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Are you really suggesting that similar pieces haven't been written by African Americans? To my mind, the first several paragraphs were practically an homage to Ralph Ellison's "The Invisible Man." And Yang mentions Baldwin by name.

It seems to me that when those authors were writing (and earlier poets like Langston Hughes), the problems of assimilation and alienation were both more apparent (as in "WTF!!!") and at the same time more vague (as in "WTF???"). It demanded the attention of artists. It was the same era that included the most creative period in the development of Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement itself. I wonder if Asian-Americans find themselves at something of a similar juncture.

Ultimately, and unfortunately, I think the direction of African-American cultural identity ended up following in the direction Yang has set for himself. Yang says:

"The first step toward self-reform is to admit your deficiencies. Though my early adulthood has been a protracted education in them, I do not admit mine. I’m fine. It’s the rest of you who have a problem. Fuck all y’all."

He's obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek here, since earlier he wondered if his "defiance is just delusional, self-glorifying bullshit that artists have always told themselves to compensate for their poverty and powerlessness." I'm sure he's (ironically) comparing himself to African Americans (otherwise, why the black vernacular "Fuck all y'all"?).

Something he touches on but doesn't really flesh-out is the problem with defining yourself in the negative -- that is, defining yourself in terms of things you won't do because you've already established a social identity where you aren't that thing. When he says "I love this hard and unyielding part of myself more than any other reward the world has to offer a newly brightened and ingratiating demeanor, and I will bear any costs associated with it," I hear the the constant refrain in the African-American community to "keep it real", where what this really means is "don't range widely." And incidentally, this is also recognized by African-Americans -- see Dave Chappelle's sketch "When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong."

(btw, I'm an African American software engineer, so issues of race and culture are unavoidably fascinating to me)




No. My observation was that (as a general tendency, a lot of exceptions, of course, exist) self-criticism in the African-American community is usually met with attacks ranging from "you are hitting below the belt, these are poor, choice-less people" to the more crude ones along the lines of Uncle Tom-ism and being an Oreo (compare with OP's "Twinkie").

I haven't read Ellison much but am familiar with Baldwin and the vicious attacks leveled at him from the black community (coincidence: I was reading about his years in Turkey just yesterday : http://www.dukeupress.edu/Catalog/ViewProduct.php?productid=...). Remember how Cosby was vilified for his (somewhat simplistic) remarks about low-income black families in 2004? Many other examples can be given, I think.

I totally agree with your points, esp. "defining yourself in the negative", which I observed the case to be with many African-Americans I've met in college (at work such topics are rarely discussed). Unfortunately, as far as I can see, negative stereotypes are continuously being glorified and perpetuated within the community. When I was watching Waiting for Superman I was blown away by Geoffrey Canada's no-nonsense approach, I think more of that needed.

You, of course, have firsthand experience. It would be great if you can elaborate on some of these points.


Apologies for unfairly characterizing your statement. And I do agree that self-criticism in the black community is very typically met with hostility, and that "negative stereotypes" are perhaps too frequently glorified.

Regarding Cosby's remark about black families, I certainly understand his sentiment, but I agree it was somewhat simplistic. My father (and my grandparents) all had a pretty similar view to Cosby's. In the particular black neighborhood of Philadelphia where he was from, that type of conservatism was the norm. By the early '70s, several of his friends (along with him) had graduated from college and moved out of the cities into the predominantly white suburbs, and this cohort was for the most part extremely successful. Not everyone managed to get out of the city, though, and it wasn't because the ones who stayed behind were necessarily lazier or less hard working (though certainly many of them were). For the most part, the opportunities just ran out.

With that came, I think, a lot of the anti-assimilationist sentiment you see today. Yang mentions something similar in his article. When you work your ass off to excel in all of the culturally approved ways, but nonetheless you are passed-over for someone who worked half as hard as you, what are you to think? There's a whole generation of older black men who were stung in this way (and, as Yang mentions, a whole generation of Asian men in a similar, but largely better, situation). (And incidentally, I'm speaking about men instead of women because women face different challenges that I'm not qualified to discuss). In many ways, I don't think the situation is much different than what lead to hooliganism in the UK during the '80s.

So is the situation getting worse, better, or staying the same? Economically, it's a hard time for a lot of people. Kids graduating from college (of any race) are having a hard time finding jobs. Thirty-somethings who saved up to buy homes in 2005 are underwater. As global inequalities are being addressed, global competition is at its highest, particularly for jobs that previously would have been "entry-level". These are also the sort jobs which are most prone to nepotism.

Its hard to say what lessons will be drawn from this period. It seems entirely possible that many of the hardest working, most optimistic young black people of this generation will find themselves out of work, disillusioned, and wondering why they didn't just have more fun in high school (and passing that attitude on to their kids).

BTW, you might (should) say "Don't Asian Americans face the same economic difficulties? They're employed at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the country." This is true, of course, and there's a lot to say about that. But I think this post is already too long, and none of this has been particularly relevant to hacking, except maybe societal hacking. Maybe I can end with a question: why don't white kids, generally, work as hard as Asians, especially when they are being out-competed for valuable educational opportunities?


michaelf, I have to say: you are one of the most eloquent commenters I had a chance to correspond in HN. I would very much like to continue the discussion with you, if you want.


outliers attempts to provide some explanations for this. It comes down to rice fields and culture




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