My Cousin’s Daughter Aramis and the Beauty of the Black Woman

Aramis Donnell Ayala is a young, beautiful, intelligent, and powerful Black woman who has come under attack from racists, who disagree with a decision she recently made as the State of Florida’s District Attorney in Orange and Osceola Counties. In many ways, Aramis is just the direct opposite of what has, over the last decade, become the media perception of the Black woman. She didn’t spend seventeen years in prison for drug distribution, and then come out as part owner of a music empire. She spent her years in the university pursuing a law degree. She doesn’t sleep with the man who has power so that she can have power, she has power of her own making. Like Michelle Obama, she contradicts the white media’s perception of the Black woman that has a very long history in this country. The Black woman has been less than the stellar representation of grace, beauty, and dignity. That role has been reserved for the white woman.

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There is precedent for the media’s distorted myth of the Black woman. It began as far back as the early Nineteenth Century when racist theorists found it necessary to demean the African in order to justify their sick system of slavery. One of those early distortions was the concept of God’s chain of beauty. According to this formula, God had created the white woman as the personification of beauty, and every male regardless of race craved her. According to this theory, at the bottom of this chain was the Black woman and no male actively sought her, not even the black man. So who was left to be with the Black woman? Again, according to this theory, the suitor for the Black woman was the orangutang, and she would be just as happy and satisfied with his company. (Please note I am articulating a sick theory of racism)

Then there was the Thomas Jefferson’s scientific study printed in his book Notes on the State of Virginia, where he claims to have carried out an examination of the nature of the Black man and woman. One of his findings was that the Black race lacked loving compassion, and were more animalistic in their sexual behavior. All these racists theorists claimed that the woman was sexually driven, and constantly seeking the sexual favors from the white man. This was so prevalent that when a white rapist was brought before a white judge in 1900 Alabama for raping a Black woman, the judge dismissed the case because, according to him, all Black women craved the white man so it couldn’t have been rape.

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Even though every sane, rational thinking human being, recognized this distorted perception of the Black woman it continued to exist. Fast forward to the contemporary roles that Black women play in many movies and television programs. These roles are not stellar portrayals of her, in many of these shows. And these distortions reached its lowest level of absurdity in the movie Monster Ball, a story that features a Black woman willing to have sex with a racist pig, who I believe was her husband’s executioner in prison. How low can you go?

But Aramis and Michelle negate those false portrayals through real life examples of the modern Black woman. Still the perpetrators of these distortions continue. Michelle was compared to an ape and the legitimacy of her accomplishments were challenged, and she was referred to as the “angry Black woman,” on numerous occasions.  And just recently, a racist in Florida suggested that Aramis should be “tarred and feathered” or hung from a tree. In his mind, this is something you can do to a Black woman, but he would never dare suggest that as punishment for somewhat white.

On a personal note, I am so proud of Aramis, who is my cousin’s daughter. I have known this bright young lady all her life as well as her sister Amber, who also is quite accomplished and their only brother Glenn, who is the oldest of the three. Their mother and father are great examples of parents, who worked hard to make sure their children received the best education, understood their ethical and moral responsibility as young Blacks, who often would be judged on the distorted definition of black and not on their own merits. Their grandmother, my Aunt Ellen, also set an illustrious example for them to follow as a strong Black woman, who loved her family and worked very hard to make sure they always had the best she could offer. Aramis, her sister Amber, their mother Natalie, and my Aunt Ellen are strong contradictions to what we often see portrayed on television and in movies about the Black woman. And they are only the tip of the iceberg. Black pride and womanhood runs deep in the Black culture and is the strength on which that culture has been sustained over the centuries. Any other projections of Black womanhood are serious distortions of reality.download

 

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FINDING BLACKNESS

I have a friend who does an outstanding presentation to young Black American men. The title of his talk is, “What I would Tell You If I Were Your Father.” By the end of his talk, he is encouraging the young men that it is time to jettison the “Bling-Bling,” of all the superficial chains, rings, sagging pants, disrespectful and vulgar language for a new lifestyle. But unlike many other black leaders, he does not attack the young for their behavior, but instead tries to explain to them why they have a very negative mindset, one that is destructive and detrimental to their growth and demeaning to their culture. The basis of his approach is to reject the assumption made by many conservatives, both black and white, that the young black man’s behavior is of his own doing. That he is not the victim of centuries of an oppressive system, deliberately designed to destroy the black youth’s feelings of self-worth, of pride in who he is, and of the race and culture from which he comes.

But the conservatives are wrong. Two centuries of purposeful and vicious attacks on the most important principle in the growth for a healthy and positive young man, be it black or white or any other race, the belief in one’s self, is still being denied black youth in this country. But shame on us who have allowed this to happen. Shame on us who admire the negative portrayals of blacks in books, movies and on television. It is like we have come to the point that we get the same kind of enjoyment out of the negative images of the race, in the same manner that whites have gotten for over two hundred years. It is time for us to reverse this trend and change the paradigm. It is time for us to no longer be the exception, but instead to be exceptional. Let us begin to point out the great accomplishments of our race, and the exceptional men and women who have accelerated in their particular fields of endeavor. Let’s do something different for a change and take the high road, instead of settling for the ditch. We accomplish change by finding our blackness as a people and a culture. There is a war for the soul of our culture, and it calls for drastic steps from all who are concerned. Here are a few facts that we all can begin to share with our young; facts they need to know so they will know “they are somebody.”

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They NEED TO KNOW that Blacks excelled as jockeys soon after the Civil War. The first winner of the Kentucky Derby was Jimmy Winfield. In fact, 15 of the first twenty-eight Derbies were won by Black jockeys. And the greatest jockey in the history of the sport was Isaac Murphy who won three Kentucky Derby races and 44% of all his races throughout his career.

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They NEED TO KNOW that Jesse Owens embarrassed the German dictator Hitler who had claimed the German runners were invincible, but defeated them in the 100-yard-dash. In fact, Owens won four gold medals in the Olympics that year, proving that Black excellence was unstoppable.

lockebuncheaydavisThey NEED TO KNOW Black exceptionalism does not end with sports, but can be found in academic circles also. There is no question that Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois was the country’s most gifted scholar of the 20th Century. He was the first Black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University and was a historian, sociologists, philosopher, novelist and all around brilliant thinker. Dr. Alain Locke, also a philosopher, attained Phi Beta Kappa status and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. He was the first Black Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and was known as the “Godfather of the Harlem Renaissance.” Jesse Fausett was the literary editor for Crisis Magazine during the Renaissance. She was the first Black female graduate from Cornell University and first Black woman to achieve Phi Beta Kappa status. Dr. Ralph Bunche became the first African American to win a Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward bringing peace in the Middle East in the late 1940’s. Dr. Angela Davis is an accomplished scholar who has taught at the University of California at Los Angeles and wrote many political tracts critical of the oppression Blacks have suffered in this country.

opptymagcrisismagladyThey NEED TO KNOW that Black Americans have been publishers since 1827 when Samuel Cornish and John Russwum published Freedom’s Journal. Frederick Douglass published North Star in 1847, Robert S. Abbott, the Chicago Defender in 1905 and Edwin Nathaniel Harleston, Pittsburgh Courier in 1907. Black Americans also published some very influential magazines. Dr. Du Bois was editor and publisher of the Crisis Magazine associated with the NAACP, Charles Johnson published Opportunity Magazine for the Urban League, John Johnson published Ebony and Jet, Earl Graves Black Enterprise and Edward Lewis, Clarence O. Smith, Cecil Hollingswroth and Johnathan Blount founded Essence Magazine, first published in 1970.

jb_stratfordluoullawilliamsThey NEED TO KNOW that Black Americans were successful entrepreneurs and that they can accomplish the same. They need to read about the great businessmen in 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma. Blacks had built a self-sustaining infra-structure of businesses, led by the great John Stradford, the richest man on Black Wall Street. He owned the most luxurious 54 room hotel and it was said that it matched for beauty, extravagance and comfort any hotel in the state of Oklahoma. Laurel Stradford, his great granddaughter is presently working on publication of his memoirs, and when they are released they should be required reading in every Black high school in this country. Other business men and women included O. W. Gurley who owned property in Tulsa, John and Loulla Williams and Dr. Andrew Jackson, all a part of the successful business class on Black Wall Street. Tulsa was not the only city where Black businesses flourished, just the most glaring example of success.

The NEED TO KNOW categories are extensive and I could go on for pages writing about successful Black Americans whom we must begin to share with our youth. I know there are many different organizations that are doing that very task as I write. But we must do more and I will continue to write about the successes either on this blog or through future novels and anthologies. Hopefully, you all will do your part and together we can help our young find their Blackness from a very different perspective than what they have received over generations, from a racially biased education system.

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When Is Enough—Enough?

Soon after the Martin Luther King Day parade came to an end and folks were celebrating the birthday of the great Black leader of the 20th Century with cookouts at the park, shots rang out in the Liberty City neighborhood in Miami, Florida. Eight people ranging in the ages 8 to 30 were wounded and many rushed to the hospital. In Chicago, Illinois, 39 people were shot, with 10 killed during the King Holiday weekend. That is just the tip of the iceberg as we begin the year 2017 the same way the previous year ended, with our young shooting and killing each other. In 2016 over 700 were murdered in Chicago and that is only one city. Guns have become the poison pill in our community; and poverty along with racial self-hatred the reasons to swallow that pill.

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As our young continue to kill and wound each other, one must begin to question should the Black Lives Matter crowd continue to make their target the police or is it time to turn inward and make that plea to our own children? Do our young killers know Black Lives Matter or do they even care? An additional question to be pondered is what has happened over generations so that some in our race have gotten to the point that they can routinely point a gun at another human being and pull the trigger with no remorse for their dastardly deed. Our neighborhoods are becoming the killing fields of the Twenty-first Century.

hueynewton No doubt we as adults have failed our children to the point that they do not respect their culture, their race and not even the holiday in honor of the man who gave his life so that we all could live better lives. With each new generation, our children become more alienated from society and from their identity as proud Black men and women. In his new novel, The Killing Breeze, to be released early in the Spring 2017, outstanding novelist Tony Lindsay opens up with a quote from Huey Newton. It is appropriate as a summation of the condition of our youth. “The lower socio-economic Black male is a man of confusion. He faces a hostile environment and is not sure that it is not his own sins that have attracted the hostilities of society. All his life he has been taught (explicitly and implicitly) that he is an inferior approximation of humanity. As a man, he finds himself void of those things that bring respect and a feeling of worthiness. He looks around for something to blame for his situation, but because he is not sophisticated regarding the socio-economic milieu and because of negativistic parental and institutional teachings, he ultimately blames himself.” As a result, these young men no longer respect their culture or their race.

The essential institutions for any culture include the family, the church, the schools, the peer group and the governmental body. Over four hundred years of slavery had a devastating effect on the idea of a family structure among Blacks forced over here from Africa. Our ancestors were stolen away from their families when they were captured and sold to a sick bunch of European Americans in this country. There was no such thing as a family structure on the plantations where over 90% of Blacks resided until after the Civil War. Not because Blacks did not want families but because the sick, immoral racists plantation owners wouldn’t allow it to exist. The shift of the Black population from the South to the North, which began in the late Nineteenth Century and continued through World War II did not eradicate the problem, in fact it intensified the break up. Blacks in this country never had the opportunity to rebuild their ancestral relationships with family in Africa, and never had the opportunity to build a new family structure in this country due to a myriad of problems, the key one being the need to survive. Poverty does not lend itself to a stable family structure. Black Americans have struggled with poverty throughout generations and still have to fight for economic survival today. With over 72% of Black babies born into a single family household and the failure of many of the fathers to take on the responsibility as fathers, then the traditional family structure is in danger of disappearing in the Black culture.

One might also surmise that the second key institution, the church, has also failed in its responsibility to the youth and, therefore, to the sustainability of our culture. Immediately following the end of slavery, our ancestors believed the one institution they could count on to deliver security to them was the church. They put all their faith in the ministers who served often as teachers, preachers, psychiatrists, counselors and mentors to our youth. But too often they failed because they were not equipped to provide all these services. So instead, they instructed our ancestors to “Lean on Jesus and He will deliver for you.” They simply quoted from the Bible to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But what they failed to teach was, you have to love yourself before you can love somebody else. No doubt, racial self-hatred is a key component in the shootings that happen every day in our communities. Those young folks who committed murders on the King Holiday don’t love King and don’t love their fellow Blacks, don’t love their race and don’t love their culture, because they don’t love themselves.

carter-g-woodsonEducation is the key to the growth and sustainability of a race and culture. School is the institution with the primary responsibility to teach our young how to read and write. But we know our schools are in disarray and are failing the youth, not because of the failure our teachers but the failure to provide them with all the necessary resources needed to teach. There are no more powerful tools than the power to read and write. Those skills are escaping our young to the point that a huge percentage of them cannot read nor write a sentence. A Chinese delegation visiting the United States in the 1930’s, was appalled to learn that Black America put the education of their kids in the hands of a race of people who all along had very little interest in them. Carter G. Woodson correctly identified it as the “miseducation of the Negro.”

Due to the failure of the traditional cultural institutions, the peer group has picked up the slack and fill the needs of our young. Gangs now provide our youth with a sense of belonging. They become the family, they provide the members with an ethical code drawn up among themselves for their survival in a society they feel is out to destroy them. Reading and writing become insignificant and replaced with the ability to shoot straight and have the temerity to aim a gun at another human being and shoot him or her.

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Actually, I haven’t written anything here that most of you already don’t know. The question then becomes when is enough going to be enough. When will we tire of this killing and destruction of our kids and ultimately our culture. The more important consideration is how do we turn this madness around? What can we do as a race to reach our young and share with them the strength and beauty of their people throughout history. And that our ancestors came up the rough side of the mountain and took the brunt of the abuse so that we could live better lives. It is up to each one of us to make a commitment to invest our resources and talents, without consideration for compensation other than we did our best to turn this situation around. I have made that commitment and will elaborate on what I plan to continue doing for the rest of 2017 and for years to come in my next post. Until then, I encourage each of you to think about what you also can do to save our children because Black Lives REALLY Do Matter.

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