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One of the problems that we have in the Black community is that we don't really know who we are. That isn't to say that many of us haven't studied Black history, and the kings and queens of antiquity, but while all of that is fine, it doesn't give us a hands-on feeling of who WE are as modern-day African Americans.
Most of what we think we know about ourselves comes form the very same sources and stereotypes that informs White Americans about who we are. The problem with that is we've allowed ourselves to buy into a negative stereotype of ourselves that in many cases, like in our inner-cities, we not only embraced as a romantically heroic image, but have set out to embellish upon it.
So, instead of benefitting from the luxury of defining ourselves, like every other culture in America, many Black people have quite literally embraced a form of gross ignorance regarding their own character. So it is imperative that we take the time to stop just long enough to consider who we really are. Then once we become cognizant of the truth, warts and all, we should address our issues, then teach our young people to embellish our assets..
An excellent example of who we actually are was reflected around the turn of the 20th Century, when you could find Black musicians sitting along the side of the road playing washboards, tubs, and anything they could put together that would make a sound. When people passed them by, including White musicians, they would simply smile, and sometimes even throw them a few pennies for the modest effort and industry that they displayed for even attempting to make real music with such crude instruments.
These simple music-makers were looked upon as "quaint". There was no hostility towards them at all, because they weren't a threat. After all, they were no threat to the White musicians, since they could never hope to get any real instruction in music. Most of them couldn't even read their names, so why should anyone ever worry about them learning to read music; and they had to struggle just to get through grade school, so what threat did they pose to White musicians who had access to the great music conservatories of the world?
Well, little did the world know that in the very near future, those simple little ragtag musicians with their makeshift instruments, would develop into some of the greatest musicians the world has ever known. They would contribute one of the most important and harmonically complex forms of music to the world in the history of all mankind. Few knew at the time that one day Universities, musicologists, and music conservatories all over the world would struggle to understand the complexity of their musical genius, and even fewer could have guessed that many of these "quaint" musicians would someday become world renowned, and synonymous with their respective instruments-Louis Armstrong, Jellyroll Morton, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane-just to mention a few.
As a point of irony, I began to typed "Duke" into Google, and the program completed my entry with a list that presented Duke Ellington before the Duke of Windsor. I'd say that says it all about the impact that the Black culture has had on this society, and the world.
But what we've got to recognize and address as a community is that creativity is not restricted to just music. The reason that the creative genius of Black people has been reflected more in music than in business, science, or technology is because it was an area where we didn't have to depend on the approval of others, and more importantly, we were rewarded in the community for its development. We've also got to recognize, as any scientist who studies cognition well knows, creativity is not stagnant-it has associative properties that allow it to be transferred from one endeavor to another. Thus, as Barack Obama is clearly demonstrating, Black people have much more to offer the world than a twelve bar blues.
So today the Black community is in a similar situation as those early musicians were in their day, but this time we have the advantage of not having to sit on the side of the road. We have a supportive Black man in the White House, an economic environment that's thirsting for innovation, creativity, and new ideas, and no one to hold us back. So all that's left for us to do now is to recognize it's a new day, shed all of the defensive excuses and bad habits that were a part of the old paradigm, and get to work.
And our very first task should be to reassess and rid ourselves of the negative cultural mores that we've developed over the past hundred years or so. That involves discarding, and refusing to reward or romanticize the image of the Black man as urban predator. That is the very root of our problem. How can we possibly expect to raise a well adjusted generation of young people when their being sired by idiots running around in unlaced tennis shoes, wearing baseball caps sideways, and whose most heartfelt ambition is to be looked up to as a successful gangster? It can't be done. So we've got to stop rewarding such behavior-and make that a community effort.
When I was a kid my grandfather use to tell me, "All I want from this whole damn nation is a pretty little wife and a good foundation." I didn't realize it at the time, but he was relating the key to life to me in that one little limerick-the foundation of happiness and success starts with a solid family.
So we need to start with our girls in order to get the attention of our young men. We've got to start teaching our young girls from birth that young men who assume the gangster image are bad news, and we've got to keep such images out of our homes. We must also create an environment where if BET wants to continue to enter our homes, its call sign will have to be changed to mean Black Excellence Television.
In addition, we've got to demand more responsibility from our other community institutions. We've got to demand of our churches, that if they expect to take collection money out of our community on Sunday, they'd better be prepared to put some kind of service back into the community during the week. Our churches should be serving as low-cost child care facilities for working mothers during the week. They could then employ unemployed mothers, and at the same time hold classes in child rearing. The message-"Don't just preach me a sermon, live me one."
And we should also encourage the promoters of these awards shows, like the NAACP Image Awards, to start places more emphasis on honoring young scholars, educators, and the people in the community who are helping to move Black people forward, instead of the same old celebrities all the time. That isn't to say that celebrities and entertainment shouldn't be involved in the shows, but they should be the "help", not the honorees. After all, if all our young people ever see the community honoring are singers, movies stars, and athletes, why should they aspire to be anything else?
So let us get on the BEAM, and start honoring Black Excellence And Maturity.