The next time you go to an authentic Soul Food restaurant, try ordering some “Fried Chicken and Grape juice”. In addition, tell them you are ordering this special dish in commemoration of Black History month, regardless of what month it is. If you’re really feeling frisky, you can also mention you’re eating this dish in commemoration of one of Black History’s great heroes, Samuel Jackson. Better yet, you may want to order some Gin and juice as well, the stalemate of African American fine liquors. The one thing I would warn you on is, do not go there in black face, that would not go over very well.
I’m writing this in response to a recent video on YouTube a video of a white comedian in black face, asking mostly non-black students what they think of Black History Month. In today’s world, the critic is criticized and the message the critic was trying to convey is lost. This video did not surprise me. Nor did it offend me. To many it surprised and to some it offended, but not me. I already know some non-blacks do not know anything about African American culture and that’s OK. I also know a few non-blacks who know African American culture and history quite well. To that matter, if you were to go to a HBCU (Historically Black College or University) and ask someone to name at least four of the tribes of Native Americans, you might find them hard pressed to name them. That could be an interesting test, a black man in white face on a black campus asking those kinds of questions about Native Americans. In the same breath, if you were to ask those same people who were the four main people who created the modern jazz era, I doubt you would find many of those same “black” students who would know that answer as well. (Kenny Clarke, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Thelonious Monk). Now an extension of this list could include Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Lester Young and Art Tatum. I’m going to stop there. I, along with many people out there are jazz gurus. If I continue on this vein this blog would turn into a jazz debate, and again, the message I’m really trying to convey would be lost.
Let’s address what many found offensive the most, which is a white guy in black face. The comedian was trying to convey a message just by doing that, trying to see how many people would even address the fact that he was in black face, to which, only three people did. The second and probably the most apparent is, I DON’T EXPECT NON-BLACK PEOPLE TO KNOW MY CULTURE, especially in Provo, Utah. As a starting point, all of them knew Dr. Martin Luther King. After that, there was a huge drop off of any legacy of African American historical figures, what we eat, and what music we have produced in this country. What I found interesting is, the comment, “jungle Fever”, which is in reference to a Spike Lee movie, referring to white woman dating black men, and Malcolm X, who started the Black Panthers… Really. So, who was Huey Newton and Bobby Seals then? Do you see what I’m getting at? Black culture is very diverse in this country; I can’t even say I expect an African American kid walking around suburbia USA to know who Bobby and Huey are.
“Uncle Tim, I’m not an African American, I’m an American”, my nephew said to me several years ago. “Why are you so angry?”, he also added before hanging up on me. He hung up on me… His Uncle Tim, now isn’t that a trip? My nephew grew up in the ‘burbs. I was trying to explain to him that the world is not quite the way he sees it, and I was trying to relay the message to him about being stopped by police, for no reason at all. He didn’t believe me, assigning me to a relic of the past. “That doesn’t happen anymore Uncle Tim”, he said to me. A few years later, and after several confrontations with police, my nephew sobered up to the reality I was trying to convey to him. He apologized to me for his comments and said that all of the things I had been saying to him were true. He got “black” real fast. Fastest I’ve ever seen by the way.
It’s hard to teach “black culture” and to understand and know the black experience in this country, even when teaching it to black people. Some of it you have to experience for yourself. Most of it you will have to educate yourself when it comes to learning about it. I’m not disappointed that the people in the video didn’t know anything about black culture, but more importantly, their answers, and body language when describing African Americans leaves something to be desired. Which leads to a very important question; should African Americans be so caught up in teaching our culture to ourselves and everyone else yet still lag behind in reading, writing and arithmetic? Do those same BYU students know the Black National Anthem? Well considering some of their answers, they would not know. They don’t have to know. It’s not required knowledge for them. They would not even know one existed. To kinda make your head spin, I learned the Black National Anthem from it being taught to me by my 6th grade teacher, who was a blond haired white male.
Most of the answers the kids in the video answered with were based upon our video culture. Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, were movies. Malcolm X was an important figure in Black history and culture, and for that matter, the greater American culture, but, to them, he was “bad”. My goodness, these kids would have no idea who W.E.B. Du Bois was or Booker T. Washington was and how they tried to shape the future of African American culture after Reconstruction. For that matter, what percentage of African American grade school student would know that as well? That information was taught to me by my parents by the way and when I became older, I studied about them on my own. I sought that knowledge for myself.
Years ago, I worked for a company which had a call center to take your call before the advent of voice-mail. There was a young lady who worked in there, a beautiful young lady, who I was interested in getting to know. I would call the call center to retrieve my messages, and I would flirt with her a bit. I had a particular way of saying her name, which she found amusing. She didn’t know what I looked like, but I knew her. One day on the elevator, I leaned over and said, “Hello Charlotte”, to which she was shocked. She almost dropped the large Styrofoam cup of ice she was holding. She smiled and said, “Oh, so this is what you look like, how did you know who I was?”. I replied, “I know everything”, with a smile. She then said a very profound thing to me right before she got off the elevator whispering, “Wow, I would have never known you, you don’t sound black”. The elevator doors closed on the vision of her lovely body. So, the statement the young lady said in the video, “A black guy who sounds white is classy”, if any of you brutha’s out there are reading this, it’s very important to speak good english….By the way, Charlotte was black.
I don’t watch much TV, but I do watch the History channel, the military channel, and the science channel. The military channel is good but has an overabundance of one thing: Hitler. I’ve concluded there are two reasons why, and one of the reasons is before the Desert storm wars, WWII was the last “great” American war. It started with a bang for us, Pearl Harbor, and ended with a larger bang for us: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a side note, a special on the bombing of those cities revealed an amazing thing, the current Japanese generation hardly knows about the bombings, even in the cities that were bombed!! Now that’s amazing. Anyway, the second reason why there is so much “Hitler” on the history channel is, the Jewish agenda. They will never let you forget what happened to them during WWII. 5.9+ million were exterminated by the Germans, at the hands of Hitler. Their suffering will always be remembered regardless of any generation. Their suffering along with the creation of the State of Israel, is well known.
To give you some perspective, how many know what the golden triangle is? The passage from Africa full of either loosely or tightly packed slaves aboard, stopping in South American, the Caribbean islands, and the United States, then back to Europe full of their bounty of raw goods from the new world. How many Africans died on this passage, died in the fields, died trying to escape. Untold millions (15 – 20 million estimated). How many times has that story been revisited on the history channel or PBS? How many history books in grade school talk about that era of African American history in detail? Yet, our media ( paper, TV, movies) depict crime ridden inner cities, gangster rap, poor public education, public assistance, all based around who else… Black people. How many case studies have you seen about Black people: employment, education, birth rate, crime rate, prison population and any other statistics you can write your dissertation on? (True story, a doctoral candidate interviewed me for my book, “In the waters of my mind”, because of my experiences during the Detroit 1967 riot. His doctoral thesis was about the Detroit and New Jersey riots of the 60s).
To make a long story short, it was a great video, but for different reasons for me. Earlier, I mentioned the debate between W.E.B Dubois and Booker T. Washington about what the direction African American should be headed after Reconstruction. Well, because I know my history and understand the dynamics of our society, I’m in Booker T. Washington’s camp, “The founders of Hampton believed that only economic prosperity could guarantee the social and political advancement that still eluded most African Americans”. The only way to get that economic prosperity is through hard work and education. The only way I found out about this debate is that I read about my own history, which is also an American experience.
If anyone cares to join me for some fried chicken and some grape juice, let me know….