“Your ancestors took the lash, the branding iron, humiliations and oppression because one day they believed you would come along to flesh out the dream” ~ Maya Angelou
Black people, we have some work to do. I often see our generation and others after us not taking life seriously, saying things like, “It’s just music” or “It’s just entertainment” when talking about the messaging in our music. I see people circle jerking and giving out community service awards and accolades like oranges at a soccer practice, and to be honest I’m irritated. I’m irritated by the low standards that we aspire to. I’m irritated by the level of back patting and celebration, when there’s so much work to be done in the Black community. I’m irritated that we are more concerned with writing our individual “legacies”, which consist of smoke, mirrors, falsities, elaborate titles and great branding, yet lacking the key component which legacies are made of. Work.
I often hear myself on the phone sounding like Old Yeller, the miserable dog who needs to be taken out back to be put out of his misery, lecturing and debating with people who I feel should know better. These same people simply stand by idly instead of playing their role in our continuum. With just a little effort, or simply by not doing something negative, they could help us turn this Titanic of a community around.
And yes, it’s that serious; I’m not being dramatic.
Our children are an endangered species. Literally. We commit cultural genocide daily. Our music denigrates our women. Yes, the music I love, which I now must admit no longer has balance. We allow negative messages to slide under the guise of “Don’t be so serious”, so as to not be called any derivative of ‘old’ or any of the things that one is called when pointing out the issues in our community. These individuals either don’t know any better, don’t care, only care about money (i.e. If I don’t do it, someone else will), or simply have no clue what’s been sacrificed so they could have the rights they have.
Being Black is more than posting, “I’m Black everyday” memes and complaining about our history celebrations occupying a month with only 28 days. It’s more than just posting regurgitated facts during Black History Month about Black inventors or who’s a sellout, or this ridiculous new rhetoric complaining about “our history consisting of more than just slavery” or “why we don’t need Black History Month any more”.
You may be Black with your pigmentation or origin being the proof, but being Black is about more than one’s complexion or gene line. An argument can be made that you’re Black based on the knowledge of self that you actually exercise. It’s a matter of consciousness not complexion.
It’s where you spend your money – literally, putting your money where your mouth is. It’s the doors one opens and holds for others behind them. It’s being a representative of your community each and every time you go out the door and it starts with simply recognizing that you’re a representative. Sadly, this concept is difficult for many to understand. And its counter argument is true- no other race has to be a representative of their community every time they walk out their front door. It may be a burden unique to us. But no other race (here comes someone to tell me that “Black is not a race…”) has to work twice as hard to get half as far as my mother constantly told me as a child. We don’t have the luxury of playing around where other communities do. We are in a literal state of emergency. Please remember this daily.
Within our community some identify as Caribbean or African (and even specifically as being Trini, Nigerian, etc.), yet others simply as Black. While we’re not homogeneous as a community, our issues are, by and large, homogeneous and so should our collective solutions be. I believe that we all want our children to be excellent, to be respectful and honourable, and to have pride and the countless other positive attributes that we can agree to agree on. It’s when we unite around the collective positives, like Occam’s Razor, that we can cut to the core of the issues and deal with the individual stratifications that divide us.
Our ancestors were sprayed with hoses and bitten by dogs, as was I, so that we could not only have better but do better. They didn’t go through the struggle so we could shuck and jive, and mumble rap, and aspire to be reality television stars who fight each other and speak so badly that closed captioning is required to understand us. Somewhere along the way, we mistook the rights earned in the struggle as the freedom to act badly.
This is not holding up our part of the commitment.
“Have you forgotten that once we were brought here, we were robbed of our name, robbed of our language? We lost our religion, our culture, our god…and many of us, by the way we act, we even lost our minds”. ~ Khalid Abdul Muhammad
Written by Ian Andre Espinet
Ian Andre Espinet is a Toronto-based creative director, club and concert event producer, and entrepreneur