to combat injustice and inequality, but watch your back when the conversation turns to issues of style, sexuality, free speech, and class. …