All Articles Tagged "black culture and history"
Confession: Believe it or not, the reality of America’s racist past didn’t become real to me until college. (Insert gasp!) And I live in Georgia. (Insert disbelief and head shake.) While I grew up knowing about Martin Luther King Jr.—as my elementary history books glossed over the depths of slavery and segregation in America and presented him as the great savior that made all people get along now—I didn’t know much else. Stories of Malcolm X, W.E.B., and others came across my eyes by way of my mother, but my shallow understanding of racism and my upper middle class status left me thinking racism was a thing of the past that had no real effect on the present or future. Yes, I was downright ignorant.
It wasn’t until I went to college and practically minored in African American Studies (Why didn’t my counselor tell me I was one class away from having that credential?) that I found myself in my dorm room crying as I viewed pictures of lynchings and read articles that addressed racism as an institution whose effects have been deep and wide. America’s veil was torn. I realized that by those stars and stripes, we were not healed. But I was also awakened to the legacies of brave souls like Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, and the countless individuals whose stories haven’t been told but to whom we owe our current freedoms. I’d never been more excited about academia than I was then, because I was discovering my own past. And a sense of responsibility, dignity, pride, and accountability to my ancestors filled my heart. There’s something about knowing scores of individuals either had to fight for or never had the opportunities you currently have (and possibly squander) that inspires greatness.
Seeing Jackie Robinson’s life depicted in “42,” this past weekend did just that. Watching the Major League Baseball player turn the other cheek while being barraged with racial slurs, letting the example of Jesus instruct him in the face of persecution, was nothing short of inspiring. But I couldn’t help but leave the film wondering whether my generation is too far removed to be inspired by such a film. Do these films become mere one-time experiences that have us reflecting for roughly a week but then going on about our business as usual afterward? I might sound like an old timer, but I think we’ve forgotten where we came from. And many young people have no real clue where that even is. We are growing up with a black president — dare we think we have arrived?
As I was also remembering MLK’s assassination on April 4, I couldn’t help but wonder how we’ve gone from a people who fought for our dignity and right to be educated — with our greatest threat coming from outside — to a people whose youth don’t see value in education or one other. Of course this is a generalization of a people of great accomplishment, and I realize that the effects of racism still stain us and affect our betterment, but is our culture headed for doom? Are we stuck on N***a Island? If so, how did we get here and is there any hope for getting off?
While “42″ finds Dodgers’ president Branch Rickey quoting Bible scriptures left and right, what the film doesn’t highlight is that it was Jackie Robinson’s own faith that gave him courage, and it’s what truly made him great. Perhaps that element of our culture has been lost, and we need to get it back. While he is keenly aware that there are no quick fixes to the many issues that plague African Americans, Sho Baraka (an artist whose Talented Xth album draws from W.E.B. DuBois’ work on how black culture can be uplifted), believes the decreasing importance of the black church has played a role in our decline. “I don’t believe the church is a important as it once was. Mainly because of the lack of a universal Black problem. Once Black people could comfortably live in suburbs with whites, their problems changed and we no longer have a common struggle.” Well, we know what Frederick Douglass had to say about that: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Am I saying we need to enter back into the chains of racial degradation? Heck no, we won’t go! But perhaps we have forgotten the lines of those ol’ negro spirituals that sung of our Great Emancipator as we find ourselves floating in that vast ocean of material prosperity MLK spoke of — unaware that we are headed towards a fool’s paradise. And our youth are paying the price. We need to remind ourselves of the struggle and educate our young people on our history. I don’t say that as a passing statement; I believe it plays an integral role in combating our current trajectory. We are as grateful for what we have today as we are cognizant of what we didn’t have the days before. We must remind them, because it will give them hope to become more. And we need them to have this hope because if “there ain’t no hope for our youth, then the truth is there ain’t hope for the future,” as 2pac so eloquently told us. They need to know that while entertainment and athletics are worthy arenas to aspire to thrive in, they can be more than rappers and athletes. They can be leaders and role models.
Jackie Robinson breaking into major league baseball is much more than a story of athletic prowess. It is a story of claiming and maintaining one’s dignity and having the guts to fight not with carnal, but divine weaponry. We must embark on that same fight for our people’s dignity. We owe it to those before us and behind us, and we owe it to ourselves. But most importantly, we owe it to the God who created us all equal.
As a child, I grasped on to the strengthened calf of my mother, to gain her attention, and pushed one of my storybooks into her hands. “Mommy, where am I in the book? Why am I not on the book?” My mother looked down at me confused, trying to understand what I meant. She glanced at the little white girls and boys parading through the pages. Still nothing. It wasn’t until looking through a bookstore and stumbling upon a book of children’s poems by Nikki Giovanni that she completely understood. On its cover a small chestnut boy accompanied evidence of her little girl, a grinning little brown female with pigtails and a fragmented smile. She brought the book home and handed it to me before bed. I was all beams and hope, “Mommy, I’m in the book! Look it’s me!”
I was three then. Of course, I didn’t understand the brevity of my plea. However, my mother was in awe. She became enthralled in portraying our culture’s prevalence on anything I played with after that. The dolls she purchased were always heavy beige or smooth caramel, the pale Santa ornaments that adorned our Christmas tree were painted brown, and the paintings that laced our walls boasted proud African-American faces. My favorite book became a compilation of poetry with a wide spectrum of verse. My parents and I flipped through pages of everything from Robert Frost to Gwendolyn Brooks.
Our shelves were adorned in us. The smell of their collegiate days sifted through the dust of texts waiting to be read. My knowledge of Medgar, Malcolm and Martin wasn’t minimized to a few paragraphs in my grade school textbooks. I was able to hear the cracking of spines and witness the brown of pages as I broke open their histories, pulled from the bookcases of my family.
I grew into my skin. Proud.
I never had the phase of trying to eradicate my blackness: A cousin who tried to bleach her chocolate skin bereft of the honey complexion her brother’s wore. Friends who giggled and laughed at the Kente cloths and cowry shells of our newly transplanted African classmates. The immature clucks and clicks of a faux language, typical of movies that mimicked the beautiful diaspora’s urbanity, ignorantly dismissing that their primary language was English.
My mother delved further than most parents were willing to. She didn’t just purchase things with white features painted a dull Crayola russet. She taught me broad lips, big bones, Aida, Langston, Alvin Ailey, curves, Zulu, Harlem, blues, Chicago and so much more. While my classmates were trying to mold themselves into a vision of what society said was beauty, I was trying to accentuate my blackness.
I devoured minority authors in my waking hours, spit poetry about our significance, and attended an HBCU. Many argued that the heavy immersion would leave me bereft of well-roundedness. They were wrong. I memorized Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, downloaded Maroon 5, Limp Bizkit and eventually grew into the idea of sporting a ton of American Eagle and Abercrombie. I was as well-rounded as they came.
It’s our responsibility to build our child’s self-esteem through cultural reflection and understanding. By encouraging their faces on things they’ll confront every day, we show them that we exist. Because of my mother’s persistence, I walk and breathe with pride. I have embraced my culture in ways that brown children, all over, will never get the chance to. Our next generation isn’t lost for we hold the key to their most pivotal characteristic: understanding.
Imagine, my mother bought me a series of books written by women with my skin and today I’m on the journey to becoming one of those distinguished ladies. Destiny.
“RivaFlowz” is a teacher and professional writer living in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter: @rivaflowz.
More on Madame Noire!
- Party of One Please: Things I’ve Learned To Enjoy By Myself
- MN Exclusive: Warryn & Erica Campbell On How They Met, Their Family and Managing To Work Together
- You Are Not The Father! The Most Memorably Ratchet Moments From The Maury Povich Show
- Drop The Flat Iron Like It’s Hot: Summer Hairstyles To Help You Beat the Heat
- And They Say Only Black Women are Bitter? Why Bitter Black Men Need To Have a Seat…Several
- Stop Arguing About Dumb Stuff! How I Learned To Keep The Peace In My Relationship
- Old Habits Die Hard: Learning Not To Dim My Light So Others Can Feel Like They’re Shining