As Black History Month comes to an end, I would love to do a sum up post. You know, do 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.
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 — and the message behind it was about progress and how our ancestors' perseverance lived through each generation to keep pushing to make life better for future generations.
I enjoyed myself.
But when I looked around, the picture I saw was disgusting and disappointing. 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 high fives.
When the actress on stage used the vernacular of an uneducated slave, the teens would crudely mimicking 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 its 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. 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 in effect 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.
But I believe it all feeds in to a central theme - the black Millennial Generation is ashamed of black history. I mean, our past is not cool right? Slaves weren't rocking the latest in fashion were they? They were some "Bammas". Blacks of the past were largely a bunch of have nots — that's whack, weak, and lame. Why keep focusing on all that trivial stuff and those largely vague themes of 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, right?
New days have gotten a bit brighter, but sadly we still see echoes of 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 struggle, oppression, and injustice was for another time. And it is that 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 forgetting that history in favor of these flashier stories of new age success and riches. 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 are the youth 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 cages of these black youth were the cages of their own mind, and their lacking sense of history. And because of that, they will be willing to take what they are given, rather than demanding what they have the potential to achieve. And so they sit, never knowing 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.