I'm going to post a, for lack of a better word, "article" from the USC Law Magazine, 2007 spring/summer edition. The issue is entitled Race, Rap and Redemption. Appearing below is "Call me a nigga" by Prof. Jody Armour of Gould School of Law at USC.
--I vividly remember the day I fully embraced my nigga self. I was invited to talk about unconscious racism to the prison guards and administrators at Terminal Island in San Pedro, CA. I toured the cell blocks and grounds. Without exaggeration, nearly all I saw was black and brown faces.
Of course, as a law professor I knew the statistics about the staggering disproportionate rate of minority incarceration, but nothing viscerally registers the reality of those abstract numbers like looking through the cages into the eyes of the young men behind the statistics. I saw in their faces the eyes of the kids I'd grown up with (most of whom did or are doing time)--Junebug, Popeye, P-Comet, Roach, Dede, Money. Each new face was a looking glass, for without serious government intervention in my life (Upward Bound, A Better Chance), there surely go I.
I also saw in those cold, raw cages the face of my father, who was a prison inmate for most of my youth.
Just before my tour of the Terminal Island I saw a tape of a popular Chris Rock routine in which he distinguishes between "black folk" and "niggas," reserving the term "niggas" for blacks who commit crimes. I even started seeing bumper stickers proudly proclaiming, "I love black people but I hate niggas."
I had also just read a popular book by Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy, in which he called fro a "politics of responsibility," wherein the black community should sharply distinguish between "good Negroes" (law-abiding blacks) and "bad Negroes" (blacks convicted of crimes, those Rock referred to as "niggas"). By this logic, because 56 percent of young black males in Baltimore and 33 percent of those in the state of California are in prison, on probation, or on parole, that percentage of young brothers in those jurisdictions is
by hypothesis "niggas."
There is class bigotry in the politics of responsibility, also. (Consider the vitriol that black Brahmin icon Bill Cosby levels at low-income blacks.) Because the crime rates among middle-class blacks and middle-class whites are indistinguishable, most of the black folk committing street crimes are poor. Thus, the "good Negroes" are disproportionately above the poverty line while the "niggas" are disproportionately below.
You might think people are poor because they are "bad," but perhaps they are "bad" because they are poor. Their wrongdoing may not be something that can be entirely attributed to their "bad choices" or "bad character" -- abject poverty, unemployment, crumbling schools and other external pressures they cannot control share responsibility.
"So that's how they look at my dad and the brothers I grew up with, " I thought, "bad Negroes and niggas." Then it struck me: "Because they say the apple never falls far from the tree, and birds of a feather flock together--and above all because there but the grace of God go I--I guess that makes me a nigga, too."
When I say "call me a nigga" I am saying in the strongest possible language that I reject Kennedy's and Rock's and Cosby's invitations to play a politics of respectability and distinction by regarding impoverished brothers and sisters locked down in cells and prison yards as so much toxic human waste.
Not that I don't feel sympathy for the victims of crime. But as Glenn Loury, Directer of the Institute on Race and Social Division at Boston University, has observed, "the young black men wreaking havoc in the ghetto are still 'our youngsters' in the eyes of many of the decent poor and working-class black people who are often their victims. . . . For many of these people the hard edge of judgment and retribution is tempered by sympathy for and empathy with the perpetrators."
I find the politics of distinction both odious and futile: Odious because it invites and encourages the rest of us to disown and condemn astonishingly high percentages of our own community; futile because the practice of racial profiling (part of what I've referred to as "The Black Tax" a tithe that binds us all together) means that for police and other social actors "respectable Negroes" and "niggas" are cats of the very same hue.
"Call me a nigga" both proclaims my solidarity and internally willed identification with the poverty-stricken pariahs in the black community and acknowledges the externally imposed risks we all share--irrespective of our zip code, pedigree or tax bracket. --
Translation: those people blaming us for the crimes "we" committed, they're bad people, bigots even. Black people who don't commit crimes ("uppity ----") are bad too, because they don't like black people that do commit crime, this makes them bigots as well. So, we should all embrace our criminal brothers and something magical will happen, perhaps a giant government program, and our problems will be solved.
Astonishing really. With the truth so clearly right under his nose--middle class black families have the same crime rate as middle class white families--he misses the point and tries the "blame everyone else" gambit once again. Sorry professor, your bit has been trumpeted before, it's still being tried, it still doesn't offer any (read absolutely none) solutions. Your grade: F.