Wayne Bennett’s blog, The Field Negro, explores race in America in an unexpected way. His writing mixes cultural polemics with humor to provoke conversation and insight about one of our country’s most fraught subjects. He’s always a good read. The following interview was conducted by e-mail …
1. You write a blog called “The Field Negro.” That’s a provocative name for a blog. Why did you choose it?
I chose it because of one of my favorite speeches of all time: The Malcolm X speech to the SNCC workers in Alabama in 1965. This is where he outlined the dichotomy between the house and field Negroes in America, and why, as a result, it is hard for black folks to unify around particular causes.
I wanted to identify with the field Negroes in my writing because that’s how I view myself in the ongoing debate. Someone who works hard and represents the masses.
Besides, I wanted a title that makes people uncomfortable.
2. Do you ever get called out for what you write on your blog? What’s the one thing that, in retrospect, you most regret having written? What was the post that generated the most controversy?
I get called out all the time. I get more nasty e-mails than you could ever imagine.
I rarely regret anything I write, but if you put a gun to my head I would have to say calling Condy Rice “the bad perm lady.” After the Don Imus incident where he called the Rutgers basketball players “nappy headed hoes” and I ripped him for it, I realized what a hypocrite I was, because I was in essence doing the same thing to Secretary Rice.
It’s hard to say which post generated the most controversy. I have had a few. My post about white people and their pets pissed off a lot of white folks. And my post about the 12% rule for black folks pissed off a lot of black people. I always get a lot of heat for supporting the Jewish people on various issues as well.
3. [The foundation I work at] administered a poll to [the members of a] giving circle …, and one of their questions was this:
In the long run, the most effective way to address a region’s racial inequities is to (choose only one):
- engage the entire community in discussions about race and white privilege
- address systemic issues (e.g., laws, policies, etc.) that lead to unequal outcomes
- empower low-income communities politically (through voter registration drives, etc.)
- bring more low-income people into the middle class through literacy and skills training, small business development programs, and improving public education
- just wait another 50 years until younger, less bigoted generations assume positions of responsibility and power
How would you answer this question and why?
I love numbers 3 & 4. Education. Education. Education. It is the greatest equalizer in America. I would also push for more political involvement among underserved communities—if it’s one thing a politician fears is numbers at the ballot box—and financial education for poor people. It is very important that we learn how to save and manage our money.
4. As regards conversations (and actions) in the public sphere touching on matters of race and ethnicity, what trends have you seen over the past ten years?
It’s getting better, but folks in the majority are still afraid to talk openly about race and ethnicity. The mainstream media won’t touch it because they know that it makes most folks in America uncomfortable. The only time we talk about it (race) is when we have to. (See the Henry Louis Gates incident at Harvard which led to Obama’s “teachable moment.”) And when it infringes on the political debate such as the case with immigration reform.
5. What do you regard as the most definitive work (book or article) for anybody wishing to understand race in America?
Oh my, where do I start? There are so many great ones … I have a couple: Why Black People Tend To Shout by Ralph Wiley. The Racial Contract by Charles Mills. The Arrogance Of Race by George Fredrickson. The Mis-Education Of The Negro by [Carter G.] Woodson, and All God’s Children by Fox Butterfield. From the conservative side I would recommend Shelby Steele’s The Content Of Our Character. There are more, but those jump out at me.
Oh, and how could I forget? You have to read The Field Negro.
6. In your view, how important a force has Hip Hop been in bridging racial divides? What are the cultural and other forces that you believe have the most promise in helping to unite us?
Hip Hop, in a way, has helped to bridge the racial divide. Especially among young people. They are our future, and young white kids from the burbs are trying to relate to young black kids from urban areas. Which, to me, is a good thing. Music and the arts is probably the best way to bridge the racial divide without actually getting down and talking to each other. But this comes with a caveat from me. Unfortunately these kumbaya moments can be somewhat superficial. We still have to explore our differences and try to understand each other on a deeper level and in more meaningful ways to have true racial harmony in America.
7. What can we look for in The Field Negro in the coming months? What other blogs would you recommend to our [readers]?
I am just going to keep writing about what I see every day and how I feel regardless of who it offends. I hate to say it, but I really don't have time to read a lot of other blogs. Still, there are other bloggers who I admire. Rippa from the Intersection Of Madness & Reality comes to mind, and I love all the bloggers in the Afrosphere. They all work so hard and put so much energy into their blogs.