The Black List: tonight on HBO

I recommend having a look at The Black List, Volume 2, tonight at 8:00 on HBO. 

I saw Volume 1 a couple of months ago and I was stunned by how good it was. 

Bill T. Jones (pictured here in a photograph by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders) was especially good. 

Here's what I heard Jones saying.  (This is a delicate point and it is entirely possible I've got it wrong.  I apologize to Mr. Jones if this is the case.  Jones doesn't need anyone to speak for him, and if there were a YouTube clip of this Black List moment, I wouldn't try.) 

Jones appears to be saying there is a racism after racism.  After some of barriers of the first racism have been clearer away, an African American discovers that there is still a group of people who are prepared to tell him who he is and how he must act,  to say "we know who you are" and insist "you must be that person," in other words, to assign and police his identity.

This second racism may come from liberal motives.  It may come from otherwise liberal people.  But it is still (usually but not only) a white person presuming to define, constrain, police and punish a black person.  And I think that makes it racism.  Right?  Surely.  Unless someone has the liberty to take up the full "sovereignity of the individual" as Lamont calls it, until they are free to invent themselves for any and all purposes, they are not entirely free.  (The argument in short form: If there are some people who enjoy self-defining freedom more than other people, then they are privileged and the second group disadvantaged.  And if this right and refusal is distributed by race, then both the right and the refusal are racism.) 

In his segment on The Black List, Volume 1, Chris Rock gives us a glimpse of a variation on the theme.  He notes that African Americans who took up positions previously forbidden them by racism were obliged to be larger than life, heroic, exemplary.  This is a double standard too.  An African American can't be merely as good as white player.  He has to be much better.  In the case of baseball, he can't be a 'pretty good utility infielder,' he has to be Jackie Robinson.  As Rock puts it,

Baseball isn't equal till the 1970s, because that's when you start to see bad Black baseball players.  The true equality is the equality to suck like the white man.  That's Martin Luther's dream coming true. (2:50-3:14)

Being bad is a freedom too.  I think I am right in saying that Thelma Golden, the museum curator, also touches on the theme in question here.

Anyhow, I urge you to watch The Black List tonight on HBO.  I do hope HBO will rerun Volume 1 soon. 


For more on The Black List and Volume 1

For a clip, but not the clip, of Bill T. Jones on The Black List, go here.

For a clip of Chris Rock on the theme discussed here, go here.

Lamont, Michele. 1992. Money, Morals and Manners: the culture of the French and the American upper-middle class. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Thanks to Timothy Greenfield-Sanders for the opportunity to use the image of Bill T. Jones.  With Elvis Mitchell, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders is the creator and producer of The Black List. 

2 thoughts on “The Black List: tonight on HBO

  1. Scott Ellington

    If The Black List DVD – Only at Target is (as advertised at Amazon) available at Target, then I’ll have a copy of Volume 1 by nightfall. Thanks!

  2. Scott Ellington

    Volume 1 consists of 22 very un-still studio portraits of people who arrest universal attention.
    Whether culture is driven by commerce or meaning, or something entirely else,
    the people to whom we pay our most sacred attention sell it like it incredibly well;
    most especially Bill T. Jones, and seven others.
    Undoubtedly the very best ten bucks I ever spent at Target.

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