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