Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 17, 2015

The White Negro

Filed under: african-american — louisproyect @ 2:32 pm

At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night… I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a “white man” disillusioned. All my life I’d had white ambitions; that was why I’d abandoned a good woman like Terry in the San Joaquin Valley I passed the dark porches of Mexican and Negro homes.

―Jack Kerouac, On the Road

So no wonder that in certain cities of America, in New York of course, and New Orleans, in Chicago and San Francisco and Los Angeles, in such American cities as Paris and Mexico, D.F., this particular part of a generation was attracted to what the Negro had to offer. In such places as Greenwich Village. a menage-a-trois was completed—the bohemian and the juvenile delinquent came face-to-face with the Negro, and the hipster was a fact in American life. If marijuana was the wedding ring, the child was the language of Hip for its argot gave expression to abstract states of feeling which all could share, at least all who were Hip. And in this wedding of the white and the black it was the Negro who brought the cultural dowry. 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 cameos of security for the average white: mother and the home, lob and the family, are not even a mockery to millions of Negroes; they are impossible. The Negro has the simplest of alternatives: live a life of constant humility or ever-threatening danger. In such a pass where paranoia is as vital to survival as blood, the Negro had stayed alive and begun to grow by following the need of his body where he could. Knowing in the cells of his existence that life was war, nothing but war, the Negro (all exceptions admitted) could rarely afford the sophisticated inhibitions of civilization, and so he kept for his survival the art of the primitive, he lived in the enormous present, he subsisted for his Saturday night kicks, relinquishing the pleasures of the mind for the more obligatory pleasures of the body, and in his music he gave voice to the character and quality of his existence, to his rage and the infinite variations of joy, lust, languor, growl, cramp, pinch, scream and despair of his orgasm. For jazz is orgasm, it is the music of orgasm, good orgasm and bad, and so it spoke across a nation, it had the communication of art even where it was watered, perverted, corrupted, and almost killed, it spoke in no matter what laundered popular way of instantaneous existential states to which some whites could respond, it was indeed a communication by art because it said, “I feel this, and now you do too.”

So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts. The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.

-Norman Mailer, The White Negro


  1. As Richard Seymour says, “As long as you think you’re white, there’s no hope for you.” http://www.leninology.co.uk/2015/06/as-long-as-you-think-youre-white-theres.html

    Comment by Fred Murphy — June 17, 2015 @ 3:09 pm

  2. The USA is a colonial-settler state founded through the displacement and dispossession of the aboriginal people.
    Followed closely by the brutal trade in African people and the barbaric plantation slave regime.
    With a racist history like this it should be no surprise to any honest observer that the resulting conditions exist today.

    Race is a social construct. There is no biological or other scientific justification for it..
    It benefits the property owning class and divides the working class for the purpose of economic gain and control.

    Comment by Ted Turner — June 17, 2015 @ 5:03 pm

  3. What I find most interesting about the Rachel Dolezal story is how sharply it contrasts with the Caitlyn Jenner on the social and media acceptance front. Apparently it is socially acceptable to change one’s sex, but not one’s race. One is a biological construct, which we now have the technology to effectively change, the other is a social construct, which necessarily must take away from the individual any right to self determination.

    That is why the scandal broke when it was revealed that her biological parents are white. It is because that act of birth establishes a social fact that no amount of technology can ever change. And apparently the real crime is being born white and trying to be black because it the truth was ever told about the number of black people who are passing for white, particularly if the one-drop-of-African-blood rule is applied, it would be shown that a very significant part of the white population is passing.

    My own mother passed for white as a young woman in the South. She had green eyes, brown hair and very fair skin, most probably she was more Cherokee than anything else with some African and probably also some Irish thrown in. She was raised black in Dudley, NC but when she moved away she found that she could pass for white and that there were definite advantages to doing so. I’m not sure when she came back to being black. She operated in both worlds. When she fell in love with and married my father, that sealed it. If instead, she had fallen in love with a white man, a child of that marriage may have well spent his whole life passing for white and not even known it.

    But that how we define race in America.

    So the next question is. What does it do to this story if it is revealed that one or both of Rachel parents are passing, so they have been lying and she is black after all?

    For now Rachel Dolezal’s claim that she is black is being paid the ultimate back hand complement by the media. Her claim to a new race is being treated the way Cassius Clay’s claim to a new name first was. She is being treated like a nigger.

    Clay Claiborne, Director Vietnam: American Holocaust Linux Beach Productions Venice, CA 90291 (310) 581-1536

    Read my blogs at the Linux Beach

    Comment by Clay Claiborne — June 17, 2015 @ 5:49 pm

  4. According to what I read in Slate today her parents were a couple of sadistic fundamentalist cultists. Pretty much explains everything as far as I’m concerned.

    Comment by godoggo — June 18, 2015 @ 6:39 am

  5. When whites rebelled in a racist society by adopting black style-it was a rebellion in the context of 1950s America. But as with ‘noble savage’ stereotypes it was surely always a double edged sword. It doesn’t seem to me unfair to suggest that this historical moment can’t define every discussion about race in America. Its not to dismiss that historical moment-anymore then recognising the limitations of noble savage language takes away from its early role in critiquing European states. Its why I disagree with these parallels.

    Comment by John Gamey — June 18, 2015 @ 9:07 am

  6. Can white people really be black inside the way transsexuals say they are another sex inside? Anatomical gender is, for the most part, though not always, a clear-cut and decisive either-or proposition. The hypothesis that on some fundamental level of character (perhaps some lower layer of the human psychic protocol), individuals without any hermaphroditism (a separate matter) may have a gender identity different from their anatomical gender seems quite possible and even probable. The current scientifc consensus appears to support this.

    Race, however, is to a very considerable degree (and unlike scientific fact, no matter what Mary Poovey thinks) a fundamentally social construct that imposes global assumptions about the actual characteristics and personal worth of individuals, with no clear basis in biological fact. The irony and injustice of this is that the inherently conceptual and ambiguous (and to that extent, unnatural) race construct nevertheless imposes a certain clear-cut and inescapable fate on individuals in society. The bearers of this construct have relatively little, often no control over this–certainly less than the entitled offspring of the (mostly white) bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, who remain the standard-bearers of self-realization and pure moralism across the political spectrum from far right to pseudo-left.

    Caitlin Jenner may be exploiting class privilege in choosing the solution to her gender identity problem, but is not otherwise concealing anything. She is quite open and honest about the matter, however unaware she may be of some of its implications. But perhaps to a Black person, Rachel Dolezal is not so much expressing her deepest identity as concealing her whiteness–and perpetrating a deception privileged by her whiteness, with its unalienable right to choice in all things–however benign and even virtuous this may seem to her.

    How could this not be offensive to at least some people for whom the problem of racial identity–however they resolve and rise above it–is externally imposed and intrinsically unwelcome? This is not to say that people of any “racial” origin cannot assert a positive people’s identity, but it might well be that for people normally considered Black in America, the affirmative response to one’s racial identity must follow a very different path from the one followed by Rachel Dolezal.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — June 18, 2015 @ 5:53 pm

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