COMMENTARY: Blacks not comfortable with being black: Lessons from Caitlyn Jenner

COMMENTARY: Blacks not comfortable with being black: Lessons from Caitlyn Jenner
June 11
00:00 2015

By Bill Turner

Caitlyn, “the new normal” for the former Bruce Jenner’s transgender experience – and the frenzied media attention given to it – sparked my rethinking about a critical mass of Black Americans who made the change from being black, in exchange for being accepted by mainstream white society and who, of their own free will, abandoned key elements of their former selves, all to feel assimilated.

Being black has nothing to do with the absurd idea of race as a biological issue. I refer to consciousness of kind and pride, the self-confident appreciation for the unique and valuable contributions of blacks to world history, and the compassionate understanding of and responsiveness to the situation of less fortunate blacks. Branded mockingly as Black Anglo Saxons, these are the blacks who want to fit in, not stand out, and they work deliberately to present themselves and talk with the right accent act more like and ingratiate themselves to the so-called dominant group.

Unfortunately, this crowd of code switchers has reproduced themselves, now for two generations.
Most Southern-born and bred black Baby Boomers like me attended excellent schools; that is, up until the word “segregated,” as defined by the liberal gatekeepers, came to mean that such institutions were inferior because blacks attended and managed them. Historically black colleges feel the effects now in terms of trying to enroll a generation that has been taught “the white man’s ice is colder.”

The educational system requires no serious study of black history and culture and any black figure to the political left of Dr. Martin Luther King is pilloried as an unpatriotic militant.

Five decades ago, being black extended not only far beyond the color of dark skin and dashikis and Afro hairstyles, but it also reached into the very core of most blacks’ self-awareness, their spirits, and was the driver of an evolving value system. When James Brown recorded “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” in 1968, many blacks, fresh from attending Dr. King’s funeral, were ready to spend the rest of their lives making equality, freedom and justice a reality.

All of my friends and most of the black people I didn’t know personally then were of a kindred spirit. The ideas prevalent in that period and space, particularly as expressed in language, literature, music, philosophy, politics and religion were the canvas on which a new picture of America would be painted. Millions of black children got caught up in this; they have African and Africanized names and their parents, my generation, did and said things that gave emphasis to black unity.

Then something curious happened, starting back when Bruce Jenner was an Olympic champion in 1972. This conspicuous change popularized the turn of phrase on the acronym NAACP: “Negroes Ain’t Acting Like Colored People.” Many blacks – now living the American Dream – underwent the equivalent of becoming transraced. “We” became “I” and for many who benefitted most from the civil rights movement, “me and mine” and “personal success” hushed the earlier sounds of black solidarity. “Black Power,” that signature slogan of the turbulent times – a call for economic clout and political influence – was shanghaied and made into an anti-white rant.

This surgical-like social operation – the social engineering into the equivalent of the prefrontal lobe of blacks’ social and cultural souls – was complete within a decade. The platform of racial integration became the operating table on which the transformation of many blacks took place, where cultural distinctions or putting something into a racial context became politically incorrect. The blacks who should be best suited educationally to articulate and propose solutions to the major problems of blacks in the 21st century – still the problem of the color line – either don’t have a clue or they are simply passing, as it were, not interested.

I have no moral judgment to pass on Bruce Jenner’s decision to transition to being a woman, but I do, as a socially conscious black man, have difficulty dealing with blacks who, because they struggle with their racial identity, make it hard for the rest of us to be ourselves and to do what needs to be done. No narcissism, no vanity in that, and I am curious to see how Vanity Fair rolls this out, what with Ebony and Jet now in the closet.

Dr. Bill Turner is a noted educator, writer and thinker who called Winston-Salem home for many years. Reach him at

© Bill Turner 6/6/2015

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