Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is There Such A Thing As A White Standard of Behavior?

I am currently reading Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by the late Manning Marable, and as I was reading, I came across two passages in the book that brought me to the question in the title of this blog post, Is There Such a Thing As A White Standard of Behavior? To set the stage, Mr. Marable is describing life in the 1930’s and 1940’s and in his description he talks about the clothing and music that had become popular during that time. The two passages that caught my attention were as follows:

“Similarly, the zoot suit uniform was an act of defiance against white standards of behavior.” (page 45)

“Like the zoot-suiters, beboppers implicitly rejected assimilation into standards established by whites and were contemptuous of the police and the power of the U.S. government over black people’s lives. Both sought to carve out identities that blacks could claim for themselves.” (page 63)
For years the question has plagued me concerning why we [African Americans] do some of the things that we do. I am speaking particular of things that just don’t make sense such as sagging pants; caps worn in every way accept the way in which it was made; taking derogatory terms such as “nigger” and thinking we are redefining it by our use instead of a Caucasian person using it; using Ebonics and slang; not getting our education; wearing our boots/sneakers untied; wearing raggedy clothing such as ripped jeans; and the list goes on and on. Supposedly all of this is done to create our own individual and unique “identity,” which made the Marable passages leap off of the page at me.

I’ve asked this question in other blog posts as well concerning how silly are we [African Americans] willing to look in order to create this individual and unique identity? The Marable passages helped me to see clearer what I believe that we believe we are doing when we are doing some of the silly stuff that I see on a day in and day out basis and that is we truly believe that we are defying this alleged “white standard of behavior.” In too many of our [African American] minds we truly believe that there is such a thing as a white standard of behavior opposed to just a standard of excellence that is a standard for everyone regardless of what color, race, or creed that we are. That’s where this notion of someone who speaks well is seen as “talking white,” or someone who does something in an excellent manner as “acting white.” The last time I looked, doing something in its correct manner does not have a color, race or creed associated with it. You either do it in an excellent manner or you don’t. Wearing pants with your underwear showing is not symbolic of excellence. Dummying one’s self down because you don’t think it is cool to be smart is not symbolic of excellence. What are African Americans who tell other African Americans that they talk or act white saying about African Americans? Are they saying that African Americans ought to be illiterate and do things ass-backwards? Do we really think about what we are saying when we say that to each other? Secondly, the statement gives too much credit to White people. Who says that doing something in a correct, proper or excellent manner is only done by White People? Yet that is what the  "You speak or act white” statement says.

That’s why Mr. Marable’s words describing the 1930’s and 1940’s made me wonder if that is what we call ourselves [African Americans] doing (showing defiance against white standards of behavior and rejecting assimilation into standards established by whites) and if so, to what lengths are we willing to go particularly when we are making ourselves [African Americans] look like fools. We are not looking unique,we are looking like fools. So the question is, is there such a thing as a white standard of behavior or is it just a standard of behavior to achieve excellence?

Why not defy this so called white standard (if exists) by surpassing it? Surpassing it educationally; surpassing it behaviorally; surpassing it financially; surpassing it in responsibility. No, instead we defy it by sagging our pants, twisting our caps with the stupid little label still affixed to the brim , calling women bitches and hoes (whores), dropping out of school, etc. etc. etc.

Now I know there are some brothers (and perhaps sisters) out there who will challenge me and even try to argue that we [African Americans] ought to be able to act anyway we want. After all we were brought to this country against our will in chains and on the slave ships. As sure as you are reading this (if you have read this far) there will be some brother(or sister) out there looking to condone our [ African Americans] irresponsible behavior thinking he/she is indeed defying this “white standard of behavior,” while in the meantime we are falling further and further behind in every category. Oh and now the brother will say that it is by design that we are falling behind. I know the arguments, I hear them all of the time, yet the fact of the matter is, for the most part African Americans have the highest numbers in anything negative and the lowest numbers for anything positive and it does not have to be. In many instances we are our own worst enemy. So I don’t know about you but if there is such a thing as a “white standard of behavior,” I am looking as an African American male to go way beyond it; however, I don’t think a “white standard of behavior” exists and that there is only a standard of excellence that applies to us all regardless of color race or creed. More to critically think about and as always I welcome your thoughts in the comment section of the blog.


stephanie said...

You made a few good points but I disagree with 90% of the argument. To say there isn't or hasn't been been a "white standard" is almost to say there isn't or hasn't been thoughts and beliefs of white supremacy. The two are insoluble.

Sterling J. Flint said...

Well Sir I would need a million characters in order to properly convey my profound disagreement with you're argument.I will say though that the principled fallacy in your argument is your failure to recognize the cultural and multi-cultural differences between whites and people of color, which is something I see as key as you have slightly altered Mr. Mannings point.

But there are indeed standards in EVERY cultural background, be it aesthetically, socially or otherwise, that are innate to every persons existence. And if one is faced with the cohabitation of another culture one has only a few choices. One can completely assimilate within that culture, abandoning all that is natural to them losing their born identity-- one can two, retain there own culture completely, which would leave them fragmented from all cultural society that is not there own. Or lastly they can do both, which would allow one to both retain and share certain cultures of their own while at the same time borrow from those of other cultures who are amongst them.

So though I agree with where Mr. Marble when he spoke on rebellion as well because the retention of one's cultural historical link can be an act of rebellion - it is also a manifestation of one who hasn't completely assimilated within popular cultural...i.e the way one might wear their ball cap. But let me add if you go to various suburban areas you will notice that many whites have adopted/stolen black culture.

Marc A. Medley said...

@stephanie The Critical Thinker is doing exactly as it is designed to do and that is foster debate, so the fact that you disagree is o.k. That is your right. First, I did not say that there isn't or hasn't been a "white standard;" however, the standard I am speaking of is behavior and that is colorless. Let's not confuse a standard of behavior with the double standard of consequences that were and still are given to African Americans and other minority groups who participate in the same bad or illegal behavior as the majority or Caucasian group. A standard of behavior and a double standard concerning consequences are two different things.

A standard of excellence of which I am speaking of has no race or color. Either you do something excellently or you don't. Either you behave correctly or you don't. Right and wrong does not discriminate except in the cases of the double standard. Right is right and wrong is wrong regardless of who does the right or does the wrong. Again do not become confused with the double standard which is a seperate issue. White supremacy is about power and not about behavior. In fact the supremacists are the ones who impart the double standard to always have things come out in their favor. That's about keeping power and degrading another. It is for this very reason that I am such a strong proponent for African Americans doing things in such as way that if anything, whatever we do surpasses what the supremacists try make it appear that we cannot do. The supremacists says we cannot be educated. The supremacists says we cannot take care of business. The supremacists believe that all we can do is shake our tails and shoot a ball through a hoop and I am saying the sad part is in 2011 we are perpetuating the very stereotypes and negative behaviors that the supremacists believe and they now don't have to do a thing. As African Americans we must strive for excellence not for them but for ourselves. A standard of excellence knows no color. It's not about trying to be white because there are far too many whites who are not excellent. It's about being the absolute best you can be. I close again with a reminder not to confuse the double standards imposed by those in power with the standard of excellence that I write about in this blog post.

Marc A. Medley said...

@SterlingJ.Flint The Critical Thinker is doing exactly as it is designed to do and that is foster debate, so the fact that you disagree is o.k. That is your right. First I fully recognize the cultural and multi-cultural differences between whites and people of color; that is not the issue I was addressing. I am addressing our aberrent behaviors that perpetuate the white race believing that we are all stupid shuckin' and jivin' monkeys when I know as a proud African American that we are not. I have not asked anyone to abandon their born identity, in fact I am looking for more of us [African Americans] to show just how excellent we are. We are from kings and queens. The behaviors of sagging pants, speaking Ebonics, not getting our education, hanging on street corners, not paying child support, and the list goes on and on and on.... constantly make our white counter parts believe that they are correct about there not being a need for African Americans to ever have been born or that African Americans contribute nothing to society. Again as a proud African American, I know this is not the case. I find it interesting that when we are challenged to raise our game to a higher level that we can always come up with excuses opposed to taking our game to another level. The excuses include what the "white man" is doing to us.

The Great Blacks In Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland has a T-Shirt that reads "Now We Lynch Ourselves" with the pictures of drug needles, guns, knives, etc surrounding the tagline and it is a powerful message that really says it all. No one is asking anyone to abandon anything other than behavior that is taking us backward rather than forward. There is no doubt that once African Americans master anything we surpass our counterparts, i.e. Tiger Woods, The Williams Sisters, The late Reginald "Why should white guys have all the fun?" F. Lewis, and that list goes on and on too. My point is, excellence has no color or race.

In terms of stolen legacies, I am with you 100% on that one. African Americans do things with a flair that can only be copied and in most instances have with the imitators making millions from the ideals that were stolen or copied.

I was in a coffee shop yesterday and a white boy strolled in with his cap turned backwards with the label stuck on the brim and I just chuckled because he truly thought he was being cool. Yes, it was copied from the Black community. Doesn't make it no more right than when the black kid is wearing it, but the style was copied nonetheless.

Thanks for your response, I enjoy the debate.