Saturday, January 10, 2009

Coates Makes Me Go Hmmm....

Just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates' outstanding profile of Michelle Obama. Well, it's more than just a profile of Michelle than it's an introduction to black culture for many. Coates does an excellent job relating Michelle's experiences to his own and the larger culture he grew up within. Many aspects of the piece are fascinating, but I feel most comfortable discussing this quote:
"Pop culture has laid the groundwork for that recognition. Barack Obama’s coalition—the young, the black, the urban, the hip—was originally assembled by hip-hop. Jay-Z and Nas may be problematic ambassadors, but their ilk are why those who thought Barack and Michelle were giving each other a “terrorist fist jab” were laughed off the stage. We are as physically segregated as ever, yet the changes in media have drawn black idiom into the broader American narrative."
I've written previously about my experiences with race and the Obama campaign, but not enough attention was given to what laid the groundwork for my appreciation for and affinity of the black culture. As I said in the Inquirer piece, "some in the mainstream media like to say Millenials, those of us born from 1976 to 1995, don't see race. This just isn't true. We see race, but it is just part of an individual's identity, not a determinant."

Long before Jay-Z and Nas, Bill Cosby introduced me to the black family Thursday nights at 8 PM. Pacific Grove was far from a melting pot. With only a few prominent black families, dating back generations, classrooms were not the breeding ground for relationships. This changed the same year The Cosby Show first aired. Larry Washington's family moved to town. His father was stationed at Fort Ord and we ended up on the same baseball team. From what I remember, Larry and I were inseparable. This sounds like an entry on Stuff White People Like, but for an 9-year-old the cultural ramifications of diversity are completely lost. I know it was for me. I was only just then becoming aware of my surroundings and relationships.

My friendship with Larry and The Cosby Show no doubt opened me up to an experience of profound affect I'd have only two years later: my introduction and quick love for hip-hop. I'm sure many white kids share a similar story as mine. Our relationships with popular culture were probably no different than of our parents. The difference lies in what pop culture had become and as they said in a Nov. 7th NY Times piece, "For a certain generation of young voters, she said, “It’s not Ward Cleaver who was the all-American dad; it was Cliff Huxtable.”
Now playing: Devendra Banhart - I Feel Like a Child

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