Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I am always amused at how sensitive some blacks-particularly black conservatives-get when you talk about the house negro field negro dichotomy among black folks. Black conservatives are always quick to lash out at the house negro moniker as if it's directed at them. They see it as a straw man and red herring set up to distract from the real issues confronting black America. Well, it's not. The moniker is one that was created by Malcolm X in one of his more famous speeches to make a point about certain blacks not giving their all to the movement because of their so called stake in America. That speech, is so inspiring, and so on point, that it is from where I find the inspiration- not to mention the name- for my blog. I use it, because I think it's still relevant for today's discourse in matters of race, as well as the black political movement in this country.

When I post comments on other blogs, I always use the handle field-negro, and the vitriolic responses I get for my handle alone -from whites and blacks- is at times frightening. "Why must you use that handle, it's so degrading to blacks?" "Shame on you for such a despicable handle", "you embarrass yourself and all self respecting black people by using such a handle". And so it goes; and this is just from the black folks. You can just imagine what I get from my fellow white bloggers on the web; or, for that matter, the fringes of the web.
But once again, I would like to set the record straight about this house negro field negro metaphor-and yes it's just a metaphor-and where I stand on this issue. Think of this post as field negro 101 for your self improvement.

First, being a house negro has nothing to do with how you look, how much money you have, or where you live or work. The same can be said about being a field-negro. It's not about how radical you are, or how African you may appear in your features. It's why I explain my background in detail to all who come to my blog. It's important to understand, that in spite of my upbringing and background, I am firmly entrenched in the fields. It's not about my credentials, or how I grew up, or what privileges were afforded to me. No, it's about my state of mind at this point in time, and how I choose to engage in the struggle to uplift black people in modern day America.

For instance, I consider wealthy people such as Bill Cosby and Denzel Washington field negroes. But on the other hand, I consider some not so wealthy people, such as Jessie Lee Peterson and La Shawn Barber, house negroes. I consider certain sports icons, such as Jim Brown, Magic Johnson, and Muhammad Ali field negroes. But icons like Michael Jordon, O.J. Simpson, and George Foreman, house negroes. Oprah Winfrey in my book is a house negro, while her good friend, Maya Angelo, belongs in the fields. Jessie Jackson-yes Jessie Jackson-is a house negro, but John Lewis, the congressman from Georgia, is a field negro. In terms of appearance, the very dark Clarence Thomas should be in the dictionary beside house negro, while the fairer skinned Thurgood Marshall was a big time field negro. So it's not about your appearance either. It's all about who is contributing to the cause of advancing black issues in the right way. Period.
Now let's look at this phenomenon literally for a moment. I have no problem with someone living in the house, and wanting the things the house offers for his or her family. The better schools, the safer neighborhoods, and a better quality of life. Only a fool would think otherwise. I don't even have a problem with the house negro running to put out the fire if massa's house catches on fire, or if he tries to save massa's life. After all, if massa and his house are gone, where is the house negro going to live, and who is going to hire him to work?

On the other hand, I do have a problem if the house negro tries to save massa before his own family, that type of house negro is a problem, and he is the one I speak so disparagingly of when I make fun of the house negro. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of house negroes like the latter around today. They are the ones who write the books for massa's ears only, kicking black folks harder than massa would ever kick us, by telling us how bad we are. They are the ones -insert Thomas Sowell here- who write about America and her problems, as if the white man is blameless, and we, black folks, brought all the problems on ourselves. They are the ones-insert Clarence Thomas here- who we all know just wish that they not only worked in the house for massa, but wish that they were a part of massa's family as well. That is the dangerous house negro; the self hater, who will do anything to be more white than the very white person himself, because just working and living in the house is not enough for him. The house negro wants a stake in the house, and like the slave catcher, he will sell out the rest of us out to get it.

I will give you an actual example: I have a black colleague who does very well for himself and his family. He recently purchased a home in a very affluent predominantly white neighborhood, and has from time to time bragged of being the only black in his development. Now this individual is a classic house negro. And living in his all white subdivision didn't make him one, but being proud that he is the only black in said subdivision does. Like the "house nigger" in Malcolm X' s speech, he was proud to be the only negro living among the whites. This is the inclination and fixed way of thinking of an individual who has fled from his people and would not mind if he never sees a black neighborhood or anything associated with black people again. This negro didn't flee to white suburbia for better schools, safer neighborhoods, and cost effectiveness. No, this negro fled to white suburbia because he wanted to be around massa and his house. This house negro is the one I refer to when I make my lists, and speak of when I try to point out the negroes that are holding us back by projecting to white folks-insert Oprah here- a false image of what black folks are going through. The field negro, given the same circumstances would find himself going back to the old neighborhood, volunteering his time, and helping when and where he can. He would not care about how many other negroes lived in his development, as long as his family was receiving the benefits I outlined above.

So for all of you who see the handle, and wonder why a field negro. Think about that for a minute. Think about what makes a field negro: Hard worker, cares about his family and his race, always with the masses so he knows what it will take to improve their plight, understands -because he works so hard in the fields- that it will take not just talk, but action to make things happen. And finally, that the house is not his, and ultimately, he will have to build his own. That folks, is the essence of the field-negro, and that is what every negro should strive to be, even if he finds himself living in the house.


Organic Mechanic said...

Great post -- thanks.

ClassyLady said...

Absolutely RIGHT! I'm a FIELD NEGRO by my heart and beliefs. It's inside of me. It's ME!However, even if I'd not known this--not ever known that there are/were two kinds of Negroes, had I really and truly had a choice in the matter, KNOWING the difference between the two, having a true description of both of them, then being able to choose to be either a FIELD NEGRO, or a lowly, dispicable, cheese-eating, tattling, grinning, turncoat, a butt kissing HOUSE Negro, I would still have chosen, of my own volition to be a field Negro!!! There's NO shame in being a Field Negro.

ClassyLady said...
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