A friend of mine who happens to be a fine attorney has a radio program here in Philly.
This past Saturday I was on with her and her wonderful crew talking about this election season, and after the show I started chopping it up with the host and a couple of her producers.
Anyway, something one of the younger producers said made me realize that I haven't done my Field Negro 101 post in some time.
So here goes:
*(Note. I posted this back in 2006.)
I am always amused at how sensitive some blacks----particularly black conservatives get when you talk about the house Negro field Negro dichotomy among black folks. Black conservatives are always quick to lash out at the house Negro moniker as if it's directed at them. They see it as a straw man and red herring set up to distract from the real issues confronting black America.
Well it's not. The moniker is one that was created by Malcolm X in one of his more famous speeches to make a point about certain blacks not giving their all to the movement because of their so called stake in America. That speech is so inspiring and so on point, that it is from where I find the inspiration- not to mention the name- for this blog. I use it because I think it's still relevant for today's discourse in matters of race, as well as the black political movement in this country.
When I post on other blogs I always use the handle The Field-Negro, and the vitriolic responses I get for my handle alone -from whites and blacks- is at times frightening. "Why must you use that handle?It's so degrading to blacks."Shame on you for such a despicable handle". "You embarrass yourself and all self respecting black people by using such a handle". And on and on it goes. This is just from the black folks. You can imagine what I get from my fellow white bloggers on the web; or, for that matter, the fringes of the web.
But, once again, I would like to set the record straight about this house Negro field Negro metaphor(and yes it's just a metaphor) and where I stand on this issue. Think of this post as Field Negro 101 for your self improvement.
First, being a house Negro has nothing to do with how you look, how much money you have, where you live, or, for that matter, where you work. The same can be said about being a field Negro. It's not about how radical you think you are or how militant or African you may appear in your features.
It's why I explain my background in detail to all who come to my blog. It's important to understand that in spite of my upbringing and background, I am firmly entrenched in the fields. It's not about my credentials or how I grew up, or even what privileges were afforded to me. Rather, it's about my state of mind at this point in time, and how I choose to engage in the struggle to uplift black people in modern day America.
For instance, I consider wealthy people such as Bill Cosby and Denzel Washington field Negroes. On the other hand, I consider some not so wealthy people, such as Jessie Lee Peterson and La Shawn Barber; house Negroes. I consider certain sports icons such as Jim Brown, Magic Johnson, and Muhammad Ali, field Negroes. But I consider icons such as Michael Jordon, O.J. Simpson, and George Foreman, house Negroes. Oprah Winfrey, in my book, is a house Negro; while her good friend, Maya Angelo, belongs in the fields. Jessie Jackson (yes, that Jessie Jackson) is a house Negro, but John Lewis, the congressman from Georgia, is a field Negro. In terms of appearance, the very dark Clarence Thomas should have his picture in the dictionary beside house Negro, while the fairer skinned Thurgood Marhsall was a big time field Negro. Get the point? It's all about who I think is contributing to the cause of advancing black issues in the right way.
Now let's look at this phenomenon literally for a moment: I have no problem with someone living in the house, and wanting the things the house offers for his or her family: The better schools; the safer neighborhoods; and a better quality of life. Only a fool would think otherwise. I don't even have a problem with the house Negro running to put out the fire if massa's house catches on fire, or, for that matter, if he tries to save massa's life. After all, if massa and his house are gone, where is the house Negro going to live, and who is going to hire him to work? On the other hand, I do have a problem if the house Negro tries to save massa before his own. That type of house Negro is a problem, and he is the one I speak so disparagingly of when I make fun of the house Negro.
Unfortunately, as Malcolm said, there are still a lot of house Negroes like the latter around today. They are the ones who write the books for massa's ears only, kicking black folks harder than massa would ever kick us by telling us how bad we are. They are the ones -insert Thomas Sowell here- who write about America and her problems, as if the white man is blameless, and we, black folks, brought all the problems on ourselves. They are the ones-insert Clarence Thomas here- who are not only too happy to work in the house with massa, but wish that they were a part of massa's family as well. That is the dangerous house Negro; the self hater, the one who will do anything to be more white than the white person himself, because just working and living in the house is not good enough for him. That house Negro wants a stake in massa's house, and he will sell the rest of us out to get it.
I will give you an example: I have a black colleague who does very well for himself and his family. He recently purchased a home in a very affluent predominantly white neighborhood, and has from time to time bragged of being the only black in his development. Now this individual is a classic house Negro. And living in his all white subdivision didn't make him one, but being proud that he is the only black in said subdivision does. Like the "house nigger" in Malcolm X' s speech, he was proud to be the only Negro living among the whites. This is the inclination and fixed way of thinking of an individual who has fled from his people and would not mind if he never sees a black neighborhood or anything associated with black people again. This Negro didn't flee to white suburbia for better schools, safer neighborhoods, and cost effectiveness. Nope, this Negro fled to white suburbia because he wanted to be around massa and his house. This house Negro is the one I refer to when I make my lists, and speak of when I try to point out the Negroes that are holding us back by projecting to white folks-insert Oprah here- a false image of what black folks are going through. The field Negro, given the same circumstances, would find himself going back to the old neighborhood, volunteering his time, and helping when and where he can. He would not care about how many other Negroes lived in his development, as long as his family was receiving the benefits I outlined above.
So for all of you who see the handle, and wonder why The Field Negro, think about that for a minute. Think about what makes a field Negro: Hard worker, cares about his family and his race, always with the masses so he knows what it will take to improve our plight, understands that it will take more than just talk to make things happen. And finally, that the house is not his, and ultimately he will have to build his own.
That, my friends, is the essence of the field Negro, and that is who every Negro should strive to become.
*Watch the speech here.