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Volume 14, Issue 6: Poetics

Using "Negroes" for Life

Douglas Jones

It was a professing radical of the left who first defended his ideology's need to exploit underclass black culture to define the future "hip" and the "cool." Only the left could be so unselfconscious about jaw-dropping racial exploitation and then turn it into a mainstream reality. In Dissent, in 1957, noted white author Norman Mailer made his infamous case for this in "The White Negro," an essay explaining that the way to fight America's gross cultural conformity was to embrace the "hipster," the street existentialist who lived as if the "only life-giving answer is to accept the terms of death, . . . to divorce oneself from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self."

Mailer suggested that it is "no accident that the source of Hip is the Negro" because he "must live with danger from his first day, and no experience is ever casual to him." Mailer argued that the "negro" could "rarely afford the sophisticated inhibitions of civilization, and so he kept for his survival the art of the primitive, he lived in the enormous present, he subsisted for his Saturday night kicks, relinquishing the pleasures of the mind for the more obligatory pleasures of the body, and in his music he gave voice to the character and quality of his existence, to his rage and the infinite variations of joy, lust, languor, growl, cramp, pinch, scream and despair of his orgasm."
Hip culture needed this angle in which to picture itself, "for Hip is the sophistication of the wise primitive man in a giant jungle, and so its appeal is still beyond the civilized man, . . . a language most adolescents can understand instinctively, for the hipster's intense view of existence matches their experience and their desire to rebel."
More specifically, the Hipster was psychopathic: "The psychopath is notoriously difficult to analyze because the fundamental decision of his nature is to try to live the infantile fantasy, . . . and in this decision there may be a certain instinctive wisdom." Mailer adds, "at bottom, the drama of the psychopath is that he seeks love."
Mailer didn't hesitate to read black underclass culture as psychopathic and use it for his purposes: "it is no accident that psychopathy is most prevalent with the Negro. Hated from the outside and therefore hating himself, the Negro was forced into the position of exploring all the moral wildness of civilized life which the Square automatically condemns as delinquent or evil or immature . . . . [T]he Negro discovered and elaborated a morality of the bottom." Likewise, "the Hip ethic is immoderation, childlike in its adoration of the present."
All of this works together in Mailer's mind toward a future in which "it may well be that the rise of the hipster represents the first wind of a second revolution in this century, moving not forward toward action and more rational equitable distribution, but backward toward being and the secrets of human energy . . . . The hipster, rebel cell in our social body, lives out acts out, follows the close call of his instinct as far as he dares, and so points to possibilities and consequences in what have hitherto been chartless jungles of moral nihilism . . . . The Negro's experience appears to be the most universal communication of the West, and the authority of their tortured senses may indeed be passing by the musical states of their artistic expression, without language, without conscious communication, into the no doubt equally tortured senses of the wild sensitive spawn of two vast wars."
Every race has its underclass, but it's rarely gripped as a static ideal. Mailer's particular ugliness is his need to freeze the black underclass rather than let it progress. To have a dominant black middle class would undermine Mailer's future. So he has to perpetuate his stereotypical "moral wildness" in order to bring life to dead white American middle class. And his vision has largely succeeded. Though the black middle class easily outnumbers the black underclass, the media follow Mailer's ideology, glorifying the smaller, underclass segment of black communities in order to fuel an ideological need for adolescent primitivism.
Why do Mailer and company need to glorify primitivism? The French Revolution isn't over. Rousseau taught us that immaturity and primitivism were the pure source of life, of the hip, of the cool. The French revolutionaries glorified the "grunge" and "inner city" dress and culture of their time, the sans cullotte, and we continue that tradition. Some group has to fulfill that old Rousseauean role, and so mainstreamed progressive ideology forces black underclass into it—a diversity that shackles. The most pathetic expression of this ideological harvesting of the black underclass has to be those cases where Mailer's "white negroes" ultimately use and then dispense with the race they use. Exploitation, desertion, and posed dominance. Thus the world of Eminem.

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