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The Minstrel Case Studies

I’m disturbed by the way case studies, especially those facilitated by the University of Pennsylvania, approach Black men. They screened me last week for an investigation into how Black men make good decisions. Their questions violated my dignity: asking first if I was sexually active (what they determined as the essence of a relationship) and then followed up with a curiosity about “chicks on the side” I may have. For representatives of an Ivy League school to speak to me in a such a manner revealed the set-up. Race theorist always talk about the symbolic creation of “niggers” through knowledge, and indeed this study was the concrete conspiracy.

Shamefully, I agreed to participate since I was eligible, but i did what any college student would do–say yes to easy money (a measly 40 dollars) and take my chance to stage a covert coup. Needless to say, the emotional and psychological wretchedness of my assistance in a new a racist conclusion overwhelmed me. When i arrived at the site at 8am, i could see nothing but an endless line of my least refined brothers. From ages 18-45, these were the men that visually resembled the folks that make headlines, who an anti-Black racist consciousness would assume know prison very well; I internalized that world view, frightened by the fact that i couldn’t be distinguished.

Embarrassment and I have gotten close because of this experience. At the core of my discomfort–inspired by not being outstanding among my overly presumed brothers– was more of a realization of my helplessness. Not only would Penn pathologize my people with the credence of this study, but I was confronting the tension between my passion for the liberation of people of color and the real anxiety I have about my own people. I walked away never even making it to the actual study (they overbooked) and without a method for purging myself of Black antipathy. If the point has been stressed to you before, let it be known that we are in a dammed situation. As I am sure that many of you reading this can relate.


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