get used to me, I am not getting used to anyone

There is a fascinating article in this month’s Atlantic titled The End of White America. The article has made quite a splash in the blogosphere.

It’s written by Hua Hsu, who got his start writing about Hip Hop, earned his doctorate and now teaches in the English department at Vassar.

Hsu makes several trenchant observations, and the entire article is well worth reading. I especially like his deployment of Fitzgerald’s Tom Buchanan as a lens through which to comprehend the racial anxiety lurking in the heart of a segment of white America as our nation turns browner and browner.

Hsu claims, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the rise of Hip Hop culture has been instrumental in transforming the USA into a nation that is post-white in practice if not in population. He cites the somewhat dated Sean Combs (what, no Kanye?) to demonstrate precisely how revolutionary this change has been:

In this regard, Combs is both a product and a hero of the new cultural mainstream, which prizes diversity above all else, and whose ultimate goal is some vague notion of racial transcendence, rather than subversion or assimilation….From its constant sampling of past styles and eras—old records, fashions, slang, anything—to its mythologization of the self-made black antihero, hip-hop is more than a musical genre: it’s a philosophy, a political statement, a way of approaching and remaking culture….This transformation has bred an unprecedented cultural confidence in its black originators. Whiteness is no longer a threat, or an ideal: it’s kitsch to be appropriated, whether with gestures like Combs’s “white parties” or the trickle-down epidemic of collared shirts and cuff links currently afflicting rappers.

Damn, does this mean I’ve got to stop wearing my cuff links?

Still, despite his delightful allusions and references, Hsu makes the mistake of assuming that cultural hegemony will equal political hegemony. We might live in a culture more accepting of Blackness, attend parties where we all sing along to Dre Day and C.R.E.A.M., but that doesn’t change the racial composition of the CEOs running the Fortune 500. I am certain that Obama’s election presages greater inclusiveness in corporate America, but I don’t see that change as imminent. It will take decades for the b-boy network to root out good old boy network.

Of course there is an even bigger problem with his argument as Pachuco 3000 reminds us:

My initial reaction to the article was that it was good, but of course typical in maintaining the black / white paradgimn of looking at the world. Hsu does good research but misses the fact that Latinos have been the majority in 7 of the 10 biggest US cities since the last Census. Those numbers will have increased and will continue to change the US more than hip hop and a black looking but white by culture president. The fear, debates, distribution of resources and legislation that often punishes Latinos are at the center of what is America today. Since 9/11 Brown has been the new Black.


Pachuco reminds us that a post-white America wont necessarily mean a pro-Black, or even pro-ethnic America. It will mean the rise of American coalition-ism where every ethnic group and other self organizing population (Black gay people anyone?) seeks allies to accomplish its goals. And, of course, the interests of white Americans will remain at the center of these various coalitions.

This is not to suggest that the glorious future that Hsu predicts is not imminent. Whiteness will indeed matter less and less in the future. Its just that this fact alone will not drastically transform that nation, in and of itself.

Transformation, like revolution, is hard work. It’s time we all roll up our sleeves and get to it.


4 responses to “get used to me, I am not getting used to anyone

  1. The English Department at Vassar has been infused with fresh, young talent. It’s refreshing (when I was a student there all we had was Stephen Moore in the way of English Department diversity). The new president is shaking things up!

  2. Pingback: discrimination in the post-racial world… « Elmcitytree

  3. The paradox: whiteness is at an interesting crossroads where it must, if you will, assimilate to black and brown cultures – learn hip hop verses and salsa steps – in order to stay a viable social force. In this sense the old idea of whiteness, that perverse American version as Faulkner well chronicles, will find its future in the people of color that surround it at every level of society. That is, in the mirror, if you will, his face will forever be marked and reconfigured by shades of black…

  4. The problem with the paradox you describe is that even as whiteness adopts to the people of color around it, the people of color are increasingly adopting to each other. What will the mirror look like when it offers whiteness no reflection?

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