Why I Reject the 'Good Black Man' Label
At the Huffington Post, Javon Johnson writes that he doesn't like the implications for the black community of the title that comes with his conventional success.
While I both worked hard for and enjoy my success, I, for so many reasons, must denounce the title of "good Black man."
When comedian Chris Rock quipped in his 1996 hit HBO special Bring the Pain, "I love Black people, but I hate niggas," he effectively fanned the flames of the "civil war" he claimed was "going on with Black people." Mostly concerned with whether Rock was right or wrong, much has been written about this controversial piece in his otherwise brilliant stand-up routine. Certainly Rock is able to exercise his First Amendment rights, but given that the single most defining characteristic of his "niggas" are those criminals and criminally minded dark bodied human beings in this country, and that Black men are both unhealthily and unfairly caught up in what activist-academic Angeles Davis calls the "prison industrial complex," Rock essentially "niggafied" most Black men in the U.S. and declared war on those "niggas" on behalf of all of us "good" Black people.
Rock went well beyond what Evelyn Higginbotham calls "the politics of respectability," or the demand "that every individual in the black community assume responsibility for behavioral, self-regulation and self-improvement along moral, educational, and economic lines." Rock's decontextualized joke misses the deep and complex histories of the ways in which Black men in the U.S. have been and still are criminalized, or simply labeled "bad," as exhibited in Douglas A. Blackmon's Slavery by Another Name and Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Even worse, Rock testifies for the "need" of the state sanctioned violence enacted on Black men, good or bad, on every day basis. And, he is not alone on this position.
Read Javon Johnson's entire piece at the Huffington Post.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.