His Blackness is a Portal to a Deeper Understanding

Thursday, July 3, 2014 - 7:42pm
His Blackness is a Portal to a Deeper Understanding

Inspired by Du Bois, Cory Booker reflects on the individual yearning of black men as essential to collective struggle. For him, the gift of his skin color is in allowing a better appreciation of the texture of humanity and a deeper ability to feel compassion.

Commentary by:
Mariah Helgeson (@mariahism),  associate producer for On Being
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Cory Booker shakes a constituent's hand in Newark, New Jersey.

Credit: Spencer Platt License: Getty Images.

I resist any notions that there is one way to be black, and I have defined myself and my life with that in mind, and as something that will evolve as I continue to grow and learn. What my "blackness" means to me — the blood quotient, the color of my skin — is an evolving, dynamic process. My grandfather, for example, who had a black mother and a white father, although he was not raised by his father, has had an extraordinary "black experience" in his lifetime. His trials, challenges, and his struggles growing up in Louisiana constitute a great "black" story. The fabric is threaded deep. So to say that there is some sort of hegemonic African-American experience is to discount so many individual experiences we've all had.

Each black person has his or her own individual yearning; it is one that is and should be part of an important ideal for black culture, because this is a collective struggle, but it is also important in the struggle waged by humanity in general. I think it was Henry Louis Gates who said that he luxuriates in his blackness, but that in the end, his blackness is merely a portal into a deeper understanding of humanity. I agree, and so one of the gifts that my skin color allows for is a better appreciation of the texture of humanity and a deeper ability to feel compassion.

Celebrating and luxuriating in my blackness and gaining access to that portal not only helps me to feel a powerful bond with other black people, other people of color, but also with humanity as a whole, people who have had different experiences than I have. My understanding of self allows me access to others, and what I think is most important for us all to strive toward a sort of social justice where we create a sense of kinship with others who have had both similar and not so similar experiences.

— Cory Booker, in Saving the Race: Conversations on Du Bois from a Collective Memoir of Souls

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Mariah Helgeson is an associate producer at On Being. She earned a degree in International Affairs with concentrations in the Middle East and Conflict Resolution from George Washington University. She grew up in Minnesota and was a program associate at the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. When she’s not submerged in a good book she might be found laughing with her teenage sisters or playing chamber music.

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