I want to thank Trent Tucker (The Mail, 7/16) for his honest portrayal of a sample of the malaise that has gripped D.C.’s black community.
One can abstract out some observed behavior and say: This is the malaise. But what are the dynamics behind the perceived malaise? I think we know where the malaise is on the part of Marion S. Barry Jr. supporters who have the greatest stake in his inferiocracy: politicians, preachers, civil servants, functionaries, entrepreneurs, and other elements of the black business and professional classes who play race games to get sinecures for themselves, and who paranoically convert the racialized nature of American society into an absolute metaphysical category.
What about the poor folks who support Barry? This is also a malaise, in that it represents passivity and escapism. The underlying logic is that of the hapless spectator and passive consumer. Why do they fool themselves—some of them, not all—about Barry? Because Barry pays attention to them, “represents” them, when nobody else cares. Everybody knows that Mayor Anthony A. Williams doesn’t care, and that’s not because he’s not “black” enough, but because he really doesn’t give a shit about anybody but his rich corporate backers. And people thought that Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly didn’t really care the way she said she did when she ran for mayor on a clean-up-government theme. The pro-Barry attitude is a defensive politics of symbolism, not of substance.
Simple racial classification doesn’t capture the reality. The whole society seems to be confused about this. It’s not a socially integrated society, but it is a post-apartheid society, and the usual clichés do not capture the reality of what people actually live and experience. This is even more the case with children, who lack the memories and frame of reference of those of us who grew up in a rigidly segregated society. Our impoverished public discourse makes it that much more difficult for an intelligent black intellectual to cut through the B.S. and get across a realistic portrayal of American society without being accused of crying racism. The defensiveness of whites fuels the defensiveness of blacks—who, contrary to popular belief, are much more capable of self-criticism and objectivity about themselves and others than they are given credit for, but who sometimes take shortcuts out of defensiveness for the same reasons everyone else does: fear and mental laziness.