Surviving Against the Odds
Black History Month
March 1st ends the national recognition of Black History season that began February 1st. Recognizing the few African Americans who succeeded despite the racism of American society without acknowledging the culture that made an otherwise normal successful person a hero is, at worst, a lie; and at best, a distraction.
Without the racist American culture of the past, Rosa Parks would be another patron on a bus traveling to a destination. Because she decided to defy cultural norms and laws, she is a celebrated hero. Is that bad? Not in and of itself is it bad. Her experience is a carrot in a stew of culture, however. She was not the only carrot, but the one carrot people noticed did not cook in the stew like the others cooked.
Was she trying to be heroic? Did she know that she would become one of the faces of the Civil Rights Movement? Bravery or fatigue in that moment led to the same outcome: jail, a boycott, fame, and legend.
Heroism in the face of imminent consequence is not what Black History is about. It is so much more than the moment the Civil Rights Movement received its symbol that led to its popularity and eventual legislative inroads to facilitate cultural adjustment.
More even than the rise of the Modern Moses in the form of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who led a congregation of multi-racial congregants through the streets in protest to an unjust legal system in the American South; Black History is the story of the descendants of freed men and women of slavery who lived in a hostile culture into which racially they could never belong unless it changed to include them.
Black History is about the homes and families of the average Black man or woman that worked as a cog in the machinery of society making it turn and operate reasonably. No, it is not only about those who stood at its front representing the face or its tail representing the victims of treachery. Also represented are the lives of the average people who made life continue while the fringes, the face, and tail of it displayed and sacrificed for White America to see how ugly the undercarriage of the nation truly looked--rusted and crumbling in disrepair.
For many Black Americans, Alex Haley's Roots, was the first introduction to what occurred during slavery. Of course, we knew that it was hard for Blacks in the US since many Blacks felt the residual effects of the poverty and lack of education Jim Crow Laws caused. That series of movies the media presented to Blacks provided a connection between their poverty and past slavery--learning that some Whites tortured, killed, stole, bred and raped some of their slaves!
It was eye-opening to many including my mother-in-law, a youngster at the time when Alex Haley introduced his tale. She admits that following the series, she wanted to harm White people. Alex Haley's Roots was the impetus that facilitated a cultural movement of understanding--put a face on slavery for that generation.
Media influences the health and ills of society. Purposely living life in a manner to elicit certain experiences occurs in the lives of every human with the power to act. Along the spectrum of life from the degree programs we purpose to the fast food we eat leads us to experience.
Never personally having been accosted by a White person who threatened my life did not stop fear from gripping me when a group of rowdy White teens approached me because of the experience I gained through movies and anecdotal stories. That indirect experience became my own, learning from others' history. Several of the teens head-nodded me as they went by never inching a threat in my directs, but my indirect experience with White teens beating singular Black men when they appeared out of place told me to be aware.
Mother, bless her soul, grew up in the historical time period where White racism was socially acceptable. Born in 1944, she went through her teens and young adult life in the Deep South where both Blacks and Whites perpetuated the great White lie of the inferiority of Blacks and the superiority of Whites.
With great effort, Mother tried to prevent her upbringing from influencing her children, which she did successfully for the most part; however, it is the little things, comments made in passing that filter through the intellect that perniciously passed on fear.
Mother made one statement out of frustration that stunned me after I turned 18 years. She admitted that she did not like White people. I never thought to ask since my friends never caused her to behave strangely, friends who happened to be White. Her experiences with growing up in the White South indelibly left a scar on her soul that took decades to fade.
Media, especially before the Internet, taught that:
- Every American of Italian heritage is a mobster.
- Every officer in the city is an American of Irish descent.
- All Mexicans speak like Speedy Gonzales when trying to speak English.
- All Texans shoot people and chew tobacco.
All of this from the media and not personal experience was taught to a generation of people who now face the prospect of learning the truth about ethnicities and races based in reality. The reality of Black History is not celebrities who overcame racism in spite of racism. Most Blacks did not do that. Most Blacks endured the racism and embraced the change as it came and still comes. Most Blacks were not activist with the determination to rise up and fight the injustice. Most were like Mother, who lived it and tried to forget as much of it as possible so that her kids did not feel the shame and disrespect she experienced as a Black person.
Media helped to end civil discrimination in America and create phobias at the same time. Both sides of the media blade are sharp. Of course, the media does as much good. A misguided prejudice can lead to a full-scale assault on a private citizen by a mob of opinion!
Ask George Zimmerman! Right or wrong, he is the butt of the media joke of 2012! The fact that he was found not-guilty changed nothing. Media has branded him the villain.
Black History for many African Americans is the Zimmerman style brand that follows them wherever their skin color and features travel in the nation of mostly White people who clutch purses or call the police because of their presence.
Let us take stock of our ideas and feelings and see if they are based in fact and experience or deception and manipulation. By judging each person based on his or her actions and not a general assumption from a questionable perspective, we lend to a more diverse and safe community.
Picking apart the assumptions that separate us and bridging the gaps that would keep us apart is also Black History. Let us remember that is how it began with Black people attempting to show Whites that we are human too--no better or worse. As on paper Blacks were listed as slaves, now on paper, all are equal before the law. Let's live to make it so.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Rodric Anthony