Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Blogging in Full Armour

Jody ArmourUSC Law Professor Jody Armour, guestblogging at Blackprof, has written a series of posts on "West Coast Nigga Thinking." (Part 4 Part 3 Part 2 Part 1).

The four posts (and I believe more are forthcoming) are quite long and intricate, but the gist of it is a critique of Black leaders like Bill Cosby and Chris Rock who wish to divide Black society into "respectable" and "niggas"--the latter being composed of criminals and malcontents who are presumably a drag on the large portions of Black men and women who are stellar citizens but plagued by popular conceptions that portray the mean Black person as a net negative in American society. Armour writes:
Proponents of the Politics of Distinction propose that we in the black community distinguish between what Randy Kennedy calls "good Negroes" and "bad Negroes" and what Chris Rock calls "black people" and "niggas" (as in the bumper sticker, "I love black people but I hate niggas"). According to this perspective, anyone involved in criminal conduct deserves to be characterized as a "bad Negroe" or "nigga" (e.g., by this definition, because 56% of young black males in Baltimore and 33% of those in the state of California in prison, on probation, or on parole, that percent of brothers in those jurisdictions are niggas). I find such a politics of distinction both odious and futile: Odious because it invites and encourages the rest of us to distinguish, disown, and condemn staggeringly high percentages of our own community; futile because the practice of racial profiling (a practice rooted in the statistical link between race and the risk of crime, for blacks do commit a disproportionate number of street crimes) means that for police, cab drivers, store security, etc., "respectable Negroes" and "niggas" are cats of the very same hue.
Armour writes with a vivid style and unusual argumentative brilliance. I highly recommend the series to FM readers.

I myself first came across Armour reading his article (and later book) on so called "reasonable racists." "Negrophobia and Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America" (originally an article: Race Ipsa Loquitur: Of Reasonable Racists, Intelligent Bayesians, and Involuntary Negrophobes, 46 Stan. L. Rev. 781 (1994)) ably and fairly discusses the issue of "reasonable racism"--e.g., claims that because Black people commit more crime, it is "reasonable" to treat them with enhanced suspicion in certain contexts. Armour gives the argument a fair shake before dismantling it quite efficiently. But for me, the highlight comes right at the start, with the narrative Armour uses to introduce the topic. I have it reprinted here. It is a singular example of how a narrative can convey the full complexity and color of difficult normative issues that just doesn't come across in pure, bland, academic prose.

2 Comments:

Blogger Kevin Wells said...

This issue has always been fairly interesting to me, especially having grown up in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

I knew a lot of otherwise intelligent and reasonable people (white) who were "reasonable racists" (if such a thing really exists). They always justified their racism by saying something along the lines of "I don't have a problem with black people, I just hate n***ers." This always seemed a cop-out to me. Basically, what they're saying is, "I don't care about people of other races, as long as they act exactly like me."

Oh, what paragons of virtue and reason... That they could accept people who are exactly like them save for the color of their skin. What upstanding individuals they are. I think this type of racism, in some ways, is worse than the overt racism that is still all too common. It's a much more insidious, and difficult to see, instance of the latent racism you mention.

9/13/2006 3:46 PM  
Blogger Luis Villa said...

Interesting link, David. I'm really curious to read Jerry Kang's new work on racism- seems like it would fit together well with this piece.

9/15/2006 6:22 PM  

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