Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Ebb

I have written blogs before about the lack of civility and humanity in our world today; but in the wake of the current political and social climate, I find it important to address similar issues. This blog will be directed solely at the Black community.

There seems to be an ebb in the flow of progress for black people. It's like Obama was elected president and we decided we had been delivered to the promised land. Meanwhile the achievement gap is getting wider, teenage pregnancy is up, and so are hate crimes. Now I don't pretend to be the "Yoda" of Black empowerment. I'm a twenty-something, I don't pretend to know everything about the world. The following points are just my perspective on the here and now.

1. We have not made it the promised land
Martin Luther King's Dream wasn't fulfilled with President Obama's election; albeit a huge step forward, we are not out of the woods. When a black man or woman is elected president and no one bats an eyelid, we will have reached the promised land. A lot of things in this world need to change for that to happen. It's like the episode of Family Guy where Cleveland is playing the "Civil Rights" board game. When asked how you win, Cleveland replies, "You never win, you just do a little better every time." Sophomoric as it may be, the context of that quote is sacrosanct.

2. Get over it
There will always, ALWAYS be institutionalized racism, so what? We hold ourselves back the most via internal self-hatred and shame. We get a little money, leave the ghetto and then are all of a sudden "too good". We sit in our big houses and drive our fancy cars and think we've gotten somewhere. We segregate ourselves from our brothers and sisters because their skin is lighter or darker than ours. We look down our noses at movies like "Precious" because they "portray black people in a negative light". Well guess what? Stories like "Precious" are a reality for some people; highlighting those stories raises consciousness. What kills me is the same people who turn down their nose at "Precious" are in the next theater giggling at "Next Day Air". We complain about Blacks being portrayed poorly in Hollywood and at the same time throw our money behind "Madea Goes to Jail" instead of "Miracle at St. Anna". Same goes with other art forms; we complain about Hip Hop degrading our women but we're the first in line for Lil' Wayne and Soulja Boy's concert. Meanwhile, hip hop artists who are actually saying something are regarded as "indie" and swept to the back. We reward mediocrity and it has to stop.

3. Retire the N-word
I does us no good. I don't care if you're "chillin' wit your boys" or cursing out another black person. The word has no place in our vocabulary. We are not "taking the word back" nor are we taking its power by calling each other by it; we are taking our own power, it is self-hatred no matter how you try to spin it. If the word were powerless, white people could walk around spewing the N-word whenever they pleased and Al Sharpton could retire his cape. It still strikes a nerve and is therefore still a powerful tool and representation of the structural inequality in this country.

4. GET OVER IT - Had to use it twice
We will never correct structural inequalities by pointing fingers. At some point we have to take personal responsibility for ourselves. More often than not, I'm the first person to cite the effects of institutionalized racism and classism on lower-income communities. There's the culture of poverty theory, prison industrial complex, education inequalities, and outright discrimination, true. However, no matter how bad the circumstances, we all have a choice. This "blame the white man" routine only goes so far. Our history is satiated with ordinary people who made a way out of no way, who managed to educate themselves while they were still slaves, who worked the skin off their knuckles so that their children could have a better life. My grandmother never graduated high school. She never got to see the inside of an integrated school. She worked so that her younger sisters and brothers didn't have to, so that they could graduate high school, something she would never experience. Come on folks, people bled on the streets, were attacked by dogs, water hoses and billy clubs so that our tomorrows would not look like their yesterdays and we are squabbling our opportunity.

5. Acknowledge your Worth
Our history is American History. This country was built on our backs. Remember, we had to create our culture from scratch. Our names, religions, and languages were stripped from us, leaving us to define ourselves by "master's standards". And yet, we managed to congregate, and solidify a culture, "Black", that has served as the judge and jury on what is "in" and what is "out". We created jazz, blues, and rock & roll, we were rapping before anyone knew what rap was. On the scientific level, Black people are credited with some of the most significant technological and medical advancements in this country. This lesson won't be taught in school, but that doesn't stop parents from instilling a sense of pride and responsibility in their children.

6. A Pyramid is Stronger than a single block
We must stop beating each other down and start building each other up. We see one person start to make moves and become successful and we're ready to tear them down or mitigate their accomplishments by inserting some qualifier that makes it less significant. I must admit, I had that mentality before I knew better. I was quick to judge former Secy of State Rice before I realized that she was inadvertently opening a door for me. While I can't support her policies, I had to change my tune on supporting her as a black woman. We are not on the bottom because some of us are on the top.
That works both ways with those of us who have "made it". Progress is insignificant unless you're doing something to pull your culture with it. Other cultures immigrate here, they stay together, they pool their resources and they invest their money. They work hard and as a result they all prosper. Their kids may not have the best shoes or clothes but they eat well, have a roof over their heads, and family to guide them. They go to good schools and take care of their elders. I'm sorry, but if you live in the projects your kid should not have the new pair of Jordans every time they come out, nor should they be playing video games on their PS3 while sitting on the floor because you don't have a couch. We get a little bit of money and we're ready to put it on display while other people invest. We spend money on the wrong things. We're so concerned with fakin' it til we make it that we'll spend ourselves out of the opportunity to ever eventually accomplish anything.

7. Stop Splitting hairs with the LGBT Community
Homosexuality is not the new black, but it's also not a fabricated struggle. For years, decades even, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people have been a significant part of Black culture. They are teachers, lawyers, pastors, choir directors, stylists, etc. They are no more or less worthy of inclusion and affirmation than heterosexuals are. "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere." There was no subtext in Martin Luther King Jr's quote that said "except the gays". By dividing ourselves from their civil rights struggle, we are depleting our allies and alienating our fellow citizens. Being LGBT and Black is not an easy river to wade. You still have to deal with the racism that heterosexual blacks do, and on top of that, deal with the misogyny and homophobia from your own community. Furthermore, as an oppressed group ourselves, we should be the last to scapegoat and ostracize another group for our problems. Gay people are not breaking up our families, we are.

8. The Village is in ashes
Back when I was growing up, people knew their neighbors. If you were outside playing and did something you weren't supposed to do, you were corrected by whatever neighbor happened to be watching. If you did something really wrong, your mother knew by the time she got home, your grandmother had already reprimanded you, and your father gave you a third helping when he arrived. Kids had respect for their elders and parents were involved in their child's life. I'm not going to say my parents were perfect, but they raised me to value myself, respect my elders and everyone else regardless of our differences. They taught me to think for myself, to speak up and to ask questions. They weren't the only ones who shaped who I am. I had a neighborhood full of people, a big family, an invaluable grandmother, and teachers and school officials who cared enough to make sure I was on the right track. That's what we need to get back to. There was a time when everyone spoke to each other, now it's like pulling teeth to get people to say hello, even my next-door neighbors. It truly does take a village to raise a child. Parents are a big part of their kids outlook of the world.

These problems are not only prevalent in our communities, I'm sure many of them affect society as a whole. That being said, I channel my mother in what she always used to say, "I'm not [their] parent, I'm not worried about them; I'm your parent; I'm worried about you.". Before we step out there demanding acknowledgment, perhaps we should work on acknowledging each other and fixing our own problems to make us stronger as a people. Solidarity goes hand in hand with power, we will remain powerless as long as we're standing on the top of the hill alone.