Monday, April 21, 2008
Without a Doubt, President Obama Will Take This Nation to School on the ‘Flava’ Factor
Monday, April 21, 2008
Deborah Mathis, BlackAmericaWeb.com
If, after having weathered the drama and combat of a long, contentious primary season and what could be a nasty general election campaign, Barack Obama wins the presidency, non-black Americans are in for an extra adventure.
Many have proven their proclivity for shock and awe already, having suffered whiplash from the revelation that black churches provide ventilation for as well as feeding of the soul; that we can practice patriotism even if we don’t have a suit of clothes, let alone a lapel on which to place a flag pin; and that black folks can live with, hang with, love and sympathize with other black folks who are angry, conspiratorial and militant and be cheerful and hopeful at the same time.
The habit of misreading black people is as old as the hills. Some of the stereotypes that survive today were logged by Thomas Jefferson in his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” two and a quarter centuries ago. As in Jefferson’s day, rank ignorance and indifference about our experiences -- especially the sour and tragic ones -- continue to provoke a jump to conclusions, based on often very different, if not opposite, experience.
Back then, Jefferson was confounded by black people, whom he said, showed a childlike delight in simple pleasures and a stoicism in the face of tragedy. You would have thought a man of his learning and curiosity might have made the connection between the glee and the fact that there was so little to be happy about; and the stone faces in the wake of redundant sorrows, pain, indignities and injustice.
But, as the old folks say, book sense ain’t common sense.
For sure, it’s hard to turn a tide. Consider the young black defendant, in shirt and tie, standing before judge and jury to learn his punishment, an inscrutable look on his face. We may know the expressionless face to be hiding fear and remorse. Those who don’t get it read it as cocky and unrepentant.
Or take the case of my son and his friends many years ago on a school bus ride home. The young boys, about nine or 10 years old, were “jonin’” on each other, having a good time. The white driver made a U-turn for the school and tore into the principal’s office to tattle that the little black boys were about to engage in gang warfare. It took a batch of us parents to educate the educators about the tradition of playing the dozens and spare our kids a turn in detention.
Feature writers are bound to have a field day with a President Obama, breathlessly reporting his GQ flair, his dance steps and his friendships with the generals of hip-hop.
But they will need new fact-checkers and interpreters to get an accurate reading on things like his cool stroll, those self-assured winks; his game on the basketball court; his mellow moves with his wife; and, last week, the Jay-Z brush-off the day after the ABC News boys pelted him with inanities.
May he take the country to school on a little thing we call “flava.”