The American Identity #1: A modern world

I read the bio for Ryan Alexiev, the app designerwho worked on Question Bridge.
The following captured the essence of what I find interesting and missing from most conversations today.
Ryan:  “…
he is particularly interested in examining the emerging complexities of identity formation in an increasingly optional and globalized world.”

First a comment about the project:
When I first heard about this my visceral reaction was I’m sure I’ve heard it all before. And true enough, as I suspected, much of the territory’s been covered.  BUT the project was really entertaining and very well done. I don’t regret going to see it and highly recommend.  And if you work with young men, at-risk, re-entry program and the like, the educational value is off the chart. Again, entertaining but not enough, because it seems we’ll get the answers to those questions just in time to realize they’re no longer relevant and are in fact inadequate to the complexities we face.

I’m fascinated by the times we’re living in.   I feel and have felt for some time now that the world is changing. Socially something seems to be missing relative to the complexity and change going on. For one, the nation and globe is in a transitional phase.
According to Alvin Toffler it started in 1956.    It’s why these constructs, narratives, etc. that shapes our understanding and dialogue is from another era and I’m just not feeling them.
The difference between my parent’s world and my world, even after a social revolution, doesn’t seem to be as great as the difference between my daughter’s and mine.

This is a scary thought when you think about it because we haven’t even begun to have the sort of conversations that address life in the 21st century.   Maybe we’re stuck in old paradigms because those old familiar differences are more comforting than facing the uncertainty ahead of us.  Someone wants to build the Hoover dam of the 21st century or modern high-speed rail and it gets mired in cultural war rhetoric.

I read today where some super PAC consultant created a proposal:  The blueprint, titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama”, a $10 million TV ad campaign highlighting Wright’s sermons.    This proposal was submitted to Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade and Chicago Cubs owner who thought the ad went too far.  Before I heard that it was rejected my thoughts were: and here we go, grab your popcorn for the freak show that is the All American skin game.

My Facebook account is like my ipod on shuffle where I get Bizmarkie, followed by Tony Bennet, Mingus then 3 Dog Night. From the small town Deep South to Chardonnay sipping parties in the North Berkeley hills-from no college, to State-schoolers to Ivy leaguers, Dixiecrats, Tea-partiers to civil rights style Democrats, Black conservatives to Black Nationalists.   Before opening a Facebook account, the Tea baggers were those faceless people who watch Fox News. Then I started getting request from people I hadn’t thought about in 30yrs and suddenly the Tea Party, Fox News type were given life, a face.   I’ll have to say it’s been quite perplexing, the things I see and read; if your page is unicorns and rainbows, lucky you.  Because of this I know that before we have a dialogue about an American identity for the 21st century we have to get beyond the culture war narrative.  I’m not convinced its possible (yet still worthy of a try) so there are a few barriers that need to be crossed.

Looking to the future through a mirror

This transition or change seems to be happening without much reflection other than “back in the day” or “when I was growing up” sort of rhetoric.   I recently had a conversation where someone invoked H Rap Brown and I’m thinking, what can Brown tell us about a modern 21st century world? So for now I’m going to start by focusing on African-American identity (I prefer Black American but maybe more on that later).

I don’t believe we have given much thought to what identity means in a modern global world. Several things have and are happening, including the election of Barak Obama. Read this interesting exchange in May 2008, about the prospects of an Obama victory:

 “There’s so much chaff that will be cleared out in terms of how we talk about Black people, racism and elections..it will make for a much more fruitful and progressive dialogue about where we’ve come.” John McWhorter

“I wonder if the throngs of Black people who are voting for Barack Obama have any idea that they’re voting for this transformation of the significance and understanding about race that you just got through enumerating?” Glenn Loury

The “Black community” has been accused of not liking new information, preferring to be told what it already knows.  The call and response rhetorical style would seem to support this, so maybe, maybe not.  And lets state for the record, I don’t believe there’s a monolith. But there is a social price to pay for being an iconoclast and questioning long-held beliefs or memes. If you’re lucky you’ll just  get blank stares and polite silence.  Maybe that’s why all these years later we’re still seeing the same faces. Someone sent me the Youtube video of Tavis Smiley’s “Black agenda” and the panelists included Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson, Julianne Malveaux and Bobby Rush. After about 5 minutes I couldn’t take it anymore-I’m tired of seeing these cats. Outside of Tavis Smiley and Eric Dyson (both of whom are just a continuation, neither bringing anything new to the table other than style) who are the young fresh voices that aren’t following a script handed down 40yrs ago?

Toure writer, cultural critic and author of  “Who’s afraid of post Blackness”, which I haven’t gotten around to reading is one.

One of his goals, Touré writes in “Who’s Afraid of Post-­Blackness? What It Means to Be Black Now,” is “to attack and destroy the idea that there is a correct or legitimate way of doing blackness.” Post-blackness has no patience with “self-appointed identity cops” and their “cultural bullying.”

Glenn Loury and John McWhorter at bloggingheads tv have this ongoing conversation (since Fall 2007) that I think is the most interesting and thoughtful conversations on race taking place.  Seems like a good starting place.  So I’ll begin talking about this barrier by posting a few snippets of their dialogue that should set the tone for what we can explore.

It’s what I’m puttin’ down for now, what say you?

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