The end of racism.
Abdul-Walid writes feelingly about being black and not encountering significant racism in his adopted country of “Acerbia.” But he also misses something else in his chosen academic field: other African Americans.
Even African-American literary studies, where arguably the biggest strides in African-American scholarship have been made, is characterized more by boosterism and cheerleading than by the rigorous and dispassionate analysis that gives other scholars a sense of what’s worth celebrating and what should be consigned to the dustbin of history. But this, I suppose, only mirrors trends in the academic humanities, where political considerations trump aesthetic ones. And yet, in the absence of internal criticisms, systems will naturally tend towards the fascistic, stifling dissent, and reifying one final and official version of all narratives.
The parochial narratives African-Americans are writing for themselves prepare them ill for full participation in a truly multicultural society. Other stories need a place at this table. A good place to start would be to ask why more of the 80% of African Americans who are partly white don’t explore this part of their heritage. Why don’t people take the absolute miscibility of race as evidence that race ultimately is a social fiction? Why is it almost universally assumed, among blacks, that race should continue to matter indefinitely? It’s one thing to be shackled, but to be shackled by a fiction is a galling thing.
When I meet African-Americans (especially in the university context), and they ask what I am doing, I tell them. My field of study, which is basically something as “authentically black” as Byzantine epigraphy or Japanese architecture, is not what they expect. The reaction, often, is not good. “What the hell are you doing that for?” Peer pressure doesn’t end with grade-school.
But I met a man once, late-middle aged and black. This was in a used-bookshop in a midwestern university town. We were both browsing, and I started to speak to this man. I consider him a hero now, a view of the future we yet might achieve. He was a full Professor of Ancient Greek at one of the best classical departments in the country. He had studied philology at Cologne and Oxford, and I imagined him poring over his analyses of Thucydides or Pausanias or whatever it was with the mystical concentration of a priest.
And this man was African, only coming to the US after his graduate studies. That, perhaps, was the crucial difference. No one, while he was growing up in Ghana, had bothered to tell him that classical literature was only for blacks who were not “keeping it real.” He probably studied it out of some assumption that this was a fascinating part of world heritage and as such was a legitimate object of his attention.
In the environment of identity-politics that universities are now, he is probably a figure of fun to some, an example of not “keeping it real”, but he surely has the satisfaction of knowing that, by not limiting himself to some foolish notion of “acting black”, he inhabits a more robust reality than those critics of his could imagine.
– Part Four, “Owning All the World”
This is what blogging should be. Please go read, and leave comments.