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.

A POX on Both Their Houses

In a recent Reuters Poll conducted between March and June 2016, 16,000 European Americans were interviewed regarding their perceptions of African Americans. The poll was a result of both political candidates for President throwing negative comments at each other, regarding their positions on racial issues. Donald Trump has called Hillary Clinton a bigot because of her failure to support any meaningful change for Blacks. And Hillary Clinton accused Trump of normalizing white nationalism, and his failure to reject outright support from racist David Duke.

The European Americans involved in the poll were divided between those who support Trump and the ones supporting Clinton. Both groups were asked the identical questions, and the results are staggering.

32% of Trump supporters viewed Blacks as less intelligent than whites.

40% of Trump supporters viewed Blacks as more lazy than whites.

44% of Trump supporters viewed Blacks as more rude than whites.

49% of Trump supporters viewed Blacks as more violent than whites.

46% of Trump supporters viewed Blacks as more criminal than whites.

Now we might argue that these statistics are not that surprising coming from Trump supporters, but what makes this poll so frightening is when the same questions were asked of Clinton supporters.

22% of Clinton supporters viewed Blacks as less intelligent than whites.

25% of Clinton supporters viewed Blacks as more lazy than whites.

30% of Clinton supporters viewed Blacks as more rude than whites.

31% of Clinton supporters viewed Blacks as more violent than whites.

32% of Clinton supporters viewed Blacks as more criminal than whites.

When we remove the Trump/Clinton factor and combine the two groups as one, it becomes very clear that a large percentage of European Americans’ perception of Black Americans is anything but acceptable. This absolutely staggering arrogance from a race of people that have no right to make such assumptions, is overwhelming. When we view each of these characteristics over time, it becomes very clear that European Americans suffer from a serious case of hubris.

These findings are so ludicrous I shouldn’t bother to even respond. But at some point, you begin to seriously wonder for how long can these distortions of reality continue to exist within the minds of European Americans? Are they so narcissistic that they actually believe their perceived superiority over Blacks in each of the listed categories? Probably not one of the 16,000 could come close to matching the intelligence of a Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Dr. Ralph Bunche, Dr. Cornell West, Johnnie Cochran, President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and the list of brilliant African Americans could go on for page after page.

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The perception that Blacks are lazier than European Americans would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic. African Americans have always been hard working men and women. How do you think it was possible for slave owners to spend the afternoon drinking mint juleps, and at night raping Black women if the African American wasn’t doing all the work? After slavery, the same pattern continued under share cropping. Because of a skewed economic system in which most of the wealth and land has accrued to European Americans, Black Americans have always had to work harder for less economic gain in this county. Our ancestors had to, “make a way out of no way.” They worked longer hours for less reward but never gave up on life. And work, we have for generations.
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colin-kaepernickCan someone please explain to me how you measure rudeness? Who determines when an individual is being rude? I guess Sandra Bland was being rude when she refused to put out her cigarette in her own car. I guess San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being rude because he refuses to stand for the National Anthem. Maybe Tommie Smith and John Carlos were also being rude when they held up gloved clinch fists, while the National Anthem was being played at the 1968 Olympics. Or maybe Muhammed Ali was rude, tossing his Gold Medal in the river when he returned from the 1960 Olympics and was so disgusted with how his people were being treated. It might be something much simpler than that. We no longer tip our hat to white folks when we pass them on the street, or don’t bow our heads when coming in contact with a white woman. And we no longer say “yes suh, yes ma’am, when responding to some European Americans question. And we have the nerve to get on the bus and sit wherever we want, instead of waiting for European Americans to board first and take their seat. The same holds true for trains and airplanes.

The category dealing with violence was the most shocking of all. The pogrom of Native Americans, the slaughter of millions of Africans in the middle passage from Africa, the brutal treatment of Blacks during slavery and the incredible large number of lynching of Blacks, Hispanics and yes some European Americans (they lynched their own people) makes a mockery of the findings in this category. European Americans undoubtedly rank at the very top of the list of violent people in modern civilization.

Finally, there is no worst crime in the history of civilizations than stealing someone’s freedom. It is estimated that up 25 to 50 million Africans were taken from their homes and forced on slave ships, where approximately half died before they reached the shores of America. That was murder and murder is a crime. And if that is not sufficient to establish that no race has committed more crimes than European Americans, then the beating, raping, and often killing of African Americans during and after slavery as well as the shooting and killing of over 130 Blacks in the first six months of 2016 by the police, should be. How about the slaughter of innocent Native Americans over the centuries, based on the concept of “white man’s burden,” or “manifest destiny” as additional proof?

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Under the concept of hubris, an individual (or a larger body of people) will deflect their own insecurities and weaknesses to another person or body of people. That is exactly what European Americans have done for decades, and usually the recipients of those insecurities have been Blacks. The findings in the study done by Reuters proves that same practice still exists. My larger problem is that these people make up a substantial percentage of those who support the two primary presidential candidates. And because they do and I am not sure the candidates care about these perceptions among their followers, borrowing from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, I say, “A pox on both their houses.”

Dr. King and Malcolm X: Dream or Nightmare

On Monday of last week, millions of men, women and children celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in church ceremonies, plays, marches and speeches throughout this country and all over the world. All of these celebrations were primarily based on the dream that Dr. King expounded during his 1963 speech in front of the Lincoln Monument. Here in San Antonio, the city has even adopted a “Dream Week” that runs from January 11 to the day after the King March. It can easily be surmised that the Dream has taken the front and center position in the entire Civil Rights Movement of the twenty-first century.

malcomxHowever nine months after the famous King speech, Malcolm X challenged the premise of the Dream in a speech delivered at the University of Ghana. He exclaimed, “So if someone else from America comes to you to speak, they’re probably speaking as Americans and they speak as people who see America through the eyes of an American. And usually those types of persons refer to America as the American Dream. But for twenty-million of us of African descent, it is not an American dream, it is an American nightmare.”

From a historical perspective we had two Black leaders viewing the plight of their people from different lenses. These two points of view still exist today and speak to the division within the race. No doubt for many Black Americans, King’s dream has become a reality and they function well within an integrated, capitalist system. But for far too many of the very people that King set out to help prosper, they still remained trapped right in the middle of Malcolm’s nightmare.

You need only go to any large city in this country and the pattern of economic deprivation is the same. There are no jobs for the youth and only minimal jobs for an unacceptable percentage of adults. While the national unemployment rate had fallen in 2015 to a low 5%, the rate for Blacks still hovers above 10%. And the figures for young Blacks between the ages of 16 and 19 are astounding. Over the years it has been 393% of the national average. In 2013, the figure was 36% while the national average was 7.3%. When measuring these statistics against the dream or the nightmare no doubt the latter prevails.

An even more devastating statistic is the number of young Blacks who are the victims of violence. In the years 2008 and 2009, 5,740 children and teens died from gunfire. Of that number 3,892 were homicide victims and 2,320 were Blacks. Again, measuring these statistics against the dream or the nightmare the answer as to which one prevails is quite evident.

We are now confronted with the deplorable situation in Flint, Michigan where our children and adults have been drinking, washing and bathing in water that has been contaminated with lead. These children, as well as adults, will suffer the consequences of this evidently deliberate refusal to cure the problem by the elected officials in the state of Michigan, for the rest of their life. If one were to ask the men, women and children in Flint if they view their condition as part of a dream or nightmare, there is no question how they would respond.

martin-luther-king-and-malcolm-xI am not trying to make an empirical argument in support of Malcolm’s nightmare analogy but only to point out that we have a long ways to go before the dream is realized, for not only a few, but everyone. At some point we must stop placing the emphasis on the Dream aspect of Dr. King’s speech but more on the un-cashed check that was the real message he delivered in 1963. When his speech is examined from that perspective it becomes quite compatible with Malcolm’s nightmare and unites the two leaders in their outlook on the condition of Blacks in this country.

As we begin the second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century, those Black Americans who have achieved the dream must pause in their savoring of success and realize that we still have a great deal of work before us. They cannot afford to be content until no Black man, woman or child is left behind. And that simply means that the unemployment rate among Blacks is equivalent to the national average, the killing of our youth by the police and from gang warfare ends, and that Black Americans are given the same opportunities to succeed in a country that claims to offer equality to all.

Nina Simone’s New World Coming

Every year when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, I do something much different than most people. Right at the dawning of a New Year, “Should all acquaintance be forgot,” resonates at every gathering of New Year revelers. Instead of joining with the crowd, I prefer to listen to Nina Simone’s melodic sounds, “There’s a new world coming and it’s just around the bend. There’s a new world coming, and this one’s coming to an end.” I really do appreciate Ms. Simone’s words because they are filled with hope for our race.

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As a novelist, I consider myself to be a dreamer. Most writers who engage in the creation of fiction are dreamers. The great Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa wrote in his, Letters to a Young Novelists, that the goal of the writer is to create a world that far exceeds the one in which we live. The dreamer or visionary sees beyond the frailties of our world and shares with us his or her vision of a better existence. What the writer does with words, Nina Simone does in song. Her verse continues, “There’s a new voice calling and you can hear it if you try. And it’s growing stronger with every day that passes by…There’s a brand new world coming…The one that we’ve had visions of coming in peace, coming in joy and coming in love.”

As I look back over this past year, I believe Ms. Simone’s words grow in relevance. As a Black man and writer, my concern for our future as a culture increases with every young child killed by the police or the gangs. For far too many Black Americans in this country there is no peace, there is no joy and there is no love. No matter how hard we’ve tried over the decades since emancipation, we often seem to come up short. And our condition continues to worsen. It is almost impossible to find peace in these turbulent times. When a twelve year old Tamir Rice can be killed by the Cleveland Police and when nine year old Tyshawn Lee can be murdered by a punk gang member and they represent only the tip of the iceberg, we have a crisis. The irony of our dilemma is that there is nothing intrinsically bad or evil about our people. To the contrary we have, over the centuries, been the most forgiving and loving race within this multi-cultural nation in which we live.

That is why every first day of the New Year, I concentrate on a new world that is within our reach. A world where, as Nina Simone tells us in song, is filled with peace, joy and love. That is contrary to what we are experiencing in our communities. And that is why I write. It is my niche and where I am anchored for the remainder of my life. My works will not glorify the vulgar, the obscene, the killing, the drugs and the slow extermination of my race.

chestnuttThe great novelist Charles Chestnutt exclaimed in an interview with Crisis Magazine in 1926, “the realm of art is almost the only territory in which the mind is free, and of all the arts that of creative fiction is the freest.” The issue then becomes how do we as artists use the freedom to create. Do we mirror the violence that is drowning out our culture and write about the negative influences on our young, or do we, as Nina Simone suggests, dream of a new world that is about the eradication of hate and destruction.

I know exactly where I stand on these critical issues to our culture, and I believe that all of us in the year 2016 must take a stand. And hopefully, it will be to uphold the new world that our great prophetess told us “is just around the bend.”