Competing with the Yin

In Chinese philosophy, yin/yang conceptualizes the existence of the totality of nature as a whole made up of two sometime complimentary parts and sometime opposite. The philosophy dates back to the Yin Dynasty (1400-1000 B.C.). It is key to understand that yin/yang are not separate but actually are complimentary. When people see things as beautiful, ugliness is created. When people see things as good, evil is created.

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I don’t mean to elaborate on the philosophy behind the yin/yang but only to borrow the concept as a method to elaborate on what is happening within the African American culture. The point to be made here is that the Chinese contrasts exist within most cultures. There is the good and bad, the beautiful and ugly, and the love and hate. That certainly is present today in the African American culture. A couple tragic examples are all that is necessary to demonstrate its presence.

chi-6pendleton-20130130-1The beautiful, the good and the love were personified in young Hadiya Pendleton in 2013 when she traveled with her school band to participate in many of the festivities surrounding the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. “It was the highlight of her young 15 year old life,” Senator Richard Durbin (D. Ohio) said at a hearing on gun violence in the United Senate. Hadiya was an honor student at King College Prep High School in Chicago, Illinois. She planned to travel to Europe in the spring with the school band. Her cousin described her as a “walking angel.” Hadiya was a part of the very best we have within our race to perpetuate the positive image of our culture.

Less than a month after she returned to Chicago from the celebration in the nation’s capital, this beautiful princess was gunned down at a Chicago park. She and about twelve other students had taken shelter from the rain when evil approached the crowd and opened fire, striking her in the back.  In this instance, the hate, the ugly and the evil won out over the beauty, good and love. And when Hadiya died that day a part of all of us died, including the shooter even though he may not recognize her death as his loss also.

One additional incident also substantiates the battle we confront between the good and evil within the Black culture.  This past Martin Luther King Jr., birthday celebration in San Antonio, the city sponsored one of the largest marches in the country. There had to be at least 200,000 participants from most of the communities, organizations, schools and churches not only in the city but surrounding communities, also. It was certainly a show of solidarity and love among the participants. A real sight to behold. We could see, feel and experience the beauty of that day. Other cities had similar events from church services to theatrical dramatizations of that great man’s life.  One can surmise that the Black culture was on display in its entire splendor.

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However, that night after the march and on the same street about one mile from the park where the celebration was held, there was a shooting. Two young black men were killed and four others injured. A few more miles from that incident there was another shooting. Later that evening there was an additional exchange of gunfire. It was the ugliness destroying the beauty on display earlier in the day. That seems to be an unfortunate pattern that now defines the totality of the African American culture in this country.

The danger we are confronting is manifested in the yin/yang, and that is at any given point, one of the two will dominate. But there still has to be a perfect balance. In other words if yin becomes stronger, yang is weakened. In Chinese culture, yin characterizes the negative nature of things and yang the positive. Within our culture the yin seems to be gaining momentum. Much of what we read, the programs on television, and the music reflect the yin whereas we get only portions of the yang, with movies every once in a while like Selma and Twelve Years a Slave. If you happen to drive down any inner city street the music you will hear blasting out of the cars will be songs like “I’m in love with the CoCo,” obviously a song about crack cocaine. The yin is on the rise and yang is in retreat.

This past October, nearly a million Black men gathered on the Mall in Washington, D.C. These men represent the good of our culture and they have made a commitment to fight, with all their power and energy, the negative forces we all confront when one of our youth are murdered in gang warfare or shot and killed by America’s many different police departments. It doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger, the result is the same. But we need much more than a million men gathering in one place to pledge their support for change. We must all begin to act in our own way. Not all of us will take leading roles in the fight to save our culture but we all can do something, no matter how small or how large.

As we near the end of what has been a very difficult year for our race with police shootings and gang violence, we should make a pledge to carry out some act with positive implications. As the Executive Editor of Prosperity Publications, my commitment is not to publish any literature that perpetuates the negative yin, but to produce only works that accentuate the positive yang. Our initial publication for 2016 will be Black Is the Color of Love, an anthology of beautiful short stories written by some outstanding writers.  Over the year, we will release at least five works in all genres, along with the six already listed on our website (Prosperity Publications), and hopefully these books will serve as a catalyst for other publishers to do the same. In doing so, maybe we can begin a deluge of books that attempt to make sure the balance in the yin/yang leans toward the latter.

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An Unnecessary Attack on Christmas

It appears that one of the major goals coming out of the recent Million Man March, labeled “Equal Justice or Else,” was a call for Black America to boycott Black Friday and every shopping day throughout the entire Christmas season. This appears to be another attempt by Minister Louis Farrakhan and his followers to eradicate the celebration as part of the African American culture in this country. I watched and listened to one of the minister’s attacks on the manner in which most Black Americans celebrate the season. In his peroration, he claimed that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wanted to boycott Christmas after the killing of the four little girls in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing in September 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama. He then made the appeal for all us to boycott this year’s Christmas shopping season in the name of Dr. King. “I’m going to ask us in his name (King) to do something he wanted to do when they bombed the four little girls…he wanted to boycott Christmas.”

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For a very long time I did a great deal of research on Dr. King for a course I taught on African American Political Thought at the University of Texas in San Antonio, and I never remember reading from any credible source where it is mentioned that he wanted to boycott Christmas. Since Dr. King was a Baptist minister, who sincerely believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ, I found it rather interesting that the minister made this assertion. Now I am sure that the minister would not make such a claim just to complement his call for a boycott, so if there is anyone who reads this post and can direct me to the passage where Dr. King called for the boycott, I would appreciate receiving it.

Santa-Claus-02-300x300In his speech, Minister Farrakhan continued to disparage those millions of African Americans who are Christians because of the manner in which they celebrate Christmas. According to him, the tradition of displaying a Christmas tree in your home with decorations is comparable to “practicing paganism.” He quoted from the Tenth Chapter of “Jeremiah” as evidence of his accusation. He then referred to gifts that families and friends exchange as foolishness. He claimed that we pay more respect to the “Big fat Caucasian who flies out of the North Pole with a bag full of gifts, and is supposed to come down a chimney that most homes don’t have, than we do to Christ.” The thrust of his message was that we spend money on gifts that leave us in the red after the holiday season, while the merchants make enough money to last them throughout the year.

He then talked about the amount of liquor and dope that is consumed during the holiday. Again, he accused us of placing more importance on the dope and booze than on Jesus. That makes us, according to Minister Farrakhan, part of a heathen and pagan practice.

I guess my question to Minister Farrakhan would be, is this kind of attack on his fellow Black brothers and sisters really necessary? I’m not sure whom he is referring to, but the friends and associates I know consume very little, if any at all, liquor and no drugs. I imagine there are thousands of Black families that celebrate the holiday and consume no booze or drugs.

My family, as is the case with thousands of other Black families, has a tradition of placing a Christmas tree in our home and I really do not appreciate anyone, Black or white, referring to me and all my brothers and sisters who do the same as heathens and pagans. I believe our race has suffered sufficient name calling over the decades that we don’t deserve it from one who considers himself a leader.

Finally, there are millions of beautiful Black Americans throughout the decades who have turned to Jesus Christ for sustenance and salvation, and their worship of Him  is real and necessary for them. Throughout the turbulent years of apartheid, mothers turned to the church and their minister when their husband was lynched or their daughters raped. The minister, in the name of Christ, provided them with the strength to make it through those terrible times. The Christian church has been the pillar of strength for our race since emancipation. The church continues to play that role. So the gifts bought at Christmas are not foolishness, it is symbolic of the love that our people feel toward Christ. It is the giving of the gift that counts, and for that reason it is not foolishness.

If Minister Farrakhan doesn’t believe in celebrating Christmas and doesn’t indulge in gift exchange, we as Christians have no problem with that position. And if the followers of the Nation of Islam want to celebrate Founder’s Day when they pay deference and respect to those held in high regard, we as Christians will wish them well. However, I think it is quite appropriate that we expect the same kind of respect from the Nation when we celebrate Christmas in the manner we choose.

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Change

The Oxford Dictionary defines change as to make someone or something different. It further defines improve as change for the better. Using these two verbs, allow me to apply change and improve to a brief analysis of the cultural evolution of Black America.

I believe we can identify four specific periods in our history when change occurred specifically within the Black race. The first obviously was from slavery to freedom. The second occurred during the first three decades of the Twentieth Century and especially during the 1920’s. The third period is identifiable with the Civil Rights Movement. We are now witnessing the fourth period of change that began sometime in the 1980’s with the crack epidemic and the introduction of a specific genre of RAP music. Now please keep in mind to improve is change for the better. Conversely is the possibility that change may not be improvement, but could be just the reverse. Therefore, a critique of those four periods of change is only relevant if we can determine if they also improved the condition of Black people in this country.

One would be hard pressed to argue that the change from slavery to freedom was not an improvement in the condition of our ancestors. Yes, they confronted some very insurmountable odds. They understood the tremendous obstacles facing them on a daily basis during the apartheid years. Every major institution in this country lined up against them. The national, state local governments, the courts, the police and even the military set out to keep them in a subservient status. But there was something very special about those beautiful Black folk who united together against their oppressors. They never became negative but instead turned to love, prayer, and an uncanny determination to never give up, never quit, and never succumb to the evil all around them. Their spirit strength and unity became the foundation for our culture. They survived so that we might live.

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The second historical period of change occurred as Blacks, three generations removed from bondage, jettisoned the old slave mentality and rejected the notion that somehow they were inferior and must always remain subservient to a race of people who assumed their superiority. This period of change can best be understood through the works of the Harlem Renaissance artists. Moving into the 1920’s and led by the godfather of the movement, Dr. Alain Locke, these artists made it clear in their works that a new Black consciousness had evolved. The writers, painters, poets and musicians had one common theme; they were proud of their race, believed in self-reliance and demanded their rights as American citizens. Dr. Locke expounded on this theme in his anthology, The New Negro, published in 1925. Dr. Locke recognized the damage done to the perceptions of Blacks right after Reconstruction failed and during the next fifty years. His goal, as he stated in the foreword to the anthology was “to document the New Negro culturally and socially, to register the transformation of the inner and outer life of the Negro in America.” According to Locke, the old Negro had been socially constructed as “Uncle Toms,” “aunties,” “mammies,” or “sambos.” He went on to describe the New Negro as one who operated with the dual purposes of bringing new leadership to modern America and “rehabilitating the race in world esteem from that loss of prestige for which the fate and conditions of slavery have so largely been responsible.” (Aberjhani and Sandra L. West, Harlem Renaissance, Checkmark Books, An Imprint of Facts on File, Inc New York, 2003). These artists also began to take pride in their African heritage and often argued that the “New Negro” was Pan African in outlook and determined to link Blacks in this country with people of color all over the world. This particular period of cultural change had a positive impact on Black Americans. It allowed Black artists and spokespersons to express new perceptions of the race and take pride in who they were and from where they had come. According to Aberjhani and West the New Negro phase of cultural development allowed educators at Black high schools and colleges throughout the United States during the latter half of the Twentieth Century to employ its general philosophy to motivate their students to set and achieve goals beyond what they expected. (Ibid, 234)

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The third phase of change occurred with the advent of the Civil Rights Movement in conjunction with the Black Arts Movement. Activism rather than the arts dominated this period of change. The artists were complimentary to the warriors who took to the streets throughout the south and marched against apartheid. This period represented the greatest coming together of activists, writers and musicians in the history of the struggle. James Baldwin, John Killens, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott-Heron, Nina Simone, Malcolm X., Kwame Ture, John Lewis, Julian Bond and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are some of the significant contributors to the cultural change in the third phase. It was an improvement within the core of the culture because it was a continuum of accentuating the beauty of our race and love we shared among ourselves as initially expressed during the Harlem Renaissance.

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We are now in the fourth phase of change. It began in the 1980’s and was influenced by crack cocaine and a specific genre of RAP music, “gangsta rap,” and a specific genre of books called “street lit.” Activism became less important and race pride was relegated to a lesser position of importance. This phase has an existential theme. Nihilistic behavior runs rampant within the Black community. There seems to be more concern with the individual than the race. The expression of Black consciousness instilled into the race during the 1920’s and perpetuated throughout the next five decades lost its importance. We no longer refer to ourselves as “Brothahs” and “Sistahs” but instead as “Dawgs,” the “N” word and the “B” word. Gangs dominate our youth in urban areas and money made from the sale of crack cocaine is often glorified. Brothers selling this poison can launch successful careers that take them from the crack house to the White House. Movies like Straight Outta Compton and television dramas like Power and Empire subtly send a message that money is more important than ethics and morals. At this juncture, I will withhold assessing whether this change has improved on the quality of the culture and leave that to the reader.

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Inevitably, there will be a fifth phase of cultural change. It happens in every race and every country. A major question and concern will revolve around what characteristics of the previous cultures will be adopted by future generations. Will the creators of the future phase build on the second and third phases or will they continue to build on the changes made in the past thirty years.

King’s Radical Idea: Black is Beautiful

Most people today do not consider Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to be, in any way, a radical. For example, during the King Holiday Celebration the one speech you will hear over and over again is, “I have a dream.” That’s acceptable to most of the country because it is all-inclusive. He was talking about young white kids and young black kids holding hands. It sounds like his ideal world will exist when whites are willing to take us under their wing, and accept us as their equals. But there is a lot more to Dr. King than this non-confrontational, passive nature. He had the audacity to suggest that black is beautiful, before James Brown proclaimed: “Say it Loud. I’m black and I’m proud.”

In a speech given very little recognition, Dr. King told an audience of Black Americans in 1967 to, “Believe in yourself and believe you are somebody. Nobody else can do this for us. No document can do this for us. No Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation can do this for us. No Johnsonian Civil Rights Act can do this for us…Be proud of our heritage…Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language that made everything black, ugly and evil…But I want to get the language so right tonight, that everyone will cry out “Yes, I’m Black and I’m beautiful.”

dr-carter-g-woodsonI now can understand why this speech receives very little recognition, as part of the King celebration in January of every year. These were empowering words, with a totally different meaning than, “I have a dream.” The words were not about reconciliation between the races. They were meant as rehabilitation within the race. Rehabilitation for a people who had been denied the dignity that their color deserved for decades. Forty years after Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois had made the same observation, Dr. King found it necessary to reiterate that identical message to his people. Don’t you think it is time that we realize very little is going to change unless we accept the advice of these great men, and begin the process to redefine the meanings that have been attributed to the color black in the past? The great historian, Dr. Carter G. Woodson also had these words for us to ponder, “To handicap a person by teaching him that his black face is a curse, and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.

Fannie_Lou_Hamer_r190x220Every Sunday, in practically every black church in this country, some preacher will quote from the Bible to, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But how is it possible to love someone else, if you haven’t been taught to love you first? I believe in prayer, but I also believe what Fannie Lou Hamer said over fifty years ago, “You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.” We as black people need to try something else. We must take heed of Dr. Du Bois, Dr. Woodson and Dr. King and begin the process of redefining who we are for ourselves. If we do not accept this challenge to incorporate Dr. King’s radical idea into our belief system then, “something worst than lynching” will continue to plague us as a people.