A message from your friendly neighborhood Odienator: For the third year in a row, I have hijacked this blog. Fear not: the only explosive in my underwear is the stick of dynamite God gave me. So don’t bother calling the authorities. They’ll tell you I’m light-skinned and have no Negro dialect unless I want to, then they’ll hang up on you. Sit up straight and look presentable. It’s Black History Mumf again. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, start with 2008’s entries here.
“All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep fuckin' everybody 'til they're all the same color.” –Warren Beatty, Bulworth
My life ain't heaven
but it sure ain't hell.
I'm not on top
but I call it swell
if I'm able to work
and get paid right
and have the luck to be Black
on a Saturday night.
-Maya Angelou, Weekend Glory
I remember my first encounter with the U.S. Census. I was 10. I retrieved the Scantron-like form from the mailbox and I read it. Years of the California Achievement Test addicted me to bubbling in circles with a No. 2 pencil, so I was itching to fill it out. I brought it to my Mom, No. 2 pencil in hand, junkie smile on face, itching to start scribbling in circles. “The Census came!” I eagerly told her. “Can I fill it out, Mom?”
“Throw that shit away,” she said.
“But why?” I asked. “The commercial says the gov’ment needs us to fill it out!”
“The Government needs to mind its damn business,” my Mom replied without even looking up from changing my brother’s diaper. “Do as I say before I beat your ass with a switch.”
Secretly, I kept it, bubbling in circles and hiding it under my bed like porn. Some time later, the gov’ment sent a Census taker to our house. I answered the door to find a prim and proper looking White woman with a clipboard. I thought she was a welfare case worker. Our next door neighbors were on assistance, and they shared our last name, so on occasion the gov’ment came to our place instead of their desired location. “You want next door,” I told her, and started to close the door.
“Young man, is your mother home?” she asked me. “Who are you?” I asked. “I’m a Census taker,” she said proudly. “I would like to ask a few questions to the adult in the house.”
“Who is it, Odell?” my mother yelled from upstairs. “It’s the Census lady!” I yelled back.
My Mom came barreling downstairs, holding my brother’s diaper in one hand. Pushing me away from the door, she faced the Census worker. “Yes?” she asked in her all-business voice.
The Census worker went down her litany of questions. My Mom refused to answer all but one question.
Census Taker: How many people live here?
Mom: No comment.
Census Taker: What is the household income?
Mom: That’s none of your business, Miss!
Census Taker: How would you identify your family’s ethnicity?
Mom: We’re Black.
I remembered this story after reading the big to-do about this year’s Census choices for race. Seems that some folks (and y’all know who y’all are) listened to some shysters with Reverend in their names and are up in arms over the Census’ use of the word “Negro” as part of the designation for we people darker than blue. Rather than lecture my people about breaking our addiction to trusting people with Reverend in their names (unless it’s Dr. King, JUST SAY NO folks!) I’m going to ask a rather pointed question:
Is Negro the new N-word?
Let the question simmer a moment. Readers of Black History Mumf know I use the term Negro a fair amount here. I went through the entire series, and the term I used least is African-American. I usually say Black, which is how I identify myself. My mother used it to identify herself and us. My grandmother on my stepdad’s side called herself “cullud” until the day she died. Some of the young bruvas I mentor call themselves “African-American.” So who’s right? And does it really matter which term one uses to self-classify?
Sometimes I feel like Black people are the only race with built in PR and aliases, like we’re all walking wanted posters from the Post Office wall. “Odienator: Black, aliases Negro, African-American, Colored…” Every few years, we’re something new, and I just don’t get it. Neither does Smokey Robinson, whose Def Poetry Jam poem is the definitive word on the subject.
You have to go back seven generations of my family to find somebody who actually had African soil in their rusty butt, so I don’t know if I’ve even earned the distinction of the prefix of a continent to which I unfortunately have never been. After all, the NAACP hasn’t changed its name to the N-double-A-double-A-P. It’s probably because changing stationery is expensive, or perhaps it’s because we know what the NAACP stands for, and it doesn’t need a PR name change to be effective. BET is still BET, because if it turned into AAET, it would sound like a place for alcoholic aliens. And Black History Mumf will be Black History Mumf so long as I’m helming it.
Truthfully, I don’t think most Black people care what our brethren call themselves; we have much bigger problems to deal with out here. The whole Census rigmarole struck me as ridiculous. It’s not as if they were asking us to check the box next to “Jungle Bunny, Coon and Porch Monkey.” I would have no problem checking the box next to “Black, African-American, Negro,” that is, if I were actually going to fill out the Census. My Mom would kill me if I did.
But HOLD THE PHONE! This just in, chicks and dudes! We’re STILL in post-racial America! Census race questions shouldn’t matter anymore, because we’re all White now. Isn’t that what post-racial means? It damn sure feels like it. Suddenly, it’s unpopular to be proud of your own culture as part of a bigger narrative of your being an American. Why? To me, what makes us different is what most fascinates, and sharing that knowledge brings us even closer. I love hearing personal stories from my friends of different races because it helps me understand them even more. The highlight of my friendship with my friend of Dutch heritage, the moment that brought us closer than ever before, was when he told me that his grandfather told stories about getting his ass beaten with a thin wooden rod whose Dutch name sounded like the word “switch.” Who would have thought both his grandfather and I both were sent to get switches when we did wrong?
Chris Matthews said that during Obama’s speech, he forgot that Obama was Black. Was he listening to the State of the Union on the radio? Was he watching a black and white TV? Did he have racial amnesia brought on by bad caviar? Regardless, I blame Obama. He needed to scream out “MMMM! FRIIIIIIED CHICKEN!” in the middle of the speech, or light up a Newport and call the GOP a buncha muthafuckas. That would have reminded Matthews! Of course, Matthews threw out those code words “post-racial America” to justify what he said, which proves to me that being “post-racial” means automatically assuming that everybody has the majority’s race, skills and characteristics. Whether intended or not, Matthews’ quote came out as the standard “you speak so well for a Black man!” I know Matthews loves him some Obama--didn't he say a prior Obama speech sent a warm feeling up his leg--but still.
Post-racial America is bullshit dreamed up by a marketing department that should be executed with extreme prejudice. Who decided I didn’t want to be Black anymore? Give me their address so I can go kick the shit out of them. It’s not like I can forget anyway. Even if I didn’t have a mirror, Fox News pundits and the right-wing fringe groups won’t let me forget.
The bottom line is this: Be proud of who you are. If you’re six different things, mark them all on the Census form. If you don’t see the term that identifies you, draw another bubble and add it. Blow up the gov’ment’s Scantron machine! Obama’s gotta mark two boxes if he avoids the “One Drop Rule,” so if it’s good enough for the Prez, it’s good enough for you. A post-racial America is just as absurd as a post-gender America. Imagine that! Women would no longer be allowed to identify as women. Oprah would be bankrupt as shit, and Lifetime would merge with Spike TV. Lifetime movies starring Dana White from UFC! Do you want that?
I am proud to be American, but you know what else? I like being Black too. And even if I didn’t, Blackness, like prostitution, advertises itself. All you have to do is look to see it. It’s going to be a long time before Bulworth’s suggestion comes true, and I guarantee you the end result’s going to look more like me than David Duke.
I hope this is enough to justify having a Black History Mumf this year, and if it isn’t, too fucking bad. I’m here and I’ll be here the next 28 days, reflecting on life through the movies and TV that gave us images of African-Americans, Negroes, Colored People and Blacks. As I’ve said the past two years, this is not a scholarly discussion. I am not politically correct. I use profanity. I don’t care if I offend you, and I probably will. The N-word will appear here, and I don’t mean Negro (whose appearance is a given), but always in the negative context it deserves. And the person I am meanest to in these pieces is Black. No, not Diana Ross. I’m talking about me.
The Mumf is open to everybody. You don’t need to be the owner of a nappy head to appreciate it. In fact, if you have a tender kitchen or crispy, burnt ears from a straightening comb, this stuff is old hat for you. The ultimate goal is and has been to reminisce with those who look like me, and reveal things to those who do not. Granted, this is more Odienator History Mumf than anything else, but being Black automatically makes me part of that experience, so my history is Black History too.
Creep with me through my neighborhood.