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The Mundaneness of Blackness

By Mark Anthony Neal | @NewBlackMan | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Thursday, September 22, 2016.

Any Negro who wishes to live must live with danger from his first day, and no experience can ever be casual to him, no Negro can saunter down a street with any real certainty that violence will not visit him on his walk...The Negro has the simplest of alternatives: live a life of constant humility or ever-threatening danger.” -- Norman Mailer, “The White Negro” (1957).

If we were to believe the commercials, the pop music charts, any number of streaming video platforms, we would, of course, know that Blackness is on the cutting edge of those things most useful for the accumulation of wealth in a culture that not-so-ironically, generates as much wealth demonizing this very thing, so sanctioned as the cutting edge.   

This is an old business; Mailer’s lyrical assessment of those would be hipsters of the late 1950s in his essay “The White Negro” are as applicable to the folk overrunning the local coffee shop in the pursuit of neoliberal leisure, as is Mailer’s assessment, albeit brief, of the absurdity of Black life.

Few Black folk under the age of 80 talk in terms of humility; it presumes a choice -- and agency -- that has never been anything ordinary, so as to position one’s self in such a way seems more calculating than anything else.  Humility in the daylight of this moment is recognition of the exceptionality of your being, and Black folk -- the Black folk that Mailer conjured, and who are recalled in this moment -- are nothing exceptional.

The dirty secret of Black life is that, for all the existentialist angst that Mailer correctly identified in a generation of White hipsters who sought the coolness of “living on the margin between totalitarianism and democracy” -- because it produced great art and a consumable experience with the edge -- most Black folk don’t live those lives, whether captured in the grimy photography of 1950s realism or Kayne and Kim’s Instagram accounts.  

If we are being honest, exceptional Blackness never gets you killed; spectacular Blackness never gets you killed. Death is witnessed by Blackness in the singularly unremarkable and unexceptional: selling cigarettes, smoking a cigarette in your own car, reckless eyeballing in the 21st century mid-Atlantic city, playing in the park, your car breaking down on the side of the road.

8 years into a Black presidency, 16 years into the 21st century -- a future that was depicted in many of our childhoods as a time of flying cars, and if we watched the first generation of The Jetsons, apparently no Black people -- these deaths, the so many of them that have visited Blackness are not remarkable, spectacular, or exceptional, but rather mundane.

These deaths, the so many of them, are  as mundane as driving your family around in a car, that you knew might breakdown on you one evening on the side of the road, that you neither possessed the time nor money to have repaired because that is what a mundane existence is.  That something so mundane might get you killed -- targeted by the State, no less --speaks to absurdity of Black life, and even that absurdity has become mundane.

The Mundaneness of Blackness

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