goto Appendx main menu A Black Manifesto :
Darell W. Fields
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At this point a distinction must be made between heritage and culture. Heritage embodies the nuance of tradition or traditions that have been passed on to other generations. It implies a continuity, a longevity, whose main by-product could be called a formal identity. Culture, on the other hand, is infinitely more complex and may embody many heritages or histories that could be termed functional identities. In such circumstances, conscious or subconscious activities are invoked either to preserve or modify one's own, or another's, belief system. Rather than a reliance on continuity or history, culture is more sporadic and unpredictable because it defines itself around particular circumstances or events.
To put it more simply, it is the myth of heritage (formal identity) that allows an African-American man to speak of his present circumstances, and all of those life circumstances up to that point,  as being the result of "immigration," while  it is culture (functional identity) that allows that same man to assume in a particular social situation that everyone in the room, except maybe himself, is a "nigger" and that his use of the term will be embraced rather than rejected. 
If the term African-American is anything, it is an artifact of the struggle between the formal and functional identities that "we" have constructed for ourselves. In another America all people are created equal, and in that world the term African-American may be appropriate. But the use of the term in this particular America—an America that has not yet lived up to its own ideals—implies a thorough transformation that has not yet been accomplished. No matter how much the hope of this change exists, its practical realization in society may not. In any case, what would it matter if every black person in this country could situate his or her past explicitly? What do we do then? What do we do now? What do we do tomorrow? Appendx 1 page break 29 | 30 

It is possible that any construction of heritage denies poignant realities of history and culture. It would seem impossible to speak of a black culture, even if one chooses to call it African-American, without speaking of an American (United States) experience, the very same experience that makes it necessary for a new race term to present itself. Furthermore, it would seem impossible to discuss the conception and refinement of any American institution without addressing or suppressing this inherent black experience. Therefore, any term used to define blackness must not be judged by the way it looks when pinned to an appropriate chest, but how it stands up to present sociopolitical criteria. The naming or renaming of a condition does not necessarily indicate, in a socially meaningful sense, a distinct change in status. Thus the terms slave, African, colored, Negro, black, and African-American are labels that may anticipate change but in no way are empirical (functional) evidence of a change in a socio-economic sense. In essence, depending on individual circumstances, functional realities may reveal absolutely no difference in meaning between these terms. From this perspective, the process of moving from absolute suppression to nonsuppression presents an amalgam of shifts and phases that embody a myriad of consistencies and inconsistencies available for viewing "identities." To ignore these life circumstances is to be willfully ignorant of "other" possibilities or even one's own confrontations with history. 

It has been argued here that race terminologies are quite arbitrary and therefore insignificant. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss these terms altogether. To do so would be to deny the significance of the circumstances from which these terms have arisen. Although the distinction between such terms may be questioned, it is not possible to challenge their sociological origins. If one speaks of black culture in this country, one of its major determinants is its ongoing struggle against stereotypical, formal, and historical definitions that attempt to limit or conceal it. This struggle is continuous and pervasive, and it is the process that binds us, in one way or another, to our identities and vice versa. This process of binding and unbinding, and not the race terminologies themselves, are indeed the most significant, for it is in this functional process that culture gains its social rather than formal definition. By way of its formal definition, the concept of "race" is certainly believable. However, functional realities and the identities arising from them resonate incessantly with disbelief and challenge, on a moment-to-moment basis, the (a)moral mechanism that would otherwise continue to function without seeing any necessity for modification. 

The eyes and thoughts of others pass through me instantly and in their eyes I am a man and black, and architect and black, a professor and black, and so on and black.
Unfortunately this point remains a struggle against the boundaries defining us, black people, rather than against a more defined opponent. This internal struggle Appendx 1 page break 30 | 31 "hopes" and "trusts" far too much in the so-called American dream and defines itself more than anything else as a class struggle. This struggle believes, hopes, and prays that if it minds its manners and watches its conduct, all circumstances indicating its continued subjugation will be alleviated. This trust in the American system is evidence that the struggle itself is "coping" with these circumstances rather than "changing" them. Therefore there is no substantial rise in the level of anxiety over the problems at hand, because some of us appear to have "made it." Unfortunately, we have forgotten the old adage that "when one of us suffers, we all suffer." But of course, even the term "we" cannot be used here effectively because the "we" has been consumed by "class" rather than "caste" consciousness. In class consciousness, there is the hope of moving up and making one's life better and less the grinding monotony that accompanies poverty and disenfranchisement. Although this excursion may never occur, there is always the possibility that it will. The idea of hope then becomes a grand coping mechanism that condones the structural means of subjugation that makes "hope" necessary in the first place. 

Conversely, a caste consciousness defined by race contains an inevitability with respect to one's social circumstances, and one can only hope that one's ancestors were born on the "right side" of the tracks. More important, one is made aware of a line in society that cannot be traversed. My mother used to speak of this line, and at times I marvel that I am able to drink from a public water fountain or relieve myself in a public restroom not designated by my color. Some thirty or forty years have passed between her realities and my own, but a residue still exists. She always told me that "you can be whatever you want to be and you are black." And of course she was, as are all mothers at one time or another, uncompromisingly correct. I have become a great many things, but those things are always, either in spoken or unspoken terms, appended by the "and black" part of my mother's pronouncement. This is a matter I cannot shirk because it is not up to me to shirk it—it never was. I am immediately conspicuous and defined not only by what I think of myself, but by what others perceive me to be. I may have some control over the former definition, but the latter is quite beyond me. The eyes and thoughts of others pass through me instantly, and in their eyes I am a man and black, an architect and black, a professor and black, and so on and black

If there is any African-American who doubts there is a caste system in the United States enforced and reinforced by race, let him step out from behind those items that convey his "class"—his car, his money, his clothes, and his education—and adorn the Appendx 1 page break 31 | 32"street clothes" fashioned by his black skin and simply walk. Eventually, he will have collected two items of evidence that should make the distinction absolutely clear. Those items of evidence are (1) being at the wrong place at (2) the wrong time. 

For me there is more "hope" in the caste, rather than class, conception of race because at the very least the factions are distinguishable. Although the line drawn between the colors may be "caste" in stone, the possibility of subverting the legitimizing strategies that privileges one race above another is not. The problem in caste consciousness is to attain and maintain power rather than to remove the line. If blacks learned anything from the Reagan-Bush era (no, I'm not a black Democrat), it should have been that there is greater likelihood of achieving results when one negotiates from a position of strength. 

If anything is clear at this point, it is this: the terms African-American and black are not interchangeable. The use of African-American alludes to certain manifestations of  the hope of class as it penetrates race, while black signifies, quite bluntly, the lines (social, political, and cultural) drawn by race. Although the terms are not interchangeable, they do arise from the same struggle, which cannot be defined simply as a "class struggle," for race complicates the matter tremendously. To this day, in some of our most private conversations we still use the term "house nigger," making more vivid present circumstances by defining them with old terminologies. This particular term alludes to days of slavery when proximity to or inclusion in the master's house produced an "upper-class slave," as opposed to those living in or near the fields. I do not mean to imply here that the term African-American is coincidental to "house nigger" or that "black" refers to field hands. What I am suggesting is that the situations in which we find ourselves  produce (even now) the necessity for the formulation of these names, and that the evidence that will be most reliable in acknowledging that we have "overcome" will not be the production and deployment of a new race term but the acceptance and embracing of an old one. But make no mistake, we will have to call ourselves something. next page

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