i'm going to say that monoculture 2 is now about the boldest and most problematic thing i've ever done on race, and i've tried to be as bold as possible since 1993, when i started writing act like you know. i am resolved to just wade into this motherfucker. we've been too afraid. we need some damn courage. egads! i just realized i've been saying the same thing to women: c'mon now: right in our face with the real power. imagine the arrogance. i guess i think there are worse sins, and in many ways i don't really think very well of myself, if that's any comfort to you. what gives me some insulation is that my position is so bizarre (and of course, so blindingly true) that people can't even read what i'm saying even as their eyes traverse the words. you must be getting me wrong! i mean well!
if you're wondering how i came to this, i've told it many times as it's unfolded: it's been a long journey and i'm more extreme now than when i wrote that book. but it started in 7th grade in then-mostly-black alice deal junior high school in chocolate city, when willie singleton marched us with a powerful opinionated pro-malcolm streak through the autobiography of malcolm x. in my memory i was the only white student (though maybe that's wrong, actually; there might have been a couple of others) in his one-semester african-american history class. i was afraid of the whole situation - i remember how my body felt when i walked into that room, even though walking into any class even then i was one overly confident little asshole. well, i was afraid of black people. but after we read that book, suddenly my environment didn't seem incomprehensible to me anymore.
again, i was a scrawny little white revolutionary mouth who really, in his mind, all day, wanted to be malcolm x for about a million different reasons: because he was strong. because he obviously knew how to be a man and i really didn't. (it just struck me that my father had just dissolved in a pool of alcohol and disappeared. because he didn't drink [but because he had],) because he was standing up for his beliefs and his people. because he was fighting back, fighting back against four centuries of slavery and genocide and rank oppression. i wished i had something like that to fight; i finally settled on 'the political state': a pale imitation. because he had purged himself of his oppressor (even then i knew that would be construed as me: people looked right at me!) but honestly i didn't feel that really then. maybe bad white people. maybe just old white people. i had to grow up to be a white man, take that up or have it loaded on me bit by bit, right? i still needed training in that.
because of the beautiful way he used the language: with precision and poetry and an argument and a blackjack that left his opponents on the floor, bleeding from the mouth. he showed me the power of words. i took the bus down to the black power bookstore and i bought his speeches, even though they looked at me funny, like they were amused. but they highly recommended it, though i think they were rolling angela-davis marxism by then ('71); somewhere i still have a couple of booklets in that vein that i bought there. what i remember best, actually, was the dignified yet devastating yet argumentative young woman behind the counter in an afro and kente. when i call up a picture of angela davis to my mind, actually it's her. but that might have been a couple of years later. i didn't quite see that malcolm wasn't talking to me as his people or the lostfound tribe of israel: i was 12. because of his furious purity. because he was black. guess what? all the cool kids were. because of the little twinkle of fun in his eye (that's what denzel missed). because he was beautiful. because he had used his power to redeem himself, to save himself, to transform himself, and that was the same power he offered - well, believe it or not somehow i heard him offering it to me, to everyone with the courage to try to take it.
but to have that power, you had to bring it forth from your own life, from your own real experience; you had to be connected to it physically, autobiographically; it was so much more than just something you were advocating, more than a belief. if they killed you, you would die saying it. it mattered less what the content of the belief was than that you inhabited it fully; it had to be identical to your body and your sense of self - it had actually to come from you, and hence also from your culture. malcolm was a different way to be and to think: a real way. see i saw that effect not only on myself but on...us, the kids in that class. come to think of it, singleton had a goodly dose of all those qualities, and i admired him too, and i saw my black classmates like...waking the fuck up in a big way. [yes, it's true, i corresponded with willie singleton much later in life.]
[maybe if you write the same story over and over, trying to get it right or struggling to remember, or say it over and over to people in the audubon ballroom, you see the truth of it more. maybe if you try to see the truth about something, something about yourself and something about the world, and you just keep going and going and trying to learn and trying to change, maybe you end up being able to write it. revise and revise until you think it's true. because of the ways he changed. all this time, from undergrad papers to the last book to the last blog entry, i have been trying to figure out how to let the ideas emerge organically from my life, and say that right there on the page. i have struggled with that integration; there are not a lot of models for autobiographical philosophy that you also might hope could intervene in the academic debates, or that could help a white boy get tenure after all those compromises with the man. my dad was a fine writer. but i know - i've always been perfectly aware, actually - whose model i was really trying to follow. it just seemed wrong to say it, or maybe people wouldn't believe me. instead i just kept writing about malcolm.]
[[credit where due: i spent a decade living with the amazing memoirist/personal essayist marion winik. read her stuff and you'll know why i was better at writing about myself and moving from there to something bigger in 2008 than i was in 1998.]]
(white) people eagerly denatured malcolm after his death. they just sort of said he turned out to be an integrationist, sort of saw the light, fetched up as a slightly-unhinged king. then he just faded into a general list of civil rights heroes, though black people were always reviving the radical malcolm. i never made that move though. i thought i knew where malcolm was going, though of course none of us did, but wherever it was, it wasn't going to be passive integrationist or welfare statist. to speculate: he wasn't going to spend the rest of his life asking for help. i held the radical malcolm in my heart when he was a postage stamp. that stamp will lick you, asshole.
the next thing i would do - but not right now while i'm doing this - is start to peel back the racism that lies in my own heart still, the racism that lies at the heart of my white black nationalism and its complicated relation to all the various racisms of us white people. really, i can do that to some extent, and i have, and i want to. i don't now know what the next phase might hold, ok? because, as is typical of my race, my self-reflection is...stunted.