Bob Garfield in Advertising Age writes:
1) Even hardened racists feel the impulse to believe they are no such thing.
2) Hence, they are always in the market for someone "acceptably black."
Yes, the market. And, yes, acceptably black. We used that term the other day on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" to talk about Sen. Barack Obama and watched the interviewer visibly flinch. "I'm gonna take some of the edge off of what you just said," he said.
What edge? Acceptably black means being nonthreatening to white people inclined to feeling threatened by black people. It means standard English, clean-cut appearance (or, as Joe Biden fumbled, "clean") and the most Caucasian features possible. These obviously are not objective measures of character or worth; just as obviously, they are measures of what sells to the vast, white audience. Halle Berry and Denzel Washington are acceptably black. Your local news anchors are acceptably black. Tupac was not.
Well, according to Richard Perez-Pena, Wounded Rapper Gets Mixed Verdict In Sex-Abuse Case, Washington Post, Sept. 16, 1996:
Shakur, who was vilified by opponents of "gangsta" rap for his frequently vicious lyrics, his various run-ins with the law and his infamous "thug life" tattoo, certainly wasn't the only rap music figure to repeatedly get into trouble. But he got into more than most. In June he settled a lawsuit with a limousine driver who claimed that Shakur and members of his entourage severely beat him in a Fox TV parking lot after taping an appearance on "In Living Color." A month before that, he pleaded guilty to a felony weapons charge in Los Angeles. And the month before that, he got in trouble for violating probation. And that's just from a three-month period: In 1993 he was charged in the shooting of two off-duty police officers in Atlanta [the charges were later dropped -EV]; Shakur also had various convictions in Michigan and New York on assault and battery charges. He spent 11 months in jail after his highly publicized conviction in December 1994 for sexually abusing a woman in a Manhattan hotel room.
Would Tupac Shakur be "[a]cceptably black," defined as "nonthreatening to white people inclined to feeling threatened by black people"? No. Would he be nonthreatening to white people not inclined to feeling threatened by black people? No, he'd likely be seen as threatening by many of them, too. Would he be nonthreatening to black people? No, he'd likely be seen as threatening by many of them, too.
And would he (if he were still alive) now be seen as nonthreatening by the woman he was convicted of sexually abusing -- a black woman, as it happens? Would Tupac really seem threatening because of his use of nonstandard English, non-Caucasian features, and lack of clean-cut appearance, or perhaps for some other reasons?
Plus, why on earth use Tupac as your example of somehow who is supposedly "[un]acceptably black" in deriding whites' supposed standards of black acceptability -- given that his behavior shouldn't be "acceptable," and would be "threatening," to anyone?
Thanks to OpinionJournal for the pointer.