Blackness Primer Revisited

Writer John McWhorter defends fried chicken, dancing and Ebonics.

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I am quite the fan of fried chicken and anybody who thinks I hate hip-hop might want to take a peek my book, All About the Beat, coming out later this year.

Ebonics, as I have written, is not "bad grammar."

And as to dancing, I remember how in college black parties were more about dancing than about excessive drinking. I thought that was good. Dancing is more central to black culture than to white culture; it is taught early and passed on. This is good. The book that gets this across most effectively that I am aware of is this one.

I sense that many respondents to what I wrote don't like the idea of being put in a box. Okay, but I did not intend it to be a complete listing of blackness. Nor did I intend that such a list could possibly be the totality of any individual human being.

Those traits would be, simply, the black traits about them, indications of their membership in black culture.

Yet I might add that I'm not sure why my list would necessarily be considered a "box." If all black people actually did, somehow, display all the listed traits, I would consider it wonderful.

However, all black people do not display all of these traits to an equal degree, and if there were a complete list of cultural black traits, again, black people would participate in them to differing degrees.

Many readers seem to think that I was reading black people out of being "really black" if they did not participate in all of these traits, or one or two of them. However, if it's important that we are wary of "stereotyping," it is equally important to be wary of binary thinking: It's not that one is either black or not; my very point was that it is a continuum.

Greater comfort with that continuum would mean that, for example, if Newark Mayor Cory Booker runs for president one day no one will be musing grimly about whether he is "black enough" because of his background.

As to the idea that cultural blackness is a matter of being aware of and dealing with white people perceptions of us, I'm not with it. That, to me, is too glum, to serve as a useful self-definition. More to the point is James Weldon Johnson's watch-cry: "I will not let prejudice or any of its attendant humiliations and injustices bear me down to spiritual defeat. My inner life is mine, and I will defend and maintain its integrity against the forces of hell."