Friday, April 29, 2011

The Claire Huxtable Code

Claire Huxtable is the perfect professional black mom. Actually, Claire Huxtable transcends race: She’s the perfect professional mom, period. She also transcends generations: While June Cleaver, Carol Brady, and Edith Bunker may lose potency over time, if you go back to the archives, you’ll find Claire Huxtable still holds up strong. Every TV mom is still aspiring to be Claire. She simply covers all the bases: Effective lawyer. Attentive parent. Lightning-fast hoagie snatcher.

She raised the bar every Thursday night for years and years, and millions of black men went to bed dreaming they would someday run into their own Claire. Every black man under forty in America has used her as a guiding light in his quest for the perfect partner. When they go out on dates with black women, their eyes glaze over as they hallucinate three-cushion sofas and little Rudys and Theos walking around, being adorably bratty and dealing with very solvable life issues.

How to be a modern-day Claire:
  1. Date a professional: doctor, lawyer, politician. Income, insurance, and a job that projects dignity and respect are nonnegotiables for Claire.
  2. Be independently successful: You want a professional man, but no one ever saw Claire asking for money on The Cosby Show.
  3. Develop the ability to raise one eyebrow—it’s the ultimate passive-aggressive tool. I’m pretty sure there are a couple episodes where Claire didn’t speak a single line, she just raised the eyebrow for every purpose, be it warning the children or luring Cliff into the bedroom.
  4. Dress in age-appropriate attire that is neither flashy nor cheap. Claire was sexy, but at the same time we never saw more than a few inches of flesh exposed. Try to keep up with that, Kim Kardashian!
  5. Health and fitness are part of the agenda but should not be overdone. Claire never bemoaned her weight, but we also never saw her coming from the gym.
How to find your Claire:
  • Tour local graduate schools.
  • Have a graduate degree yourself.
  • Be comfortable with the fact that you will always be less put together than your woman. Be a fixer-upper.
  • No drugs, no excessive drinking. Life itself is fun with Claire; there’s no need to artificially enhance.
  • A small potbelly is endearing.

Michelle Obama might be taking the baton as the quintessential symbol of the professional black woman/doting mother. Being the first lady and having the whole “actually existing” thing going for her will surely help her work her way into our collective hearts and minds. But she’ll still need Barack to win a second term before she can approach the status of Claire Huxtable.

illustration by Brandon

Thus Spach Sarah Palin: Become Hard

But no one asked or paid attention to the sweet somethings Sarah had whispered in his ear. He was not one to be easily aroused, but this was a special occasion....

"Let me quote you one of my favorites," she said to him in a lusty sotto vocce

Why so hard? the kitchen coal once said to the diamond.
After all, are we not close kin?
Why so soft? O my brothers, thus I ask you: are you not after all my brothers?
Why so soft, so pliant and yielding?
Why is there so much denial, self-denial, in your hearts? So little destiny in your eyes? 

And if you do not want to be destinies and inexorable ones, how can you one day triumph with me? 

And if your hardness does not wish to flash and cut through, how can you one day create with me? 

For all creators are hard.
And it must seem blessedness to you to impress your hand on millennia as on wax. 

Blessedness to write on the will of millennia as on bronze -- harder than bronze, nobler than bronze. Only the noblest is altogether hard.

This new tablet I place over you: Become hard!

"that's Friedrich Nietzsche," said Sarah, "lovelovelove him"

Hip Hop & Hipsterism: A Philosophy of Us and Them

Here's an excerpt from my contribution to n+1's "What was the Hipster?" book. Last fall the conversation circulated around at spots like NYMag (114 comments), NYTimes ("f this intellectual minutiae, someone implies), Yglesias ("flat-out good writing"), hilobrow (they prefer the term "revivalist", and other spots that if I weren't so out of practice with my linking I would include. But Mr. Google can help if you want more...

On my end I offered some thoughts from the perspective of someone who never really encountered the term until I started hanging with nyc media types. And so I began with this:

There is a difference . . . between Norman and myself in that I think he still imagines that he has something to save, whereas I have never had anything to lose.  Or, perhaps I ought to put it another way: the things that most white people imagine that they can salvage from the storm of life is really, in sum, their innocence. It was this commodity precisely which I had to get rid of at once, literally, on pain of death
- James Baldwin
The quotation is from James Baldwin’s “love letter” to Norman Mailer, “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy,” published in Esquire in 1961, four years after Mailer’s “The White Negro” first appeared in Dissent Magazine. If the n+1 panel is a modern update (repurposing?) of Mailer’s attempt to define the hipster, then consider this “Black Boy’s” response a recapitulation of Baldwin’s dismissive-but-gracious riposte. The hipster, most essentially, strikes me as an avatar of innocence. No one self-identifies as a hipster, and by most definitions the hipster has no agenda of its own. Maybe it was an idea, an inception, planted a long time ago, only to exist as a projection from our own subconscious. Baldwin’s point, then, is to suggest that an essay on the White Negro -- and I’d argue, as analogue to a panel on hipsters -- is the indulgence of a dream, a fantasy, that requires the luxury of sleeping through life to obtain (this echoes Nietzsche’s first maxim in Twilight of the Idols: “Idleness is the beginning of all psychology”). Baldwin’s sentiment is one that cuts right to the heart of what white privilege in America is about. The artful shirking off of human responsibility in the face of ostensible ongoing injustice. A certain entitled pacifism -- passive-aggression as institutional oppression -- that preserves the status quo of Us and Them. They say the issue of class is about the Haves and the Have Nots, but that’s one capitalist-construct up from the fundamental ground-level conversation of Us and Them. And the hipster discussion, much like Mailer’s “White Negro” essay, is a different kind of discussion: one about Us and Them, carried on almost entirely among those who Have.

I Know That You Know That We Need A NEGROPEDIA...

...well, it's coming soon

drops 10/4. I think the pre-order is up and available

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