Friday, March 13, 2009

Dear TAN: Is Assimilation Bad or Good?

Send your questions/letters to theassimilatednegro [at] gmail [dot] com.

In this edition: The moralizing of assimilation!

Dear sir,

I came across your website tonight and decided to send you an email, I understand if you are not able to respond, I am sure you get a lot of them.

I will try to get straight to the point. I am 25 years old, white and from the south. For the past year or so I have been using the internet to probe every aspect of race and racism, from every point of view, and from as many eras as possible. But I have never actually contacted any of the authors of these pages, so you are the first one I have spoken to.

I guess I am looking to open a dialogue of some sort. I have so many questions. I get so disheartened, sometimes sick to my stomach, reading articles and viewing clips, and I just need some answers or closure or a ray of hope. Just something to keep me from throwing my hands up and saying this planet is screwed. But like I said I will try to keep this short for now.

I will start with the title of your blog. I think I understand what you are getting at with it, but I still don't understand everything. I was under the impression that whites for a long time would have rather died than allow blacks to gain access to the promises of this country. I may have answered my own question, but am I on the right track in thinking that there is a huge difference between assimilation and equality? As in assimilation has inherently negative connotations? And if that is the case, could you help me understand how blacks view the word assimilation, or rather, what specific points are objectionable? I am familiar with the idea that there are white and black hairstyles, so I am thinking that for example a black person sporting a typical white hairdo is an example of assimilation? I know there are deeper issues than hairstyles, but then again maybe it is indicative of something below the surface?

Ok, hopefully that wasn't too long, but if you can find the time, I would greatly appreciate to hear from you. Thanks for you time.

Ben G.


Dear Ben G. (like the dog, ruff! ha? uhhhh...),

Thank you for the note. I think your questions get right to the heart of what TAN is about. Let's enumerate for readability and comprehension:

"25, white, from the south": i guess the big thing here is being aware how much those things matter-- age, race, where you were born. If you're playing PC-police and you want to get a wire up on someone, that's where you want to start your investigation. think about the n-word as an example. how it plays with someone 25 or 50. black or white. from the new england area vs. the deep south. An old white guy from the south might be racist, but he's also, invariably, an old white guy from the south. An african-american studies course isn't going to change that. so even if you don't condone a perspective, it helps understanding.

"something to keep me from throwing my hands up...": if you're concern is the planet, rest assured that we're fairly screwed regardless of how many racist articles you read. even if the planet is not done, we are. don't get hung up on it too much, we have bigger chickens to fry (thank heavens!). probably best to consider race as a tangible door/gateway to problem-solving on the bigger crises of the human condition. Back to The Wire analogy: if life was a case detail, race can give you good hard "PC (probable cause)" to get the wire up and really dig in on an investigation.

"assimilation and equality": Yes, young Benielsan you are on to something. We often talk about race with this egalitarian agenda; but assimilation is not about equality, assimilating is absorbing, integrating. If you and I sit in a room together, whether you think we're equal or i'm 2/5 of an individual, you absorb me. You experience me and adapt. In this way assimilation is just reality. We assimilate by being social, being human. It cannot be stopped by racists, nor does it need representing from Al Sharpton. Martin Luther King had a dream of equality, and he could envision everyone being able to do the same thing. But even in his wildest fantasies he would have no clue as to where assimilation would take us:

Now that's assimilation I can believe in!

"how blacks view assimilation": well i think, as might be expected from a disenfranchised group, a lot of black people view the word assimilation with skepticism. as mentioned before assimilation doesn't speak to equality. there's separate but equal. there's also separate but assimilated. for black people there's reason to associate assimilation with exploitation.

assimilation also alludes to the assigning of value. i reference nietzsche, discuss race as religion, tell fables because i feel drawn to exploring the morality behind race. it feels overlooked, and ripe for mining. The "negro" in TAN is because there's a void on that perspective, but the "assimilated" part speaks to everyone.

"black man, white hairdo": if you're friends with Chuck Taylor, please send a picture. asap.

thanks for the note,



  1. Anonymous3/13/2009

    i think TAN doesn't explore point 1 as much as he could have. All your stats matter in context. So if you're from the south and everyone else is, it doesn't matter. If however, you were to come up to the northeast you'd have to walk and talk faster, you'd have to lose the passive in passive-aggressive and if you try to hold the door open for every woman getting into penn station you'd never get out of there. so you assimilate to the northeast way of being.
    TAN's assimilation would be different in Ethiopia than it would be at prep school; in the queensbridge houses than in the white house.
    So its irrelevant to ask whether assimilation is good or bad.

  2. This conversation is way too heady for me. What I want to know is how many applicants could there possibly be for the "Best Austrian Female Beatbox" competition?

  3. Anonymous3/14/2009

    I didn't realize until this post but I don't think a black guy can have a white man's hairdo, but a white guy can have a black guy's hairdo.

  4. Anonymous3/15/2009

    That is NOT true. What about Al Sharpton? What about that one black guy that used to be on the 700 club? Or really early Prince records?

  5. Anonymous3/27/2009

    "An old white guy from the south might be racist, but he's also, invariably, an old white guy from the south. An african-american studies course isn't going to change that."

    What a bunch of stereotypical nonsense. Try switching out the premises of this statement and see how it reads. "A black man from the ghetto might be a drug addict, but he's also, invariably, a black man from the ghetto." Sounds like a bunch of tired stereotypes, don't it?

    Spend some time in the real world and you'll find that there are all kinds of people everywhere. It's very hard to peg anyone's character based on where they're from or line 9a on their 1040. Furthermore, seeking to categorize every person one meets into tidy little groupings is an exercise in childishness.

    Grow up and start looking at your fellow human beings as people rather than demographic data sets. It is possible to be so obsessed with searching for hints of racism that you overlook the good people entirely.

    --A non-racist white guy from the South


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