I Feel, Therefore I Am

I have decided that I am African American. Yes, I am fully aware that my birth certificate indicates my race is White, but I refuse to have my freedom of self-definition robbed from me by a little five-letter word on a document that recedes further and further into the past every year. A birth certificate is nothing more than the formal documentation of accidents. I believe I am an African American. And, since it is up to me to unravel the sweet mystery of life for myself according to my own subjective set of criteria, I expect everyone to support me in this and respect my decision. It matters not that my ancestors are of European descent as far back as anyone can trace, or that I cannot ever grow an afro or alter my cellular structure so I am at greater risk of sickle-cell anemia (though, I expect science to make advances in these areas in the near term). I feel I am African American. I feel, therefore I am.

From my early years, I have always identified with African Americans. Although I did not live in the 1960s, I read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I wanted to be a member of SNCC. If my apartheid-loving, repressive employer would have given me time off, I would have joined my Black brothers at the Million Man March organized by Louis Farrakhan. I have always hated my whiteness, so I now repudiate this accident of pigment and declare myself a Black man.

Heck, in college, I even went on a few dates with an African American girl and felt quite at ease. She said her father would never accept her having a relationship with a white man, so it ended quickly. But, that was the 90s. Her father was trapped in the discriminatory cultural regime of identity repression, kept blind by the spurious claims of Honky antiquated notions about nature and reality. He did not understand that reality is only each individual’s interpretation of material phenomena. If he could have been brought to understand that my interpretation of myself was valid, his daughter and I could have joined our lives together in blissful cohabitation (marriage certificates, of course, are as immaterial as birth certificates).

My favorite musical genre is jazz and all my favorite musicians are black. I have Time Life’s “Yesterday, Today, Forever” Deluxe Collector’s Set of Motown hits. I have every album recorded by Marvin Gaye — on vinyl. My favorite athlete of all time is Kevin Johnson, point guard for the Phoenix Suns and first African American mayor of Sacramento. I never rooted for Steve Nash like I did for KJ.

I own my own copy of everything produced by the Spike Lee Joint. I watch Do the Right Thing every year on Martin Luther King Day. I can quote Radio Rahim’s story of love and hate verbatim. No way Hate gonna knock out Love! Mama said knock you out! Every honest man knows Mookie was right. Pino wished he was black. Only the Black Man could bring the race rant to a halt. Pino was trapped, oppressed by the racist culture of fear and power that dominated identity in the 20th century. I am a 21st century Pino, emerging from the encrusted chrysalis of ignorance and history to spread my wings in the sweet light of a new dawn, a dawn of true freedom and self-expression!

As an African American, my first endeavor will be to join the Nation of Islam. Next, I will apply to Howard University for graduate study. I will identify myself as African American on my application and I expect the admissions office at Howard to honor my identity as stated on my application.

Moreover, since it is the government’s job to sanction and protect every citizen’s claimed identity, I intend to take full advantage of President Obama’s Executive Order on Educational Excellence for African Americans. I will also register with the United Negro College Fund, whose resources will enable me to maximize access to grants and scholarships tailored to the needs of African American students like  myself. I will also expect Howard University to enforce all rules and regulations regarding hate speech while I am attending graduate school. My right to identify as I please must be enforced stridently. I will not accept any claims that I cannot consider myself Black. Indeed, I will consider any such comments as injuriously discriminatory. I must be provided a safe space at Howard to be Black, despite my lack of adequate melanin.

Upon obtaining my graduate degree, I expect all prospective employers to consider me Black, not White. Therefore, hiring me will be considered employing an African American, not a White person. My future employer must identify me as African American in my personnel file. Additionally, I will identify myself as African American with whichever institution I decide to do my banking.

When I am ready to buy a house, I intend to take full advantage of President Obama’s budget initiative The American Jobs Act. Fanny Mae must honor my application for a home loan.

Those who look at me and note that my skin is not very dark and my hair is straight are not free, therefore, to call me White. It’s not my fault Jerri Curl doesn’t work for me. That would be a pejorative and hurtful attempt to strip me of my right to be Black if I want to. For, as Hamlet noted, there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. Likewise, there is nothing either Black or White, male or female, straight or gay but claiming it makes it so.

Nature, reality, male, female, father, mother, Black, White — these are merely anachronistic shackles used to immobilize the creative and progressive forces in our country striving for the final realization of true freedom. For, as we now know, freedom is only true in the formula freedom from. We are only free when free from anything that would hinder us from realizing our own interpretation of ourselves.

It is always difficult to blaze new trails. My identification as a Black man might be jarring to those who believe words carry meaning. However, thanks to the pioneering work of noted linguist, Dr. Franka Lipschitz of the Modern Language Institute in Cologne, we now know words are merely empty containers that we fill with whatever meanings we need. Language has an elasticity that is a marvel to behold. The innovative techniques employed by Dr. Lipschitz in forming her “empty container theory” are outlined in her extraordinary essay What’s in a Name? Etymological Permutations through History. Her essay, published in the most recent issue of the important quarterly Words Matter also draws revolutionary conclusions regarding language which constitute an etymological foundation for what has commonly come to be called the “flux phenomenon” in philological circles. According to the “flux phenomenon,” strongly supported by data developed through Dr. Lipschitz’s experiments with her “empty container theory,” language carries no inherent meaning. Rather, the permutations one finds in language throughout history reflect a certain perpetual spontaneity, or flux, in humanity’s use of words. What we commonly call language, which is really just the sum total of accidental sounds formed by movement of the tongue, serves only to communicate the myriad possible interpretations of reality, which also are continually evolving through time. In other words, words are tools with which we create, not meaning, but impressions and identities.

The work of Dr. Lipschitz explodes the claims of earlier philosophers of language such as Josef Pieper, for example, who insisted dogmatically upon an ontological quality inherent in language. Those who claim nature suggests some kind of inherent meaning in reality, and that language issues from and communicates that meaning, are just rigid conformists who resist progress and freedom in order to maintain their control over the socio-economic infrastructure of American society. Just look at how upset these people become over a thing as insignificant as a pronoun!

America has always been a nation of oppressors and victims. Ours is a history of disenfranchisement, of small groups of people forcing the government to tease out interpretations embedded in the Constitution in order to approve and protect new and emerging identities. Thanks to the daring and innovative work of philologists and linguists such as Dr. Lipschitz and others working diligently at the Modern Language Institute to promulgate the “flux phenomenon,” new ground has been broken in the field of linguistics. Moreover, the data being generated by this invaluable work provides us with new means of interpreting the words of the U.S. Constitution, making it truly and finally a living document.

To understand just how revolutionary Dr. Lipschitz’s “empty container theory” is, an example can be found in Portland, OR. In tests conducted on teenagers last year by the Institute for Self Esteem, it was determined that the color blue connotes depression and sadness. The teenagers, who ranged between the ages of 14 – 16 and who identified themselves as confused, bored, or unloved, were shown images of wounded or dead animals beneath a wide canopy of blue sky. Scientists at the Institute for Self Esteem noted that the teens ranked their level of sadness or depression higher after looking at the images. When the teens were shown images of wild flowers in Spring where green was the dominant color and only a thin arc of blue was visible along the top edge of the images, the happiness index increased among the teens being tested. The implications of these studies are manifold.

The New Language Association of America (NLAA) has launched a lobbying initiative in Washington. Encouraged by the revolutionary innovations made possible by the “flux phenomenon” and Dr. Lipschitz’s “empty container theory,” the NLAA is pressuring Congress to pass a bill renaming the color of the sky green. Citing last year’s study at the Institute for Self Esteem, acting director of the NLAA, Cecil Broadstroke, released a statement to the press.

Thanks to the revolutionary work of Dr. Lipschitz, as well as the recent studies at the Institute for Self Esteem in Portland, we now have the data to support what we all have known for a long time. Words are not conveyors of meaning. They are tools for building a society that is safe, tolerant, non-judgmental and, most importantly, free. When a people believe its language has meaning, its words become weaponized. Much harm has been inflicted upon innocent people whose feelings were, for decades, deeply hurt by the persistent notion that words have meaning. Thankfully, we can now all look ahead to a more tolerant society with words that are as expansive as the imagination. Gone are the days when myopic interpretations of so-called reality were inflicted upon us by weaponized words. We can now look confidently toward a future in which all people will be liberated from the tyranny of meaningful language.


Tom Jay