A Phenom­e­nal­ist’s Guide to the Block Pan­ther in the Pri­mav­era

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Kim­berly Kruge

JM: It’s re­sent­ment to­ward black Amer­i­cans. The so­cial prob­lem is this: you’ve got a class sys­tem, but the fact of race ob­scures that. It is not a democ­racy, it’s a class-bound sys­tem. We’re talk­ing about taste, we’re talk­ing about money, and if you’ve got money you can buy class. You can buy it. You can al­ways tell an up­wardly mo­bile pro­le­tar­ian, be­cause in his house, he has usu­ally a new Per­sian rug, English an­tiques, and in his fresh­man year he has a de­cal of the col­lege on the back of his car. But he’ll get to a cer­tain point where he be­gins to re­fine his man­ners, when he be­gins to speak English im­pec­ca­bly. He’s into a power struc­ture, but it’s not called a class sys­tem, be­cause you’ve got race as a sort of buf­fer. And those who can’t get meat and bread on the ta­ble are al­ways frus­trated.

CB: How is the po­si­tion of an up­wardly mo­bile black Amer­i­can dif­fer­ent from that of an Arab or Chi­nese Amer­i­can?

JM: It’s com­plex. So­ci­o­log­i­cally, black Amer­i­cans are born into the myth of rugged in­di­vid­u­al­ism that Rea­gan pro­moted. That is, you get yours and to hell with the next guy. So a lot of us have aban­doned our links to our com­mu­nal tra­di­tions. That won’t hap­pen with Arabs, Chi­nese, Jews, or oth­ers. And, too, a black Amer­i­can has no link­age with any group out­side of his own in this coun­try. There is a ro­man­ti­cized link with Africa, but that’s not even for real.

CB: It’s so far re­moved.

JM: Ev­ery other group has some home­land. Some place of respite where he can go and get his spirit re­newed. Black Amer­i­cans ceased be­ing African after the first or sec­ond gen­er­a­tion. But the most im­por­tant dif­fer­ence is that black Amer­i­cans are Amer­i­cans. They are more Amer­i­can than any­body. And the irony is that no mat­ter what is done to us or said about us, the white South­erner has to come to us to find out who he is.

CB: He has to de­fine his own role and his own sense of cul­ture through you. An­other in­ter­est­ing thing I re­mem­ber you point­ing out at a dif­fer­ent time was how many id­ioms of black cul­ture have been adopted by white cul­ture at large un­der other names. Speech pat­terns and mu­sic, for ex­am­ple.

JM: There is no white cul­ture in this coun­try. It’s all mu­latto cul­ture. The foun­da­tions of Amer­i­can cul­ture are a mix­ture of African, Euro­pean, and In­dian. I think that when those three el­e­ments come to­gether, things be­gin to hap­pen. I al­ways try to make the dis­tinc­tion

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