Monday, January 15, 2007

The Reality of MLK Day, Part Two

An incidental dividend that the philanthropist sometimes demanded of the freedom march or the jail-in was an ennobling catharsis. So promiscuous was the resulting role confusion that it was hard to say at times whether the actor was playing redeemer or redeemed, or whether the underlying purpose of a particular march or freedom school was black salvation or white.

The picture was further complicated by the exalted roles the white romantics assigned their black partners. In effect, they turned the tables of racial dogma and opted for Negro supremacy. But it was a dubious brand of supremacy, and the flattery, as Robert Penn Warren has pointed out, was shot through with the condescension implicit in the eighteenth century adoration of the Noble Savage.

The savage was extravagantly praised and admired, but he was admired for very particular kinds of virtues.

They embraced the African-American with an impulsiveness that and fervor that must have proved uncomfortable to the so-called Negro at the times. Another turning of the tables seems to have endowed the whites with the fit of imitation traditionally attributed to the blacks, and made the latter the object of most abject cultural imitation of modern times.

Whites assiduously cultivated Black slang, Black music, Black dance, Black postures, Black attitudes--or at least he slang, music, dance, postures, and attitudes they fondly attributed to Blacks.

And they still do.

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