Unmitigated Blackness (Paul Beatty)

There should be a Stage IV of black identity—Unmitigated Blackness. I’m not sure what Unmitigated Blackness is, but whatever it is, it doesn’t sell. On the surface Unmitigated Blackness is a seeming unwillingness to succeed. It’s Donald Goines, Chester Himes, Abbey Lincoln, Marcus Garvey, Alfre Woodard, and the serious black actor. It’s Tiparillos, chitterlings, and a night in jail. It’s the crossover dribble and wearing house shoes outside. It’s “whereas” and “things of that nature.” It’s our beautiful hands and our fucked-up feet. Unmitigated Blackness is simply not giving a fuck. Clarence Cooper, Charlie Parker, Richard Pryor, Maya Deren, Sun Ra, Mizoguchi, Frida Kahlo, black-and-white Godard, Céline, Gong Li, David Hammons, Björk, and the Wu-Tang Clan in any of their hooded permutations. Unmitigated Blackness is essays passing for fiction. It’s the realization that there are no absolutes, except when there are. It’s the acceptance of contradiction not being a sin and a crime but a human frailty like split ends and libertarianism. Unmitigated Blackness is coming to the realization that as fucked up and meaningless as it all is, sometimes it’s the nihilism that makes life worth living.”

From Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout


2 thoughts on “Unmitigated Blackness (Paul Beatty)”

  1. When I was a kid, in the 1960s, in the “hood” (I was shocked a few months ago to learn that the neighborhood I spent ten years of my childhood in was one of the most chemically toxic ghettos in the US), any Black comedian/ entertainer who pandered to Whites, by “confirming” what Whites thought they already knew about Blacks, was said to be “cooning”. There’s a certain “jivey” and funky-cartoonish vibe to “cooning” work… I guess the “cooning”-induced cringe is the Black equivalent of how Appalachian Whites probably felt about that popular sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies” … although, to be fair, at least “The Beverly Hillbillies” included Ellie Mae’s beauty, Jethro’s strength and Jed’s salt-of-the-earth-ness to leaven the “dumb hillbilly” stereotypes that Middle America embraced (60 million viewers) in that sitcom.

    What’s particularly interesting about “cooning” is that “meta-cooning” is virtually indistinguishable from it, giving enough plausible deniability, for any Black writer who makes a living pandering to the cartoony White sense of the Black Other, to hide behind. “Satire,” or not, “cooning” is usually guilty of the high crime, in both stand-up and Lit, of being as fresh as recycled bubble gum. Beatty doesn’t miss an opportunity to use the kind of “cooning” material that had already been old when Eddie Murphy was stealing it from Redd Foxx. How Beatty gets away with “fried chicken” and “watermelon” jokes in the 21st century is beyond me; it’s not that they’re “offensive”… just so… brutally used up? And puerile? Who *laughs* at that shit? White Guys who see Blacks a certain way…? Other Blacks who hope to jump on the Cooning Gravy Train…?

    That there’s still an audience for this stuff says as much about the psycho-social (racial) state of “modern” America as I can bear to think through, in a blog comment, but how is it that no one questions why a “novel” written with all the Literary Skill of a casually “comedic” blog post deserves honors of any kind? The mish-mashing cultural refs that Beatty tosses into the cited passage don’t make a bit of sense (Godard? *Celine*?) or any discernible point; the sore-thumb High Culture drops seem to be the author’s way of winking at the target demographic to indicate that he isn’t as dumb as the world he depicts in the “novel”… despite the fact that the “writing” itself is?

    The market for “cooning” (hello, Tracy Morgan! Yo, Kevin Hart!), as the imaginary Jesus once observed about the Poor, will always be with us. And so, as Jed Clampett would say (before a little buck and wing): “Weee Doggies!”

    Unmitigated indeed.


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