Democratic Underground  

We Are a Problem People
February 28, 2002
By Tommy Ates

This year's Black History Month has taken second fiddle (and understandably so) to the nation's war on terrorism. That being said, there are many issues that deserve discussion: the state of our urban communities, the demise of our rural roots, a needed overhaul of our public education system, and fostering new leadership that will carry black America into the future. First, we must deal with one issue of truth.

We are a problem people. Yes, we are the problem people.

You knew it even before I said it. There is no joy in assessing where we're coming from, when you must do it to know where you are going. As in the Robert Frost poem, we must review "The Road Not Taken."

For us, history has been not kind, nor nice, nor very forgiving. We are still paying for the sins of others, the greed of the Southern industrial complex that needed cheap labor, and the avarice of wealthy landowners who slandered African-Americans to justify their inhumanity.

Much worse have been the ravages of time. Young people today do not remember Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. We don't know (that like ourselves) they were works in progress, cut down before they even reached the zenith of their potential. And now the modern media treats Martin like a saint and Malcolm, a muted extremist. Our parents do not tell us that (while they were alive) they were not exactly beloved by the public; in fact the government had dossiers to assess their 'threat to the government.' Likewise with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, only in death will our black heroes get respect, save Colin Powell (and he has Republican approval).

But in the media and the classroom, do we really look at our black heroes? Increasingly news media and scholastic academics (except for black history courses) are giving notable African-Americans short shrift in favor of the all-inclusive multicultural history, which tries to highlight the contributions of all cultures, but delve into none (except CNN and Time magazine). Federal cuts in education and continued suburban white flight undermine this effort. The tools of multiculturalism are also hard to come by, as textbook retailers struggle to come up with materials that are reflective of growing influence of minorities.

Yes, it is a start at a new beginning, a 're-education.' But let's not kid ourselves; African-American culture is still defined by our glamorized failures, especially in corporate youth culture. We are the only people where failure is a virtue. White America rewards us when we denigrate ourselves with the 'n' word, create a new genre of movies with "Boyz 'N The Hood," or get into people's faces with an attitude. In contrast, our good tendencies are tied climbing the business ladder or being a sports star; but neither one of these views show who we really are. So, what do we mean when say "learn your black history?"

Do we tell America only about the civil rights movement, or do we tell them about the ghosts? The dead and their remains, whose spirits have buried themselves in the psyche of our minds, telling us never to forget. Remember, it is not a burden to feel pain, rather a 'connected blessing.' We can still honor our forgotten ancestors as if we knew their names, though we really didn't know them at all. Their tears give us strength to take the abuse of diminished expectations and still make the day 'a good day.'

So there you have it, the secret to our special energy, our jiggaboo slang, our dance moves, our heart and soul, our strength. We need to truly celebrate black history because (in a world filled with lies and half-truths) too much truth can be a dangerous thing. Just ask Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, ask the 435 black men lynched between 1882 and 1930. Standing up means paying a price, but as AIDS activists have illustrated "silence = death." And you wonder why so many of us are down and out.

We are a problem people.

We were; we are; we're going to be and it's not going to change. And yes, we have learned to "deal with it" and we are proud. We are at the crossroads between oblivion and the afterlife. We are the living reminder of what was lost; and our children the joy of sorrow's end. We deal with our situation, as we have with each and every challenge, with our heads up high and our motto:

"You live." (Notice no handouts.)

Celebrate your black history, all the time.


Tommy Ates loves the left because the left is always right! He wants to help the underdog become the Top Dog.

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