There’s a black writer whose work I follow who is interested in prisoner re-entry programs, supports Barack Obama, reviles the War on Drugs, supports gay marriage, voted for George Bush in neither election and writes of Black English as coherent speech.
That writer is, as it happens, me.
Recently on The Root there was a curious little essay classifying me, the person who supports all of the above positions, as a “neoconservative” — or more trenchantly, a “blackface mercenary” who does what he does because “the job pays well.” The writer, in other words, was calling me a sellout, despite the fact that this term is notoriously imprecise.
My offense? An article I wrote five years ago in which I open by expressing worry about gangsta rap and the way in which many black teens identify with it. The writer who thinks I’m a sellout is offended that I am stereotyping black people.
I know most of rap’s audience is white, but rap is black music and black kids relate to it differently than white kids. If this is a sellout’s opinion, then what are we to make of the fact that none other than the founder of this site, Henry Louis Gates, has expressed the same sentiment?
“So you’re watching something illicit in a keyhole. The white kids watch illicit sexual activity in the keyhole, and they go back to their rooms and do their algebra and go to Harvard. The black kids, somehow, are trying to crawl through the keyhole,”, said, Gates in Washington Post article in 2004.
Yet to the writer in question I am a “blackface mercenary.” He has clearly not engaged with very much of what I write or say at all.
That is, he has done precisely what so alarms him in others: he stereotyped me.
And much to my surprise, he is none other than a black sociologist at Harvard!