Saturday, February 22, 2014

The LOOK of Freedom. . .

As Black History Month is coming to a close, although I think even saying that sounds rather silly, when my black history moments never cease to stop, however, for the recognition my people are given in the shortest month and one of the coldest, I suppose we should be happy nonetheless, no matter how small the gesture.  If I sound a little bit sarcastic, perhaps I am.

Every February, I make it a point to read books regarding my people’s history.  There are so many classics that I have never read, but have watched movie adaptations of these great novels.  I’ve put off reading Alex Haley’s Roots for so many years, and the main reason I did that was because it was entirely too long.  And most of my fans already know I do not like to read novels over 450 pages in length.  So tackling over 800 pages was enough to make me cringe and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to endure the actual words of the story for that long a period.

When I mentioned to my mom I planned to take the plunge and just go ahead and read it, she said it is so good it wouldn’t take me long to read, and I’m pleasantly surprised, she was absolutely right.  My goodness, when I got started, I hated to put the Kindle down.  Having said that, I must say I wish like hell I had read Roots so long ago, but as my grandma always said, “Save some things for when you get older so you’ll always have something to look forward to.” 

I remember the characters from the movie, i.e., Kunta Kinte, Bell, Kizzy and Chicken George, to name a few, although they pretty much were the heart of this novel, I couldn’t help comparing the early 1700s to 2014.  The entire time I read, I kept thinking how so many things have changed for black people, and then, sadly, I was reminded how much really hasn’t changed since slavery.  The feelings I felt reading the struggle of Mr. Haley’s ancestors made me so angry.  As a child, watching the movie, I remember being angry and wishing things could have been different for the people involved, but I don’t think I completely grasped just how catastrophic the telling of his family’s story actually was. 

If you’ve never read Roots, I highly recommend you put it on your reading list.  I could feel, smell, taste, visualize every thought, movement, fear, and process Kunta went through being stolen from his home land of Juffure in West Africa.  My heart began to beat faster, as I knew when he decided to be a little hardheaded and do things his way, since at the age of 16, he had gone through his man training, out in the woods by himself, a rule his father and many great men told him never to do.  As soon as he heard that twig break, I knew he was about to be kidnapped.  Mr. Haley did an amazing job making you feel what his ancestors felt.  Their fear was so real and I lived it right with them, having on several occasions, to stop and collect myself before I could endure what I knew was the inevitable.  My God, reading about the four month ship ride to the states was something so horrific, I will never forget it.  There were things, as a kid watching the movie; I just couldn’t comprehend what the Africans had to go through being crammed on a ship with hundreds of other men around them, bound, chained and helpless.  Spooned together like sardines in a can.  A steady aroma of decaying dead bodies, fecal matter, urine, disease and rodents, all the while trapped only with his/her own thoughts.  So shackled, a man couldn’t even smack at a rodent walking on their person or blow his own nose. Was there any wonder many didn’t survive the four month long trip?  Not understanding why they were stolen or what were about to happen to them, terrified beyond any measure of fear you could possibly imagine, and yet, Kunta’s faith never wavered.  Kunta was a strong Moslem and held firm his faith in Allah, and what I totally found interesting, he never gave up, no matter how many beatings he received or the fact after his fourth attempt at escape from his captors, half his foot was axed off, he kept his faith.  Can you believe his strength?

I think that was one of the strongest assets to the story of black people, no matter how low they may have felt, they always believed in their God and clung to it much like the whips that broke their skin and left lifelong marks branding them forever.  Another thing I found so captivating was the strength in the black slave-row families.  There was so much unity which is why when the Massa decided to sell off some of them; it was downright heart-wrenching to witness.  Often times, some of the older family members ended up dying from grief of losing their loved one to another plantation.  What I was most impressed with is how black people believed in marriage.  Sure, some of the black men, referred to as bucks in the novel, were a bit whorish, but when they met the one, they jumped the broom without hesitation.  Funny, you don’t see much of that anymore not in today’s world.   But what really gripped me and shook my very soul was the fact they always made it a point to pass down through the generations, the story of Kunta Kinte, which is how Alex Haley came to write about his genealogy. To think that seven generations passed and therein sat little Alex listening to his grandmother and her sisters tell the story of how their African relative of the Mandinka Tribe was stolen from his homeland and brought all the way to the United States, which the slaves called newnited states.  Kunta ended up on the plantation of Master Waller in an area they called Napolis—better known today as Annapolis, Maryland. 

The saga of Alex Haley’s family had me mesmerized and intrigued and I thought there wasn’t a better point in time for me to be reading this critically acclaimed novel.  I have to admit I felt sadness after reading this story—because no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t help thinking about where black people are today.  Have we overcome as a people?  In some ways we’ve made huge strides, but not totally.  In fact, I believe we’ve regressed a great deal.  Sure, there were slaves that hated on other slaves, especially those who were considered the high yaller or mullato colored blacks—the ones that got to work closely with their masters in the big houses, but for the most part, they loved one another and worked together as a unit.  These slaves believed in marriages and it was unheard of to “shack up” or to be “courting” someone for too long a period back then, unless there was an express intent on marriage coming soon after.  They took pride in their skills, i.e., carpentry, sewing, weaving and cooking, no matter how educated or uneducated they were, and they shared whatever knowledge they had with all the slaves to make life better despite the grim circumstances.  There was a mutual respect among them and a love so powerful, even when they were torn apart, they never gave up hope and passed everything they had on to future generations so they could be better people and not have to come up as they did.  And then you fast forward to 2014, and again I ask, have we overcome?

Many of us carry so much hatred in our hearts for other blacks who are successful and would not dare think to do anything nice to help that person to continue to succeed.  Why, if one black person assists another they might actually get ahead and who the hell wants that?  In Roots, the slaves did everything they could to make sure those who were able to read and write taught others and passed on the knowledge.  They wanted their families to be smart. They knew having an education could make a better way, even when they had no idea if they’d ever be free from slavery.  Nowadays, if a black person is successful; many spiteful blacks (called haters today) go out of their way to sabotage the one trying to get somewhere.  This was clearly demonstrated to me when I wrote my first novel, and got progressively worse when I wrote my second.  Much like the story my grandfather told me when I was a little girl about the Crabs in a Barrel.  When one crab makes it up the side and almost makes it out, the other hateful crabs reach up and pull the crab back down.  Sound familiar!  Our people certainly didn’t start out that way, but that’s what we’ve become now.  Unfortunately, the color barriers haven’t changed at all through the years.  The darker skinned slaves did not want their dark skinned children to court lighter skin slaves.  They knew they had been mixed from the masters raping black women slaves, but they also knew the lighter skin slaves would be treated differently than those who were darker—thereby causing problems for the darker skinned slave.  So it was encouraged not to mate with the lighter blacks.  We have more racism within our own race than any other race of people on the planet.  The battle of the dark skin versus the light skin—which is better?  Nappy/kinky versus straight/relaxed hair.  If you’re too educated, you’re trying to act white.  If you have too much self-esteem, you think you’re better than everyone else.  Those similarities from Roots to now are unfortunately the same. 

Courting/Dating/Marriage—oh my!  Does anyone believe in marriage anymore?  Children are born out of wedlock every second of the day.  You see some of our black celebrities proudly displaying their baby bumps, and many of them have never been married and the only aisles they’ve ventured down was in some store, and have no intentions on jumping any broom.  So quick to pose for their photo-op placing their arms around their bump in a shape of a ring displaying their happiness, but can’t manage to get their donor to give them a little round piece of metal that goes around their ring finger.  Then you hear all this bullcrap about women today don’t have to get married and can have it all—their careers, children and being good mothers.  I suppose this is why God created man and woman to procreate together—so the parents can raise their children apart?  To think how Mr. Haley’s ancestors risked their lives to keep their families together.  If they had to be sold, they wanted to be sold as one, although it didn’t always happen, but they put up one hell of a fight!  All husbands, wives and children—together!  But today, we can do these things on our own and don’t need any man to hold us down.  And that’s true, we are strong black women—however, my point is, that doesn’t make it right!  If we were meant to have children alone, I believe we would have been made to be asexual much like the Aphid.

Pride, pride—where is the pride?  Instead of exercising one’s mind and strengthening our intelligence, we’d rather shoot each other and continue to add to the negativity in the media and then wonder why we’re portrayed so poorly.  Of course, we didn’t have anything to do with that, right?  Our ancestors dreamt day in and day out how to rid themselves of shackles and chains, and not only do we pile more chains on, we’ve gone so far as to add that mess to our teeth getting your grill all blinged out.  This is our pride today!  We seem to be the most proud when we behave the most buffoonish of them all.  We seem to be in some kind of race to see who can be the most boisterous ignorant one of all—so pardon me if I didn’t hear the gun go off at the starting line.  In my last blog post, I penned a new word called buffoonetry (ba-foo-na-tree)!  There’s nothing like getting in front of some camera telling all our dirty secrets for a reality show and showing our asses literally and figuratively, displaying our ignorance and being the buffoon for the white man.  Hell, why not, we gettin’ paid!  But yet, a person such as me is often viewed as a sellout because I’m educated and want better for myself.  I’m trying to be white.  I’m the sellout—hmm, really?   There are those who criticize the stigma of Amos and Andy and yet, being a buffoon for the white man to make money to exploit the ignorance of some black people all for the sake of a reality show isn’t the same thing?  Oh cause we free and doin’ our thing now, being a buffoon in this new light is called entertainment.  Really?  And this is the legacy we leave to future black generations how to act an ass or show our ass for the world to see, and this is perfectly acceptable and ok for today’s black society?!  This is what freedom looks like!  This is what our ancestors risked their lives for?!  I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I believe our ancestors risked their lives and shed blood for nothing!  The reason I say that is for every great thing a black person has done to make strides in the battle to have equal rights, you have twice as many other blacks who are doing the exact opposite and bringing our race down as a whole, and the ignorance, dare I say it, is accepted and continually passed on down the line and worse, the ignorance is winning!  Not like Mr. Haley’s ancestors who passed good things down to their children. 

Speaking of children, there are those negative black people who constantly keep our progress down hollering and screaming the loudest about a white family who wants to adopt a black child exclaiming with vigor, “white people can’t teach our children about their history and what it’s like to be black!”  Hmmph, that’s funny, I don’t see too many of my people passing to their children about black history either, but you would rather see a black family raise a black child simply because they’re black, and more often than not, many of these children will not get adopted, and if there is a family willing to take them and give them the love they need, why on earth would you want to stop it from occurring?  The only thing a white family cannot teach a black child is what it feels like to be discriminated against by living the black experience—the only way anyone can identify with that is to be black.  Outside of that, it’s plain bullcrap that a white person cannot raise a black child.  Not that the one who is doing the most hollering is willing to step up or do anything, but you would rather block a blessing of a child in need all for the sake of not wanting them to end up in a white home.  Seriously?  Do you have any idea how many white children have been raised by our ancestors?

Some had been enslaved by their same masters for so long; they nursed and raised future masters who would one day oversee them.  Although most of the masters could be extremely cruel, there were some that did not treat their slaves badly and didn’t believe in hitting or hurting them.  Case in point, Master Waller, who was a doctor in Roots, became enraged when he learned his brother had cut off Kunta’s foot and bought and paid for Kunta, right then and there, and took him home and helped heal his foot.  Some of the white children raised by black women grew up to have manners and respect, the same as they expected from their own children.  At the end of the day, both races can raise each other’s offspring if that be the case.  To suggest no other race or group of people can’t raise a child waiting to be adopted solely based on the fact they may not be of the same race, is downright preposterous!  So, please do me a huge favor and stop talking about what a white family cannot do for a black child.  If a white family is willing to adopt, love, shelter, clothe, feed, and help a black child(ren) succeed in life, let them!  If you aren’t willing to do anything, then step aside!

Skills anyone?  Our skills today is who has the biggest ass—is that a Brazilian lift or some back alley doctor inflating your ass with cement, glue, anti-freeze and lord knows what else.  You know, girlfriend—is that home grown or did you get a receipt for that?   Pride today is who can twerk the hardest on a pole, upside down beside a wall or doing acrobats any way and anywhere they can!  You have mad skills when someone photoshops Dr. Martin Luther King’s pictures on flyers posing as some thugged out dude with several booty-licious sistas posing in the background for New Year’s Eve parties and the like.  Needless to say, those flyers were not too flattering of our fallen Civil Rights Leader—but that was skill, y'all!  Or you know you got skills and the know-how when you can get yourself a car, drive yourself several miles from your state to go to one that sells legal weed.  Talk about determination at its finest!  This is the same brother that can’t find a job, or if he has one, refuses to get up to go to it, but he can put a plan like that into action all for the sake of his daily happy puff!  That’s truly skillful isn’t it?  I’m just beaming with such pride right now! 

How about some of our black rappers spitting about Emmett Till’s brutal murder or making light of a woman being raped and my favorite Eat the Cake, Annie Mae, as if domestic violence is something to celebrate over just because you were making a point in a song.  This takes great skill to master this type of ignorance, but yet, my people flock out here buying their latest material, if and when it’s available.  Now we’ll support these types of entertainers, but we will not frequent our local stores to help our own communities.  When you’re blessed to get grocery stores or shops owned by blacks, or white businessmen who decide to open a store in a black neighborhood, some of my people would rather bad mouth them and talk about how their prices are too high (which what they really mean is why isn’t it “free”), or they don’t sell the kind of stuff they want, and these same individuals who speak so negatively of small black businesses are the first to cry the blues when these stores go out of business and then say “we don’t have anywhere to shop,” or “I wish there was a place for me to get a job in the hood,” and “I’d like to shop in my own neighborhood!”  Hmm, Really?

This is what freedom looks like, sounds like and feels like today!   This is what our ancestors died for!  Ummph, I’m sure they’re rather proud!

Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet

Be the Change YOU Seek!