Cultural Caviar

The Real Black Sheep

August 26, 2014

Multiple Pages
The Real Black Sheep

In an interview last week with Taleeb Starkes, podcaster Adam Carolla asked the author of The Un-Civil War: Blacks vs. Niggers: Confronting the Subculture Within the African-American Community a cut-to-the-chase question:

If Starkes, who is black, could wave a magic wand and change one thing about his “community,” what would it be?

I figured he’d pick violence, education, or family structure. Instead, to my surprise, Starkes said he’d abolish his race’s corrosive cultural conformity.

To Starkes, those other, more widely discussed problems stem in large part from blacks’ stifling, self-imposed cookie-cutter culture:

There’s no diversity in the black community. It’s pretty much it’s just in our DNA to be one way, and if you’re not that way, you’re not (quote, unquote) “black.” And I would start there, because a lot of these kids are so urbanized, if you bring anything new or different outside of sports, hip hop, those two things mainly, you may be frowned upon, and that’s what I would change. What I’d like to do is get the kids out, let them see other things. Outside of the city. Again, they’re so urbanized, it’s foreign. … It worked for me as a kid. I got to see different things: trees, different place, it worked for me.

The word “urban” effortlessly became the new “black” sometime in the 1980s. If it’s really just a euphemistic code-word invented by whitey, that doesn’t explain why blacks themselves have so eagerly embraced it.

“Black hostility toward Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas has almost as much to do with her virtuosity at classical piano and his passion for RV travel than with the R after their names.”

As that annoying adjective makes clear, blacks fairly boast of their hatred for nature. Their comedy routines are larded with gags about their aversion to camping and swimming. Before Tiger Woods (who, remember, isn’t 100% black) and Obama (who isn’t either), golf—with all that grass and shit—was nothing more than a Richard Pryor punch line.

Now expand this Amish-like orthodoxy to include every aspect of life—education, sex, parenting, music, food, clothing, work, crime—and you get a picture of an African-American culture that is, ironically, more suffocatingly conformist than white America (supposedly) was in the “boring/evil” “Organization Man”/Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1950s.

(Actually, that’s another, particularly pernicious, myth invented by hippies to glorify their own advent and give their parents the collective finger.)

Black hostility toward Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas has almost as much to do with her virtuosity at classical piano and his passion for RV travel than with the R after their names.

Look at this famous scene from Barbershop, and the hot-footed reaction the old barber gets when he mocks received “urban” wisdom—which, he admits, he’d never do “in front of white folks”:

“Rodney King shouda got his ass beat,” “O.J. did it,” and “Fuck Jesse Jackson.”

Yes, it’s fiction, but Barbershop is also one of the most financially successful “black” movies ever, which speaks to its emotional veracity.

The double-barreled subtitles Starkes chose for his book are instructive. The first one points to Chris Rock’s notorious 1996 “Blacks vs. Niggers” routine—one he stopped performing because, well, white audiences liked it a little too much.

Starkes’ dueling subtitles seem to signify a struggle to properly summarize one of the key ideas in The Un-Civil War, one that centers around the word “subculture.”

Because for Starkes, that all too familiar black subculture—hip-hop music and dress; defiantly illiterate slang and dialect; the apparent inability to stay quiet in movie theaters or attend parties without bringing along firearms; the paternity tests on Maury—is not “sub” at all. That culture has become, shall we say, “uber.”

“[T]he underclass isn’t the face of white people,” he told Carolla. “And you know with black people I think it’s the opposite, the black underclass is the face of the black race in America.”

And not because of “the media” in particular or “the white man” in general, but because millions of blacks themselves—of all ages and classes—have embraced the uniform “urban” aesthetic (and, to some extent, the ethos that goes with it).

It’s a testament to the stifling conformity of the black community that pop subcultures such as whites (and certain nonwhites) conceive of them do not exist.

Think about it: except for Rastas, there are no African-American equivalents to the beatniks and goths, mods and rockers, skins and Teds, punks and new romantics, hippies and hipsters or (God help us) Juggalos.

Not only that, but very few blacks dare (or care) to venture into these mostly white subcultures. When they do—as punk pioneer of Jamaican descent Don Letts will frankly tell you—they are generally embraced by their new white friends and shunned by their old black ones. To cite the subculture I’m most familiar with, the total number of well-known black punks fits comfortably into, well, one 66-minute film. (Directed by a half-white guy.)

Imagine that the vast majority of white Americans of all ages and classes dressed as Teddy boys, that virtually the only music on the radio was rockabilly—and that this had been the case since 1958. Yet such an absurd scenario lines up perfectly with the creepily clone-like African-American culture of today. (Or should that be “Aspic-American”?)

The mockumentary Fear of a Black Hat is 20 years old, but its supposedly fictional “rappers” wouldn’t look that out of place walking the streets of 2014 Toronto or New York City. At least the population of Pompeii has a decent excuse.

If “diversity” is the cardinal virtue of our time, how interesting that the “urban community” doesn’t display much of it. If Starkes is correct, that fact isn’t just a trivial quirk of fashion and faddery; the massive peer pressure to “keep it real” and not “act white” is self-imposed cultural captivity. On this plantation, blacks are the slave drivers as well as the slaves.

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