Sunday, February 28, 2010

Summarizing Black History Month – It is all just a joke? (a guest post)

Today on BnB, we simultaneously wrap up Black History Month and Smart Guest Post Week. Our final contributor is a future muckety-muck somewhere in DC, I guarantee it. I call him "the Captain" but others may know him as SpkTruth2Pwr, the voice of The Apathy Remedy and a driving force behind The Younger Writers' Block. Show him some love.

As Black History Month (BHM) comes to an end, I would love to do a post-BHM wrap up.

You know- a post on how the story of our black ancestors is a story of hope in the midst of struggle and how black history month is an ode and a perpetual lesson for not only black people but also all people in America.

But instead, I can only approach the end of BHM with sadness.

Why?

I went to a Black History Month play this weekend. It was a community church production called "From the Slave House to the White House."

It wasn't a large crowd - mostly teens attending as part of a program. I was looking forward to it, The message behind it was progress and how our ancestors' perseverance made each generation keep pushing to make life better for future generations. I enjoyed myself.

But when I looked around, the picture I saw was disgusting and disappointment.

The teens, who were all black, were completely not engaged. The few that managed to view every now and then could not control or stifle their laughter.

  • When the actresses performed an African Dance routine, some of the teens would mimic them between a few stifled giggles and hi-fives.
  • When the actress on stage used the vernacular of an uneducated slave, the teens would crudely mimic the accent within their cliques.
  • When an actress screamed in fear of being caught by "massah" because they were sneaking off to read the Bible, the teens ridiculed her.
  • When the "slave child" lamented as she was torn from her mother's arms, the teens laughed and pointed.

I don't know. Maybe it's because my parents both can remember going to segregated schools. Maybe it's because I know that even though my grandparents were not slaves, they were bound by a system that left them dependent on the master who controlled them - sharecropping was just a euphemism for slavery.

But I was disgusted. To laugh at that history was to laugh at themselves. And the sad thing - they could not realize it or see past it because they were living to be "cool".

In the same way they laughed at the slaves' dance of jubilation, or the servant eager to read, society has done the same to these kids. And rather than being conscious of that fact - they have joined in and laughed as well at the notion that they themselves could actually be more than what they are labeled and expected to be.

It is an ignorance of self. I could dissect the root causes, and pontificate on the disconnect between the youth and their elders, technology, media, blah blah blah. It is important to treat the problem and not the symptoms, so making the connection to the actual problem is important.

But really I believe it all feeds in to a central theme - the Millennial Generation is ashamed of their history. I mean that past is not cool right? Slaves weren't rocking the latest in fashion were they? They were clearly some Bammas. Blacks of the past were largely a bunch of have nots, right? That's wack, weak, lame. Why keep focusing on all that trivial stuff and those largely vague themes - freedom, equality, struggle, justice, and opportunity? It's embarrassing to keep bringing up those days when we were largely uneducated, largely forgotten, and largely disrespected. We have moved on up with George and Weezy right?

Well sadly those days have gotten a bit brighter, but they have not passed to yesterday.

  • Those same laughing teens represent a population with a higher nationwide proportion of dropouts from high school.
  • Those same laughing teens represent a population that doesn't "have it all" - 24 percent of blacks live below the poverty line compared to 13 percent of the nation (U.S. Census Bureau)
  • Those same laughing teens represent a population where 38 percent of black teens in America live with both parents. The next lowest was Hispanics, with 69 percent. (U.S. Census Bureau)

Those same laughing teens are being laughed at for willingly keeping themselves ignorant by neglecting their own history.

The message behind the play was good. But the teens in the audience were too busy thinking "that progress thing" was for another time, another wack/lame generation.

And it is that perpetuation of the disconnect with our history that will work against the progress so many of our ancestors fought to gain.

I was disappointed because these teens had no idea that as each chuckle escaped their lips, they were slowly drowning out the very hope and struggle that had allowed them to freely sit in that theatre. That with each joke at the expense of the "slave" in the play, they were trivializing the path to progress for blacks in America.

And if it is one thing that makes us look ignorant as a people, it is removing collective progress from our vision of success, and replaced it with our own interpretation.

We have the spirituals of the slaves, the courage of the freedom riders, the honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, the teachings of DuBois, the dream of Martin, the examples of countless black innovators and originators, and the inspiration of Barack. The only thing that is lacking is the youths to take these and continue marching onward and upward in the name of perpetual advancement.

But like a lion raised in captivity - no matter how great the potential to be a proud king, the lion will never see past its cage and hand-fed meals.

The cage of these black youths I saw was the cage of their own mind, and their own lacking sense of history. And because of that, they are willing to take what they are given, rather than demanding what they have the potential to achieve. And so they sit, never knowing they should hope for more - choosing to remain as nothing more than the next exhibit in the zoo that is society.

Only when our black young minds connect where they came from with their present and where they need to go will the faith of our ancestors continue inspiring the march toward advancement and expand our black history, which in turn will add another link in the chain of progress that has been American history.

What say you BougieLand? When did you start appreciating your Black History? What's will it take to drag these Millennials towards the reality check they so clearly have coming? Any final thoughts on Black History Month?

16 comments:

sunt97 said...

Kids are exposed to culture anymore, even if it's a black history play. I am so happy my mother and my mothers friends made sure that I got to experience some reallly wonderful things in my childhood. Last year they took my sons class on an underground railroad field trip. The kids were so scared, being chained and running through the snow and hiding. Some were even moved to tears through the experience and they were only 6th graders. I was really grateful that their teacher gave them this experience.

Tiffany
http://liferequiresmorechocolate.blogspot.com/

Sarah said...

I think the two most hazardous times of person's life are between the ages of 0 and 2 and between puberty and around 21 to 25. There is a whole lot of stupidity that goes on during the teen years. I wouldn't give up on the millennial generation just yet. You have to keep planting the seeds and even though maybe only 1/10 of the information gets through it is sitting there in their minds and when they get some sense in their 20s they will go back and pull it out and do their own research and discovery. Being in a theater full of teens is like being submerged in hormonal overload and group think. High school teachers are way up near the top of the list of people I admire because they have to cope with this day after day. I don't know how they do it.

bougiesis said...

Excellent wrap up to black history month and very eloquently stated. It's the parents of these youngsters that need to remind them of the importance of looking back and understanding so that we / they will not be doomed to same fate or mistakes. We should also be looking to schools to educate and encourage our young black teens but that seems a dead end.

Nice post.

JaymeC said...

Great post! I agree that we have work to do with the Millennials but it's really our fault. Somewhere along the way some of us quit stressing the importance of knowing where you've come from in order to get to where you're going. Black History Month is a start but whoever made those kids go see the play should've forced them to take a quiz on what they learned and read their answers out loud. I'm big on shamin' young 'uns into learning ;-)

Melzie said...

I agree, Sarah. Honestly, I don't remember fully understanding (or even trying to) our history at that age. My true appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of past generations didn't come about until my 20s. I don't think this generation is totally lost, so planted seeds of knowledge is critical. The teen years are some of the most reflective when you get older, so I think when we combine this with maturity the intended message becomes clear and relative...finally.

SpkTruth2Pwr said...

Thanks for the posts everyone! You all have amazing insight.

I would agree with some of you that mentioned about being a teen and trying to understand what all that history meant.

I would have credited a disconnect or a minimal understanding after the play to something like that.

But what I saw bordered on an embarrassment, a disdain, and disrespect of what was being presented before them. To me it is one thing to miss the message, but somewhere in their minds I had hoped they at least realized that what they were watching was in some way important to them.

If someone messed up in the play, fine - they laugh because they are teens. But even on a basic level I guess I expected them to understand suffering is never funny, even if they don't fully understand how that past has shaped their present.

But you all are right. We all really share the burden of responsibility of bridging generational gaps and cultivating an understanding of black and American history.

SpkTruth2Pwr said...

Thanks for the posts everyone! You all have amazing insight.

I would agree with some of you that mentioned about being a teen and trying to understand what all that history meant.

I would have credited a disconnect or a minimal understanding after the play to something like that.

But what I saw bordered on an embarrassment, a disdain, and disrespect of what was being presented before them. To me it is one thing to miss the message, but somewhere in their minds I had hoped they at least realized that what they were watching was in some way important to them.

If someone messed up in the play, fine - they laugh because they are teens. But even on a basic level I guess I expected them to understand suffering is never funny, even if they don't fully understand how that past has shaped their present.

But you all are right. We all really share the burden of responsibility of bridging generational gaps and cultivating an understanding of black and American history.

Inkognegro said...

There is a line adults must be mindful of when dealing with teens. The line that separates who teens are as a group and who teens are as individuals.

The best way to deal with teens is in small intimate groups where you can hone in on their true feelings and fears.

They hide in groups and you can never get to the core of who they are.

more than zero said...

I don't know I think all these "New Jack" parents just don't call out kids the way they used to. If I even rolled by eyes at a program or during church service, I would get called all out my name and givena look that promised a beatdown the minute we stepped outside the sanctuary... no my parents didn't wait till we got home. They said if I cut a fool in public they could whup an ass in public. Shoot, I STILL don't chew gum in church, ya know?

Violet Rose said...

LOL - this is because parents are no longer allowed to "beat sense" into their kids!

SpkTruth2Pwr said...

Very true. I volunteer with a group of teens and I am always amazed by the individuals I have conversations with. When you get them alone. In a group it seems there is less incentive to engage or think critically about barious topics.

Hidi said...

Good Post. :)

When I was a little kid and teenager, I took my heritage for granted. It's been with me all my life, so I did not take it seriously until I grew up. LOL. Personally, I understand the teenagers not getting it. Some of those teens' parents are just as ignorant as they are in regards to Black History. Black History is just not history in America but history all over the world.

Those teenagers, "the millennial", did not get here by themselves; their parents are responsible too. We all have been teenagers before, so we know how it is. Yes, we do have different experiences, but we still can relate in some way. I believe "talking down" to the teens is not going to make the situation better. Speak to them as though you are genuinely interested in elevating their thinking.

My thoughts on Black History Month....It is not a month for me; I am not black one month out of the year; Black History is my history. {wink}

ASmith said...

There's something about being too far removed that effects them.

Like SpkTruth2Pwr, my grandparents were sharecroppers. My mom is the youngest of 14 and by the time she was 2, my grandfather had been able to buy his own land, but I know my family's story is the exception not the rule. Too many kids don't know their own family history and what it means for them today. It's all about being cool and we don't do enough to encourage them to respect their history.

Sometimes... I just shake my head and wonder what can we do? Something -- we gotta do something.

doris said...

Great and timely post. One of my youth group members told me that he thought Mahalia Jackson (I had to help him with "Mahalia") sand the theme song for the tv show The Jeffersons. I of course explained that she sang "Move on up a little higher" not movin' on up - to a deluxe apt. in the sky...
I didn't know whether to shriek in horror or hang my head in shame - somewhere we have collectively failed to teach/share our history). So, as part of the solution I am going to share a black history fact each week. Every little bit helps.

ithopiamckinney said...

Okay where to start.... Well let my start by firstly introducing myself I am a 20 year Bahamian who is producing my own Caribbean Day Talk show that will be syndicated all over the Caribbean and problems like this is exactly what I want to tackle. Most black people appreciate their heritage when they go off to university unless they are blessed like me who has a very afro-centric father who only bought me black history books as presents. At least in the States you guys celebrate Black history month, we in The Bahamas do not even do that, we learn more about the Arawaks (who are by the way extinct) that inhabited our islands before we even came. We do not teach our children about our heritage. We do not indoctrinate them about slavery and the after effects like the jews do with the holocaust. Some black people do not even like to identified with being black. We have not shaken the effects of mental slavery and it has manifested into a form of self hate because we do not educate ourselves about our past. Those youths sadly are a reflection of our failure to them.

SpkTruth2Pwr said...

Thanks for the posts everyone! You all have amazing insight.

I would agree with some of you that mentioned about being a teen and trying to understand what all that history meant.

I would have credited a disconnect or a minimal understanding after the play to something like that.

But what I saw bordered on an embarrassment, a disdain, and disrespect of what was being presented before them. To me it is one thing to miss the message, but somewhere in their minds I had hoped they at least realized that what they were watching was in some way important to them.

If someone messed up in the play, fine - they laugh because they are teens. But even on a basic level I guess I expected them to understand suffering is never funny, even if they don't fully understand how that past has shaped their present.

But you all are right. We all really share the burden of responsibility of bridging generational gaps and cultivating an understanding of black and American history.

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