Listen in as Malcolm discusses the film, Lee Daniels’ The Butler with Chris and KC Lehman, the performances by the stellar cast, and its depiction of American history. You can follow Malcolm on Twitter for more bites of culture @caliyalie.
For more information about this episode, please call the hotline at (323) 455-4219!
As the black community overwhelmingly celebrates the re-election of our first black President, I’ve been surprised to note how few of us are aware of another groundbreaking rise to higher office achieved by one of our own. This office is pastoral, not political, yet the social implications of this occurrence are perhaps no less significant than that of President Obama’s election to the office of President of the United States. I’m talking about the Reverend Fred Luter, Jr. and his own election as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Southern Baptist Convention, (S.B.C.), for those who don’t know, is the largest body of Baptists in the entire world. It is the second largest Christian body in the United States with 16 million members, second only to the Catholic Church. Given that most American Christians are Protestant, you could argue that Fred Luter, Jr., a 56-year old black man from New Orleans, stands as the most powerful religious figure in America. This is a significant fact in its own right. But it’s all the more amazing when you consider the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The S.B.C. has an old and venerable history in the United States, and particularly in the south. But to say that the S.B.C. has a questionable history with respect to race would be putting it mildly. It became the Southern Baptist Convention in the first place in 1845, having split with the northern Baptists because it refused to prohibit slave holding churches from sending out missionaries. Though the Baptist community even in the south had a history of racial tolerance and acceptance towards blacks throughout the 1700’s (even allowing blacks to be preachers in the south and opposing slavery), the southern Baptists gradually changed their attitude towards slavery as their membership expanded among the elite, wealthy planter class of the Southern Gentry. (Perhaps ironically, conversions of blacks in the south increased significantly as well during this time, especially among the slaves. Black Baptists formed their own organizations after the Civil War, most notably the National Baptist Association.) From that time onward, and even after the Civil War, the attitudes of Southern Baptists with regards to civil rights closely tracked that of white Southerners generally. Conservative Southern Baptists would support Jim Crow laws (though there was a moderate faction that favored desegregation) and were generally not allies of the Civil Rights Movement.
All this of course makes the election of Fred Luter, Jr. to the presidency of the S.B.C. (he was elected unopposed by the delegates at the convention; itself a first in S.B.C. history) all the more striking. A jovial yet fiery personality behind the pulpit, the senior minister of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans Reverend Luter was born the third of five children and raised by his divorced mother who made ends meet as a seamstress and as a surgical scrub assistant. He turned to God at the age of 21 after a motorcycle accident nearly killed him, leaving him with a head injury and a compound fracture. He began as a street preacher and ultimately found his way to Franklin Avenue in 1983, ultimately leading the growth of the church to 7,000 people prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005; after which Reverend Luter was noted for his leadership in rebuilding the congregation following unparalleled devastation left in the Hurricane’s wake, rebuilding a crushed and demoralized congregation back up to a membership of 5,000 as of his election to the presidency of S.B.C in June of last year. He finishes his one year term in June of this year.
If it is a testament to the degree to which minds and hearts have changed over the many generations of this country’s racial history unto now that Revered Luter could be elected President of a body of primarily white Christians with roots deep in slavery and segregation, it is also perhaps a testament to the power of the Christian message of love and forgiveness, even when articulated across the boundaries and tensions of the color-line. Reverend Luter recalled having been invited to preach at a Baptist church in Crowley, Louisiana, in the early ’90’s (the first time he preached outside of New Orleans). It was a strictly white congregation, and the pastor who invited Reverend Luter to speak had become nervous about how his congregants would react to a black preacher.
“Just don’t put my picture up,” Luter instructed him, preferring to leave it a surprise. Indeed his audience was silent and tense when Fred Luter astonished them with his presence. But then he spoke of the grace and the goodness of God in the warm, approachable manner for which he is known. Their attitudes changed even that night. One woman from the crowd would approach Reverend Luter afterwards, admitting to him that she had begun by feeling angry that a black man was preaching at her church…and ended by thanking God he came.
Listen in to the first part of this installment as KC and the fam review and dissect Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie Django Unchained and discuss the dramatization of slavery, the series Roots, commentary by filmmaker Spike Lee, and our kids relationship (or lack therof) to American history. Podcast guests include Chris Lehman, Toria Williams, Malcolm Darrell, Darius Gray, Leisha Mack and special guest, Merc80!
For comments or questions about this episode, call the hotline at (323) 455-4219!
One cannot be an African American without being conscious of the fact that we have inherited a long and bitter history of frustrated attempts to gain equal rights and a level of material parity in this country, a battle that after having overcome slavery and segregation we have gone a long way towards accomplishing, though the struggle to gain a satisfactory station in society remains incomplete. Given that this is the case however, it is curious to note how few of us are aware of the fact that there was a brief moment in history, just after the Civil War, when it seemed that negro Americans were making fast progress towards such equality; a short but real period in the latter third of the nineteenth century when blacks fresh from bondage developed a relatively significant hold on political power in the south.
There are today, if I’m not mistaken, 35 African-American members of Congress, with zero members serving in the United States Senate (the last one to serve in the Senate, if you do not count the brief and controversial appointment of former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris to replace him, is current president Barack Obama). That is in 2012, and of course now we have a black President in Barack Obama. But from 1867 to 1877 (the general period to which the phrase “Radical Reconstruction” refers) there were 16 black members members of congress (keep in mind that the House of Representatives had more than a 140 fewer members total in those years) with two of those serving in the United States Senate. The first black man elected to Congress, Senator Hiram Revels, was elected to the vacated Senate seat of Jefferson Davis, president of the confederacy, out of Mississippi. P.B.S. Pinchback was the first lieutenant-governor of African-American descent, and then briefly the first non-white (technically, though by blood he was mostly white) governor of any state when the governor of Florida had briefly to resign his office because of impeachment proceedings. 265 black electoral delegates were elected during this period, and blacks held hundreds more offices on the state and local level throughout the south during these years. We wouldn’t see anything like that again (and certainly not in the south) until after the Civil Rights movement.
How were these gains possible so soon after slavery, and why did they disappear so quickly? It’s important to realize that after blacks obtained the right to vote with the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments they virtually owned the Republican party in the south. Given the fact too that for a time former leaders of the confederacy were prohibited from running for federal office, this allowed newly freed blacks (often under the educated leadership of northern free blacks like Hiram Revels who came to organize in the south) an opportunity to band together politically and win elections, with help from the northern Republican party and organizations like the Union League. Naturally there was a great deal of resentment towards the gains made by the newly freed slaves as well as a great antipathy towards the Republican Party. This anger would give rise to the Ku Klux Klan, who would be responsible for the murders of at least 35 black officials during this time period. Blacks also had an enemy in President Andrew Johnson who, despite being Abraham Lincoln’s vice-president and a southern Democrat who opposed secession on the basis of his dislike of elite plantation owners, nevertheless was greatly prejudiced towards black people, and intent on reinstating confederate leaders to their former positions of political power within the federal government while vetoing civil rights legislation proposed by Republicans. Though this was the case, black Americans were fortunate that Andrew Johnson was a deeply unpopular president who was ultimately impeached by congress. He was succeeded by Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln’s head general who led the north to victory in the Civil War. Although Grant, prior to the war, had been ambivalent about the cause of freeing the slaves, he as president was intent upon continuing in Lincoln’s footsteps in an effort to preserve and expand the rights of freed slaves. Grant served as president from 1869 to 1877, the golden age of black progress and political power in our history from then to after the Civil Rights Movement.
What happened? A number of things, chief among them the fall and then the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan picked up momentum and confidence during the Johnson administration, responding to the advancement of Negroes into positions of power with, as noted, violence and even murder. But when Grant took office, he with the political backing of the “Radical Republicans” in congress used the law and at times force to break the Ku Klux Klan, stopping in it’s tracks their growing intimidation of new black voters and leaders…at least for a time. But while Grant arrived at the White House a popular war hero, his political fortunes diminished by his second term in the wake of corruption scandals in his administration and a quickly souring economy. So too the economy turned the focus of the American people away from the plight of black Americans and allowed for the resurgence of groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Grant, with his much diminished political influence and a terrible economy could not muster the political muscle to again put down the Klan when they re-arose. So began the long dark of disenfranchisement and unchecked persecution that would be with us for another ninety years.
The “Radical Reconstruction” era is in a sense sad to look back on because it shows us what could have been for our people much sooner, if only certain things had been different. History is full of many sadnesses and missed opportunities as we well know. But when we stop to catalog the inspiring lists of black achievements in American history, we would be remiss to overlook this brief, but bright, period in American and African-American history. We have not just now begun to take our rightful place in the leadership and civic structure of this great country…we have just begun again.
The current state of black music is dismal. That is not an exaggeration. In fact, the current state of American music, by and large, is pretty bad as well. In the past, American popular music and certainly black American music has always been a force for social progress; a continuous and melodic illustration of our truest values and our deepest yearnings. Never before has our music, or America’s music generally, held back social progress. Never before has our music, to any significant degree, served as a vehicle for the celebration of the worst instincts and realities of black America and the black experience. This is a reality of, roughly, the last twenty years in particular. Our great gift to America has become a cancer within ourselves. This needs to change.
The front cover of this April’s edition of The Atlantic Magazine features an article with the headline reading American Mozart: The Genius of Kanye West. I have to admit, seeing this gave me a somewhat depressed feeling. It’s not that Kanye West’s music is, in my opinion, at the heart of our ethnic and national cultural problem (though some of it is). I’ve liked some of his stuff in the past, particularly his earlier things with Twister; Through the Wire (which was uplifting, and like-ably silly) and so forth. But a great deal of it is emblematic of the vacuousness and the mediocrity of our musical culture, if not something quite a bit worse. Take for example one of Kanye West’s breakout hits from way back in 2004, a song called Diamonds from Sierra Leone…
Diamonds from Sierra Leone is sort of a cool song to listen to, minus the fact that, if you chance to pay attention to the lyrics, it has nothing to do with the diamond mines of Sierra Leone. Nothing, no reference to it at all in the original. If you think about it, that alone is astonishing. The imagery of the music video does deal directly with that however, and the video is (again excepting the actual lyrics of the song) poignant because of it. But it’s reflective of the moral confusion of our times that an artist would borrow the name of a subject of such wrenching human tragedy only to use it as the entrance to a song that is in reality both irrelevant to the subject for which it is named, and a self-troubled glorification of the artist himself. In the latter sense then, and it’s coldly ironic, there is some relevance to the matter of the diamond mines of Sierra Leone that Kanye West did not intend. The music video begins with a quote from Mr. West, saying “Little is known of Sierra Leone, and how it connects to the diamonds we own.” Cliche sounding, but very sad, and very true. The song, as noted, then proceeds to do nothing to remedy that sadness, but rather launches into a collage of vanities that I don’t have time to go through here. But in the video a short bit of narration plays before the song, presumably from the voice of one of the slaves from the mines, testifying to the fact that they are forced to slave day in and day out for the icy stone “under the eye of watchful soldiers.” He tells us as we stare at the shirtless figure of a Leonean Rebel as he berates us through the camera, making us, for a moment, the slaves of the mines, that they slaves were forced to kill their own families for the diamonds. Then comes the chilling high-point of the tension, the moment when you see the face of a slave child, and you’re horrified to see the pupils of his eyes wide as saucers because he’s toiled in the mines for so long that his eyes are starved for sunlight. The boys eyes have become something that looks as alien as it does human because that is how his eyes have had to adjust to the unending darkness of the mines.
The tragedy is real, but the poignancy of it is manipulated in the context of the video into a perverse glorification of Kanye West himself. Explicitly, as the video displays him as some kind of hero of the Leonean slaves, but implicitly just by the odd juxtaposition of this type of imagery to the self-indulgent lyrics of the song, (“You know you can call, you gotta best believe it, the Roc stand tall and you would never believe it”). But though the video shows white westerners obliviously wearing and sharing these ill gotten jewels (and then horrified when the blood from the “blood” diamonds crawls upon their skin before the witness of slave children) so uncaring or unaware are they of the human price of their privilege and their luxury, the truth is that the self-absorption exemplified in Kanye’s lyrics is wholly reflective of the mindset that makes such moral detachment possible. Yes the video at it’s end makes a token request of us to buy non-conflict diamonds, and yes Kanye did make a remix that made an effort at dealing with the substance of this issue directly (an effort that fails entirely at being serious or profound. Jay-Z is on the remix, and his entire verse which comprises half the song is again about “The Roc” and irrelevant to the blood diamonds and the slave children of Sierra Leone. Lupe Fiasco, to his credit at least, made a much more conscientious attempt at dealing with this issue in his song “Conflict Diamonds,” inspired by the Kanye tracks). But while the video shows the children of the mines pulling Kanye from the ground as he leaps out of his European sports car, sending it crashing through what I presume was a Jewelers shop. Though the children run to him and hail him as he play pianos in a cathedral before stone figures of Christ and the angels of God, spitting his irrelevant flows as if they were either poignant or profound, Kanye West (whether he realizes it or not) exploits these children and this travesty more insidiously than the people he portrays. Most people buy and wear these diamonds out of ignorance, reveling in the stones themselves, but Kanye revels in the blood diamonds ability to make him look like something he is not: that is a man using music to fight for a higher cause, as opposed to a man using the suffering of others to glorify himself.
Why make this article about Kanye West? To put a microscope on our cultural problem, one general to America and particular to black America. I agree with President Obama that West is (or frequently can be) a “Jack Ass,” but I also agree with him that West is talented, if not to the extent that he seems to suggest (see the Atlantic article). Kanye West is not a composer. He is not a musician, at least not one of any consequence (neither of course are Jay-Z and P-Diddy). I’m not being insulting, those are just facts. He is a producer; one who cleverly takes music by talented musicians and composers of the past, dissects them, and simply applies his oft vain and otherwise meaningless lyrics to them, albeit to great effect as far as his many fans are concerned. But he’s no Bob Dylan, using art to poignantly decry the injustices of our times. He’s no Mozart of any kind. Duke Ellington was an American Mozart, a composer and musician par excellence like Mozart himself. Neither has anything in common with Kanye West. But you don’t have to be a Mozart to make meaningful music, and you don’t even have to be a great musician. Kanye West’s biggest failing, particular with Diamonds from Sierra Leone (as I said before he has made better songs lyrically at other times) is the failing of our modern music generally and that is the fact that it’s orientation begins and ends with glorification of egoism, of materialism, of image and of the self. The thing that makes Kanye West’s Diamonds from Sierra Leone so galling is the fact that it takes an issue that would call upon us to reject these values to truly acknowledge it and, in the guise of calling us to do so, uses it as a vehicle to celebrate some of the very sins of our nature that causes the world to be such a cruel place to begin with.
What is the power of the African-American? What makes us special, unique, or able to contribute anything of great value in the context of America? Is it our artists, our singers, dancers, our authors, our poets and painters that grant our people an invaluable square on the quilt of this country? Is it our athletes who have broken down walls of separation in every major sport by not only their talent but their tenacity, their toughness of character? Or is it the legacy of black intellectuals and civil rights leaders, of preachers and professors who have been bold enough to stand and to decry the evils of our persecution in the face of the mighty and the wrong? It is indeed Maya Angelou and Sam Cooke. It is Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson. It is W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is all of these of course. Yet our power comes from more than any of these. The seat of our power lies seeded in a place deep within our moral memory and lights our path forward as we try to determine how it is that we as a people will win the future.
Black Americans are a proud people. And sure, we have accomplished much that gives us cause to be proud. And I know that pride may seem to be a virtue, but the truth is many people are proud. The Bible urges us, in the words of Zephaniah, “Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3). Believer or non-believer, what the Bible here seeks to tell us is what we African-Americans should from our own experience already know: that it is not pride that is the face of righteousness but humility, and that in those inevitable days which history in its cycles always brings about wherein the deeds of men are placed squarely before the judgment seat of their own consciences, our best defense from the judgment of mankind and our very our own souls is simple innocence. In our own time, we can be innocent again.
Now as I say “we can be innocent again,” I speak as to be heard. But I know that man is never innocent. We must know even as we consider the tragedy of our tribal history that we came here as the children of evil men. We made war on our brothers like evil men, as did the Native Americans even after the nations of Europe established themselves on their shores. We fell into slavery at the hands of evil men. We were sold into slavery by the hands of evil men, into to the hands of men whose wickedness was driven not only by vendetta-less greed, but a dark and subconscious fear of everything they did not understand. And as we know, fear bubbles over into hatred and covers the land when the spirit of scorn marries profitability. Still it remains true that our mothers and fathers reaped much evil in the grounds of Africa before her soils gave them up. Just as the fathers of God’s tribe sold their youngest brother into slavery, so our brothers in Africa once sold us as Joseph into Egypt. Yet like Joseph we through our misery have gained an understanding of the price of freedom that informs us both as to how it is obtained in a hostile land, as well as how it is cultivated with people vastly different from ourselves. The answer is that we like Joseph must love our enemies as Joseph loved the king of Egypt, transcending their spiteful fear. We must love one another, coming together in what is most excellent about us, our culture and our values. Only then can we rise up and speak to America in one mighty voice in declaration of what is wrong and what is right.
Today our country is paralyzed in the twin grips of a broken political system and a broadly degenerating culture. In the first instance, the people who dominate our media and our government are so invested in exploiting their own differences, whether for money or political gamesmanship, that they bring all progress this nation could make on the problems that it faces to a screeching halt. On the other, we find that the dysfunction in our politics is mirrored by the vast fragmentation of the American people themselves. In a nation where a vast and ever heterogeneous people section themselves off according to subcultures, to ever narrowing musical and cinematic tastes, to ever more particular forms of news media, and to ever drifting standards of moral conduct, the less we are able to come together as a people in times of crisis. This problem exists for black America as much as it does for the rest of the nation. But in our case we are better positioned to overcome these symptoms of disintegration.
First however we must recognize the peculiar nature of the cancers that lie within the black American community. Yes, we understand the daunting challenges represented in our high unemployment, our high imprisonment rate, our rate of births outside of wedlock. But these problems themselves could be more effectively challenged if black America herself came together on what values she stands for. We embrace a hip-hop culture, a reality t.v. culture and a culture of materialism that prevents us from uniting as a cohesive moral force in this country. It is not that I have any problem with Hip-Hop or reality t.v. in and of themselves. There are always some things that are good to be found, (if Hip Hop were more about real love and substance in the Common and Talib Kweli variety and less about gratuitousness, and if there were actual values to be discerned in shows like “Flavor of Love” or “Basketball Wives,” I would be all for them). But the fact is that there is little nourishing substance in the art of the black community today, a community which has long reaped from the most fertile soil of this country’s great artists. Our music, our shows and our films may still make money. But little enough do they edify the soul. We need to think about the implications of that fact.
Now you might think that I am wrong, or least simplistic in placing so much significance on the impact of certain types of figures in our culture. Pardon me if I sound a little like Bill Cosby, for I do largely sympathize with the no none-sense style criticism’s he himself fielded so much criticism for voicing against our contemporary black culture. But the only partially justified indignities of Professor Michael Eric Dyson and others on behalf of our contemporary black culture aside, the source of Mr. Cosby’s righteous, albeit sometimes condescending, anger and disappointment is that he well remembers a time in this country’s history when even though the chips were stacked against us we could largely unite around the positivity of our art and our culture. (That now somewhat iconic episode of Aaron McGruder’s controversial cartoon The Boondocks wherein he brings Martin Luther King Jr. out of a forty year coma to see what has become of black America, pointedly if stingingly throws in our faces the extent to which we have sunk into a cultural perversion that serves us neither politically or socially.)
There are people in our communities of course who do not want to hear such talk. Some people like Professor Dyson are quick to point out, and rightly so, that there is a myriad of structural obstacles that still vie against black America’s equal acquisition of the American dream. Even still, can those who might call themselves advocates of our cultural status quo suggest with a straight face that our culture sustains us now in the face of adversity as it did for our enslaved ancestors? Does it nurture us in the way that the stirring, primal and majestic melodies of our “negro spirituals” provided hope and solace for those enduring the the cruel malice of the slave master’s whip? Does our culture today provide for the moral center of gravity upon which a Dr. King as well as a Malcolm X could stand; two men who both rejected materialism, who were both intolerant towards profane speech, who upheld a standard of black manhood which itself could only abide within it a high standard of reverence for black womanhood? Is their legacy reflected in the music of Lil’ Wayne and of Jay Z, for the most part? Are the values we teach in our churches reflected in the values imparted by the lyrical sentiments of Rick Ross or Rihanna? Do we uphold the standard of respect and admiration we should have for our women in these songs and videos of these artists, particularly when Black Entertainment Television is willing to show us these images over and over again but does not cover the deaths of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King at the time that they happen? I speak here of the vast trends of our culture. Surely I could think of a couple positive songs that Snoop Dogg has written, but I can’t think of a single song Marvin Gaye ever sang that was demeaning to women or disrespectful to anyone. The image we construct of ourselves in our culture, that we accept of ourselves, is wholly unbefitting a great people. But it’s so easy to accept it. That is why those among us who are willing to must band together on a higher plane of cultural observance. One which upholds the higher trends of our history and which cares not to appease the rest.
I am called to remember W.E.B. Du Bois’s belief that Afro-America could only uplift itself if “the advance guard of the race,” pursued a cultural awakening within the black community. (W.E.B. Du Bois labeled those blacks who would take up this charge, perhaps a bit snobbishly, as the “talented tenth,”) It was this conviction on the part of W.E.B. Du Bois and other prominent black artists and intellectuals including the NAACP, which prompted the direct engineering of the Harlem Renaissance, which really did elevate both black and white America’s view of the negro people. So did black operatic performance, black drama, poetry, literature and Jazz find their first major platform from which to leap into the imagination of the country at large. From this conscientious attempt to change the nation through high art did we get Langston Hughes, Bill Robinson and even Duke Ellington and these artists and many others of the time largely paved the way for every great black actor, singer and author who would come after. Art was the vehicle by which black America reached out across racial lines because in art and literature we were able to speak a language of the heart that was defiant of our differences. What language do we speak now with our artistry of materialism, sexual gratuity, disrespect and violence? Even if we do bring people together with these, what do we bring people together for?
Dr. King described the movement he led as a spiritual movement, one in which agape love and goodwill for mankind was recognized as the central element of their striving. In this is the ultimate show of humility. In this is the long-suffering self-sacrifice that I know some determined African-Americans will embody as they set the moral compass for this country in the 21rst century. Yet we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves to enduring the bitterness of those black people, those white people, and all those cynical voices so automatically arrayed against those who would labor to lift our consciousness to a higher state of mind. In this we make the path straight for the ultimate liberation of black America, which is the ultimate liberation of America herself. Those who carry this burden are the sons and daughters of slave heroes and martyrs. We are the Day Breakers, in the words of Renaissance poet Arna Bontemps. Non-violent resisters of a decadent social order. But even so:
What does it mean to be an American? I suppose it would mean, or should mean at least, that one stands for liberty, for equal opportunity, and the right of all peoples to have a say in the governing system that oversees their existence. In this, we as black Americans are Americans like any other. But to be an African American does make one the heir of a unique history and a powerful legacy that runs through the heart of the overall American experience. It is a history that gives us strength, but only in proportion to the degree to which we know it and embrace it. In my opinion therefore, it is important for us to claim this legacy knowing that ours is an American legacy. We, as much as the whites who brought us here, built this country. We, man for man, woman for woman, have helped to shape it by our endurance and our innovation as much as European Americans. Our struggle has been different from theirs. Indeed, our struggle has been against them, to a significant degree. Yet our pains followed us here from Africa as well, sold into the hands of one group of slave owners by slave owners whose colors were our own. As such we were forced to start over, in a way that perhaps no people has ever had to before. Indeed, we are still starting over. In the last fifty years we have called ourselves negro, black, African-American, then Nigga with an “a” because, (I suppose), that makes a difference, and indeed some black people will take exception to any of these labels because as a whole people we have still not agreed upon who precisely we are. No, not after all this time. Part of the reason for this, I’ve decided, is because we are still uncertain as to whether or not we with our tormented history at the hands of the mighty in this country should really consider ourselves American at all. The answer to this question is that we should because we are, and that our Americanism is more than just a technicality. Our experience has colored the American experience, our culture lies at the heart of America’s culture, and our minds claim great shares in the authorship of America’s ideals as they’ve been further defined through the many generations succeeding the moment of this nations founding. But all of that is for not if we don’t see ourselves as Americans.
Though I was never ignorant of the struggles of African-Americans in this country, I was raised by both my white father and my black mother to think of myself as an American, and to be proud of that fact. That’s why, one day in the seventh grade, I was more than a little shocked when, after we we’re all asked to stand for the pledge of allegiance, one of the black girls in my class pointedly refused. Our teacher asked why she refused and she said, “why should I? This is the country that enslaved me, that wouldn’t let my people use the same bathroom or go to the same schools as white people. Why the hell should I pledge allegiance to that?” Though she wasn’t talking to me I vividly remember feeling hurt by her words. “We’re all in the same schools now,” I thought. Still, her anger struck me and I wondered, was I naive to love this country? Later in my life, and after having argued the case for black American patriotism many times, many ways, I heard another man artfully put in words what I had long understood and had long tried to explain to those black friends of mine who wanted still to hold tightly to their anger towards this country.
When Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was shaken by the uproar over the anti-American tirade of Pastor Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church in Chicago,(then Senator Obama’s longtime pastor), Barack Obama delivered a speech in Philadelphia to address the issue. In this speech he said a thing that sounded curious to many people, that didn’t satisfy many of his critics, but which I understood perfectly well. His words were as follows:
“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are part of America, this country that I love.”
Many critics of the president’s felt this to be not but an artful alibi for suffering the anti-American rhetoric of a radical religious figure, something that should have disqualified any candidate seeking the presidency from obtaining that office. But as a black and as a (if you will) mulatto myself, I recognized both sides of the coin which he described. For many of the people I love most in my life, black people of intelligence and integrity, have disparaged America in my presence in similar terms, something I have often cringed at. Yet how can I be angry at them for reacting to a pain that didn’t end with the passage of the Civil Rights Act? How can I judge them for expressing the bitterness that still trickles into our hearts as African-Americans from the time of slavery to now? I need inform no black person with the slightest bit of awareness of our circumstance of the statistics: we are the poorest people in the nation. We are the most undereducated people in the nation. We are the most imprisoned, the most murdered, and the latter by our own. We are self-hating so why would we not hate the country that left us this legacy of poverty, that actively sought to turn us against each other, destroying our hearts and minds and all that in the name of God? Yet hatred and distrust is not the only dynamic that exists between white and black in our society. For while we can bare witness to the prejudice of whites directed towards us throughout our history, we can also see that the power of love and God has also been present in the midst of our American confusion. How else could Barack Obama’s grandmother love him as she did in spite of the fear she may occasionally of felt towards black men? How could I myself have come to be so loved by my own white grandparents in spite of their segregationist tendencies, in spite of the fact that at the time my grandfather learned of my father’s marriage to my mother he angrily felt that my father had committed a disgrace? But love transcended these fading lines of color, both for Senator Obama and myself, and through the painful process of time for America herself to a great degree. So then did Barack Obama identify the mistaken cynicism of Jeremiah Wright and the many blacks who share his point of view regarding America, saying:
“The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress had been made; as if this country — a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black, Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen — is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope — the audacity to hope — for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”
Some countries never change. Throughout history, many nations have not emerged from their tribal conflicts but have burned to the ground in such fires. America however has changed. Not enough of course, but enough to where we whose faith is not so great as a warrior like Martin Luther King, Jr. can too say that we have glimpsed the mountain top of which he spoke. We must recognize the moment we’ve come to as black people, a moment that allows for us to take the lead in rescuing our country from itself, a moment when our nation and our children white and black need us most. For today our national peril is not so dissimilar from what we faced back in the 1960’s, except that today the roots of our divisions are not-primarily-racial, but rather we suffer from an ideological and a cultural divide that prevents us both from solving problems in our government and coming together as a people. With respect to these near insurmountable problems they cannot be solved unless the lessons of the African-American experience are applied and our special position on the societal spectrum utilized. How will we do this? By digging deep into the soil of our pain to raise the flower of our faith as a people, which once made us the moral leaders of a nation. We, the African-American people, have the power to move hearts and minds because of who we are and what we’ve been through, and in this potential lies our power to lift ourselves out of our own tragic circumstances in the process. We who have healed from the wounds of generations long persecution must now be the delivers of healing for an injured nation and our injured brothers and sisters who struggle to see the power that they have. In this is the Christian promise of triumph and reconciliation of which King wrote when he penned these words that are as relevant to our time and mission as they were to his: “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our condition.”
How far we’ve come from the days of our bondage. How far we’ve come from the days of our most brutal persecution. We were uprooted from our homeland only to watch our families torn asunder, beneath the lash of petty southern tyrants and more broadly speaking an economic system and a system of government which, however conflictingly, allowed for the institutionalized dehumanization of an entire race of people by which it’s preferred subjects were enriched and empowered. How far we’ve come from those days, and the days of Jim Crow and the century of only slightly less insidious persecution that followed. How far we’ve come. Yet it is worth asking where we have come to, and even more so, where we are going.
In the Old Testament the Lord through Moses, in revealing the ten commandments to the Israelites, commanded them to remember the blessing of their liberation, saying: “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm…” (Deuteronomy 15:15). For black Christians, we have an advantage (one for which we should really be thankful) in understanding and relating to the liberation of God’s people in the Bible because for us the memory of slavery in our blood and in our culture is sharper and more immediate than it can be for our European brothers and sisters. The humility that the Bible stresses that God’s spiritual children must have can only come through the purifying agony of degradation and pain. (What was Christ trying to show in his death on the cross?) All people suffer of course, but ours in America has been a culture of suffering and in as much as we have suffered patiently we have seen miracles, for God has delivered us by a mighty hand and that more than once. Whether you believe in God or not however, you must surely see how vast seas were parted in both the material and political circumstances leading up to the ending of slavery, and then the ending of segregation. Moreover, and more importantly, great waters were parted in the consciences of our oppressors as well as those many whites Americans who were just indifferent to our struggle in both the 1860’s and the 1960’s. Through all these times our people as a whole did not have power in this society. (In the four hundred and fifty plus years since the slave trade began to when we achieved real equality under the law with the Civil Rights Act we went from none to not much.) Because of this, our power in these times of powerlessness could only come from man’s true source of power and that lies in humility, righteousness, and the simple indomitable resolve that comes from knowing one’s cause is just.
This is our history as African-Americans. It is one that is moving and proud, inspiring to us and people of all colors in this country and around the globe. But a triumphal past does necessarily lead to a glorious future and this brings me to the point of these four articles of which this is the first. We, as African-Americans have reached a critical point in our history, one which demands that a collective decision be made in the hearts and minds of our people. In the age of Colin Powell, Kobe Bryant, Oprah Winfrey and, most tellingly, Barack Obama, we can no longer think that we, for all the myriad and considerable disadvantages we still labor under, have no power in this society. We are African-Americans, yes, but we the children of slaves are Americans every bit as much as the children of slave owners. As such we have as great a stake in the success of this nation as the white majority that has had the lion share of the governing power for all of its history. We have as much a claim on America as any of the descendants of Quakers and Pilgrims who once in a spirit of great faith and courage set out for the promise of a new world which fate would destine us to share. What we must understand, then, is that we also have an equal obligation as they to lead it. Marcus Garvey once said, “Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm.” That is precisely where we are today…
After the passage of the 13th Amendment (1865,) which outlawed slavery, Southern states tried to define the meaning of black freedom by making things as close to slavery as possible. With the enactment of the Black Codes, blacks were freemen but not citizens.
While lawmakers recognized that blacks had some sort of basic rights like the the right to sue and be sued and buy property, the laws restricted black mobility and made them dependent on whites. Some states, for example, outlawed hunting as a way to limit blacks’ ability to procure food on their own, while a Louisiana law in St. Landry Parish ordered “No negro shall sell, barter, or exchange any articles of merchandise or traffic within said parish without the special written permission of his employer, specifying the article of sale, barter, or traffic.” And every Southern state created a labor system for blacks that forced them to sign annual contracts that withheld wages until after the harvest, what is known as sharecropping.
On this note, St. Landry Parish ruled “Every negro is required to be in the regular service of some white person, or former owner, who shall be held responsible for the conduct of said negro.” True freedom should have meant that they had the right to work, or not work (in today’s language we call this a “right to work state,) and the ability to negotiate a wage. Unfortunately this ugly period in American history is much like today’s NCAA Division I rules. The athlete’s status reminds me of the second verse in Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle,” in which he powerfully sung “No chains around my feet, but I am not free. I know that I am bound here in captivity.”
While the NCAA is setup like the slave plantation system and reaps billions of dollars off the unpaid athlete’s backs, the rules regulating the athletes are more akin to the Black Codes, or freedom without citizenship, where athletes cannot earn wages during the season, cannot sell their personal property, and the coach is “responsible for the conduct” of the player. This injustice is highlighted by the recent events at Ohio State, in which players including the star quarterback Terrell Pryor made the school millions of dollars during their careers, but were suspended for violating the NCAA rules. What awful crime did they commit? Essentially they bartered their own property without the permission of the NCAA and forgot that “No negro shall sell, barter, or exchange any articles of merchandise… without the special written permission of his employer.”
In December their coach Jim Tressel, who has now been fired for lying and not immediately turning the offenders in, or violating section 11 of St. Landry Parish’s codes that said “it shall be the duty of every citizen to act as a police officer for the detection of offences and the apprehension of offenders, who shall be immediately handed over to the proper captain or chief of patrol,” suspended the players for the first 5 games of the 2011 season. However, he allowed them to play in the Sugar Bowl that earned each school (Arkansas being the other) $17 million dollars. In order to play in the big game, in which the players did not get paid but got free goodies from sponsors, Tressel forced the players to forfeit their basic fundamental right to seek employment and apply for the NFL draft.
So what should be done? Nearly 150 years ago the Black Codes infuriated Congress and they passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, in which they clearly sought to define citizenship and give legal meaning to the freedmen’s lives. The act made citizens of every person born in the United States (except Native Americans) and for the first time federally defined the basic rights of freedom, which including the rights to make contracts, sue and be sued and also inherit, sell and lease property. Congress then made each Southern state reapply back into the union, draft a new state constitution, and ratify the 14th Amendment, which Congress created to strengthen the Civil Rights Act.
In 1866 Terrell Pryor could have sold his own memorabilia. Of course Pryor and other college athletes should legally be allowed to sell their memorabilia and make a contract that garners them a wage. Playing college sports should not forfeit one’s 14th Amendment right. Congress needs to step in and deal with this injustice. Stop worrying about the BCS and whether these students should be forced to play more games for free in a playoff system, and deal with their rights as American citizens.
So it seems as though the newest world-wide trend is ‘planking’ and you see everyone laying across something to take and post a pic. This has become the new funny. But is it funny or offensive?
WHAT IS PLANKING TODAY: If you are not aware of exactly what planking is, in today’s world, planking is laying stiff and straight across whatever (tables, counter tops, basketball rims, microwaves, etc). Celebs and everyday people are taking pictures in the most odd places, planking! Some celeb plankers are, Chris Brown, D Howard, Justin Combs, Flavor Flav, and many many more.
ORIGIN: This all derives from back when slaves were transported to the United States on big slave ships back in the day. Slaves were force to lay face down with their arms by their side and their wrist chained to their waist. Some were even stacked on top of each other with no room to move. Keep in mind there were not any restrooms and they were exposed to bodily fluids, etc. Not many of the slaves survived, many died from dehydration and disease.
We as Black people are known for taking something bad and making it seem cool for a period of time but should a line be drawn somewhere? At what point is calling one another nigga, wearing chains, embarrassed about dark skin or coarse hair, and fight because of colors or sides is TOO MUCH self hate??? I take my stand at ‘planking’! There is nothing cool or funny about it. Had you known or been related to any of those slaves, you would not be planking.
Why is it that black people can always find away to disrespect their history??? Do Jews find away to bring light to the holocaust? What about Mexicans….they too were slaves. Do you see them making fun of it?
Lets bring this to more modern times for people who can careless about history dated after so many years. How about we start acting like planes and we run into buildings and call it 9/11??? Not funny??? Lets go to Oklahoma City and set off M80′s in the hospital and call it “Oklahoma City Bombing”??? No LOL??? How about we go to Denver and make paper guns and take pics shooting at students and teachers and call it “Columbine”. Some things really should not be joked about. And some times (BLACK PEOPLE) you should be more cautious of what you do…watch how offended you get when you see ‘Dog the Bounty hunter’ looks when he PLANKS! SMH in embarrassment.
Seriously, if you are my Facebook friend or I follow you on twitter and you plank, I am deleting you! Hope you all take the same stance.
This article is solely based on the views and opinions of The Hub Radio.