ineffable |inˈefəbəl| adjective:
1—too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words : the ineffable natural beauty of the Everglades.
2—not to be uttered : the ineffable Hebrew name that gentiles write as Jehovah.
Also add "unspeakable" to the many adjectives compounding "race" in our national pseudo conversation.
Let's treat the hit (well, until Batman struck) Will Smith movie Hancock for an opening for a short series of posts about the current state of the race debate.
Critics are quick to see another black man making white folks feel good about themselves. But they missed the fact that Hancock twists old archetypes of black-white romantic relationships nearly beyond recognition
Despite Dark Knight breaking all known records, Hancock has done over $200 million and will probably, now quietly, be the second highest grossing film of the summer. The grosses alone used to be taken as another bright ray of hope for American race reconciliation. But now the goal posts seem to be moving.
See this excellent post by Ed Gilbreath reflecting on a critique of Will Smith's winning character(s), reflecting in turn the problem some people have with with Barack Obama's "mainstream" persona: it's all about making white folks feel good about themselves on race.
Ed joins millions and millions of Americans doing their version of "oh, please, here we go again" putting a racial filter on everything. And yet, because he's a thoughtful brother, in the Christian sense, who is also black, Ed has to beg a question.
Ok, not Ed, it's Leon who begs several questions:
Can race--especially black vs. white America race--ever be incidental in our public cultural discourse? Are people who see it as consequential, even occasionally, guilty of something until proven innocent?
What, exactly is their crime, who are the victims, who gets to judge ....
And inevitable, and excruciatingly elusive and frustrating. Nobody wants to talk about race anymore, yet it remains the 300 pound gorilla in every public room, whether some people choose to see it or not. And, in truth, everyone sees it when they want to see it. Which would bring us to the current, "who's playing the race card" madness in the Obama vs. McCain soap opera. But that's for next post. Except for this:
I think whites who cry "race card" when blacks--rightly or wrongly--point to the gorilla are playing the race card themselves. They are arrogating the privilege--the white privilege--of deciding when, what and how much can be said about an institution deliberately created for their benefit that benefits them still, whether or not they can admit or even understand it. That institution is racism, scientific, cultural, economic and, in this case, political.
That said, none of us are served by a blank check on black (or white hyper-liberal) complaint. Regardless of validity, there is precious little accountability for race charges within and without the black community. Everyone black (or self-empowered to speak for blacks) seems to have the right to cry racism. And the media presumes the right--with almost no accountability--to amplify such cries as its news judgments dictate. In a time of Fox News and lowest common denominator journalism, those judgments tend to be of a very low quality indeed.
Now, returning at last to Hancock, there is such a thing as legitimate cultural criticism of racial themes in literature. What impressed me most about the movie was the utterly novel twist of plot that, in turn, twisted the archetypes about interracial relationships nearly past the breaking point. Positing that the deity made men and women immortal in pairs that were permanently bonded across (mere man made) racial lines is way beyond the pale of race relationship lit going back beyond Tom Sawyer.
However well that may work for you, it's much more interesting than the tired variations on "can a black man be fully accepted by whites and still be black" that underlies the latest chapter of what dim headline writers call "Race in the Race."