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Has post-blackness individualized the movement?

By Darius Beckham

“Post-Black means a more individualized notion of Blackness. I just think we’re getting beyond the collective notion of what Blackness was. Blackness was about group definitions so there could be Black leaders who spoke for Black people in total. And I think we’ve moved beyond that and we’re entering the space where more individualized conceptions of Blackness will be the rule and not the exception. I think that’s where we’re headed.”

Glenn Ligon

Historically, black people have been viewed by each other and the rest of society as a collective. However, some black scholars and intellectuals believe that we are advancing toward a more individualized comprehension of blackness and away from the collective mindset. There are many factors that contribute to this growing belief. The most obvious is that black minlennials today were not raised in the conditions of racism experienced by our parents and grandparents. Clearly we are not living in a post-racial society but the nature and practice of racism is very different compared to the racism of the civil rights era. For instance, my parents and grandparents never believed they would witness a black president. My generation, on the other hand, may possibly see another. Not to forget that the coming generation opened their eyes to a black presidency. All of this is to say that blackness has evolved, it cannot be defined or interpreted because there are so many ways in which blackness is expressed. The post-black era does not rule out those who are “not black enough” nor does it expel individuals who are not favorable representations of the race.

As a black male who attends a predominantly white university, who possesses a growing lexicon, who wears loafers, collar shirts, and shorts above the knee in warm weather, I am a product of the post-black era. There have been multiple instances in which my white classmates have said to me “you don’t act black”, as though they set the precedent for how black people are supposed to act. Under the magnifying glass of the white gaze I have become a representative of the black collective. This is a role I will not deny. I am routinely conscious of my actions, my attitude, my approach in difficult situations. At the heart of post-blackness is the individual, exclusive from the collective. Post-blackness refutes the belief that all black people are mutually accountable for the way blacks are seen. In some regard, post-blackness means progress. I can think, believe, and be whatever I please and remain authentically black. Nevertheless, in the context of a black movement such as BlackLivesMatter, the post-blackness mentality is counterproductive.

A movement by definition is specifically what post-blackness criticizes; a group. It seems that the thinking of individualism has leaked into the black community, considering our frayed response to the injustice that continues to claim the lives of black men, women, boys, and girls. We are not the generation of the civil rights movement. Perhaps we feel that because some of us are comfortable, we should not be outraged. I write amidst Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem, amidst an election in which neither candidate has developed a plan to challenge systematic oppression, and most of all amidst the release of yet another video of an unarmed black man being murdered by the police.

In the words of James Baldwin, “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” We cannot be satisfied by marches, settlements, and mere discussion of the issues, while patiently waiting for another dead black body to be identified, for another black family to be broken, and for another hashtag to start trending. Contemporary black America has partaken in a movement that looks very different from the one Dr. King led many years ago. It is not necessarily because the movement did not welcome the cooperation of the black church, the primary and most central institution within the black community. Rather, prominent black religious leaders have chosen instead to host talk shows. I guess post-blackness is to be blamed. What we are experiencing is a fragmented apparatus of ineffective quasi movements all claiming that BlackLivesMatter. This is not a polemic or an attack on the efforts that have been made, those who are engaged in the current movement should be praised for their courage, but this is a call to action. How can we realistically expect justice without legislation and institutional change? How can we expect a difference to be made by the self mobilization of a few influential figures and not the black collective? Our brothers and sisters are dying in vain and I for one, cannot bare it.

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