One does not easily go against the grain in the black community without risking serious repercussions and penalties, including excommunication from blackness.
Within the African-American community, often ones 'blackness' has nothing to do with ones blood connections but on ones adherence to popular group thought. This form of tribalism turns the African-American community into a monolithic presence that thwarts progress by painting individuals into a 'black' corner where only opinions supportive of the status quo are allowed.
Curiously, it is a form of Orwellian thought policing that comes to the surface after the fact when those who have stepped across the undrawn lines of the "black monolith" face public castigation for having the nerve to think differently or to think—PERIOD. These unwritten rules, which are subject to change without notice, fit popular ideas of "how to be black." Unfortunately, there is no written rulebook and those who break these unwritten rules find themselves excommunicated from "blackness" without prior notice.
What it means is that you or I cannot speak our minds without the fear of disparagement, not because we are right, but because we had the nerve to say something that goes against the party line of the "black monolith." The power of groupthink is not to be underestimated. For instance, only in the black community do people shudder when something terrible happens and say silently to themselves, "I hope it wasn't anyone black."
When the bombing in Oklahoma City occurred, white people weren't whispering to themselves about the skin color of the perpetrator; they had a variety of opinion and they voiced them—right and wrong. However, in the black community there was an underlying fear that it would be a "black person" and that somehow all black people would suffer as a result.
Blacks unfairly cast as villains are not the issue. The problem is that as long as we cast ourselves as a monolithic presence we will bring the same judgment upon the group rather than alleviating such direct focus. That there is strength in numbers is certainly true to a degree, but there is no strength in a wrong answer and no amount of addition will ever change it.
Today it seems that blackness is more a series popular stances espoused by favored public figures rather than a state of mind or logical thought process. This form of tribalism does not allow us to apply fair critique to our own no matter, how insipid, vapid or just plain stupid some of the things are they do. It is in our interest to criticize and question those who claim to represent us, which includes any policies and processes that may affect us.
A commonness of skin color often leads many to make assumptions about the black community that are incorrect, but help to perpetuate stereotypes within the community itself. Religion and politics are two topics of conversation that most avoid, but in this case, they are appropriate to use as examples. To many in the African American community, a black Republican seems to be an oxymoron, for many assume that all African Americans are Democrats. Of course, it is not true, but the fact remains that a black Republican is an aberration in the African American community, and is in fact often treated as a traitor to the race. The same thought applies to atheists and agnostics within the black community.
Often, the culture of "blackness" does not reward individualism outside "accepted" group norms, as witnessed by the sometimes acrimonious debate between black scholars regarding affirmative action. Blacks taking an anti-affirmative action stand are regularly labeled as Uncle Toms, Oreos and traitors without a thorough and reasoned investigation.
Race and racism turn any discussion of stereotypes into a sensitive subject in the African American community. However, many African Americans would be surprised to know that they use many of the same stereotypes to characterize each other that would be considered offensive if used by whites. The use of these stereotypes by African Americans is used in an almost unconscious manner to establish standards of behavior for other African Americans.
At first glance this setting of standards seems relatively harmless, but when it is considered that to hold individuals to a single standard restricts all and may be even more harmful, for it makes artificial barriers with the sole criterion based on looking the same and thus reinforces the idea of a "black monolith."
That any black man or woman is able to think beyond the moment, articulate complex ideas beyond sports and sex comes as a surprise to many Americans, especially many African Americans. Many people of African descent can't dance, sing or play dominos either and they may also be affluent, Republican and have never tasted a chittlin' in their life. Neither are all black folks afraid of the dark, criminally oriented or Baptist.
For everything, there is a season. There is a time when black people must unite to fend off oppression. There is a time when if we are not united, then being divided, we will fall. However, there is also a time when every African American must stand as an individual.
It is past time for African Americans to allow themselves to be judged solely as a monolithic presence, where the action of one is interpreted across the group, where everyone is painted with the same brush or where having a different opinion is looked upon as blasphemy and treason. It is time we celebrated our own diversity in the black community and use it to build better bridges to prosperity, faster highways to freedom and sturdy thoroughfares to self-reliance.
For everything, there is a season and the season for breaking free of the "black monolith" is now. Fight the Power!