translation

May 1, 2008 at 8:43 pm (anti-racism)

So I watched some of Jeremiah’s Wright’s performance in the past couple of days.  I laughed so hard.  I cannot be the only one who found it so funny.  And then I read the Black progressive blogs who seem to be in agreement that Barack had to verbally kick Jeremiah in the balls.  Because of Jeremiah’s lack of loyalty.  Ummm…okay.

And this reminds me of watching a very interesting program on MSNBC called Meeting David Wilson.  The first part is a documentary of a black man named David Wilson discovering his roots by meeting another man named David Wilson who is white and once owned the black David Wilson’s family during slavery times.  About the coming together of the two families and some interesting conversations between the two David Wilsons.  The second part of the program is a discussion on the Howard U campus about Blacks and Whites in America.

The most interesting point brought up was by someone who was not invited to be on the panel, a Howard U professor who said that he was tired of hearing about the pathology of Black America and that the intelligence of Black America is being used to translate Black America to White America rather than supporting the growth and strengthening of black communities.  He also had problems with the fact that MSNBC had a forum on race relations in the US  without inviting any of Howard U on the panel.

So I am thinking about these concepts of the native informant and translation.  When I was in college one of my friends was reading ‘Breaking Bread’ by Cornel West and bell hooks.  And as I was talking about how much I loved that book she said: yeah but I wonder who are they talking to, who do they think their audience is…is this for the black community or for the white community principally.

How much energy do we need to spend translating our culture and people to white folks?

How many reputations and intellectual careers among people of color have been achieved by their ability to do translation?  Several times I have said that my job is not teach white folks about black folks…or about their own racism.

Now I say this with my white partner and my multiracial babe and am in love with both of them.  I say this having grown up in a predominantly white community, white schools, white friends.  yeah, some of my best friends really are white.

So the black progressive world seems to be mad at Jeremiah Wright not so much for what he said but where he said it.  He was showboating.  And we all know that when we go in front of white audiences there is a way that we are supposed to act.  What Jeremiah said would be okay in a barbershop or a church…among family…but not in front of the National Press Club.

How dare he undermine our chances for the first black president!  Barack Obama has groomed himself as a fastidious and trustworthy translator.  He is brilliant at it.  Yay!
It is not that I dont believe that there is a place and time for translation.  But honestly will racism decrease because white folks understand us better?  Does racism exist because white folks are ignorant?

Yes, there is definitely some ignorance out there.  But racism exists because people like power and privilege.  Ignorance is bliss and so is power.  So we can translate till we are blue in the face and our books are published and our guy is in the white house, we can raise awareness and eradicate ignorance and every white chile in america can read ‘Go Tell it on a Mountain’ and ‘Bluest Eye’, we can explain our culture and explain our culture and explain ourselves and become the intellectual vanguard of a people and white folks can take that knowledge and good literature and beautiful fecund culture and do what?

So what was Jeremiah’s job?  Is he condemned because he wasnt willing to be a translator?  Because he wasnt willing to seize the moment and really explain himself in terms that white folks could or would understand?

Because I dont go to barbershops or beauty shops often.  (I like doing my own hair) and dont go to church too often either.  But I loved his performance.

I also want to give shout outs to Daily Show and Colbert Report who asked the questions that everyone else seems to have wanted to abandon…

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2 Comments

  1. JFS said,

    Loved this post – I thought some of the same things, but not quite in the same way (your ideas of cross-racial translation).

    Thank you.

  2. macon d said,

    I loved this post too, thank you.

    I try to be a white ally, especially by asking white folks to think about their whiteness, including the privileges it affords them, the damage it trains them to do to others, and the abuse it also inflicts on themselves.

    I do appreciate both the unapologetic performance of Reverend Wright and the strategically toned down performance of Obama. I also fear that the former will ultimately overshadow the latter.

    I also don’t expect activitst POC to translate for me, but if there’s something I still don’t understand, I still ask, nicely. I think I’ve done enough listening and reading to know what’s what, though I’m always doing more.

    The audience question is a tough one, I can see that. It’s somewhat vexing for me too, on my own blog, where I’m analyzing whiteness. I’d like to attract and keep and teach white readers, but so far the steadiest, most enthsiastic ones have been POC instead. POC mostly seem to appreciate having their frustrating experiences with white folks validated by my posts. I’m very glad to be able to provide that kind of support, if that’s what I’m doing, but again, I wish more white folks would stick around the place too.

    One other thing: you mentioned The Bluest Eye as a book about black folks. I think it’s really a book about whiteness. It’s right there in the title, and Toni M deserves more credit for making the insidious powers of whiteness the book’s true analytical focus. That the book doesn’t get widespread credit for that is white folks fault, though. You’re certainly right that when they do read it, they’re looking for insight into “the black experience,” rather than into their own unwarranted racial power.

    Thanks again, this was a generative post.

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