Did it please to devote every February Slow Boat Media Facebook vignette to Black History Month topics? Sure did!
Might some readers regard them as affronts to the mosaic into which America has developed? Are you kidding!? Of course!
In those minds, the echt American experience emerges from Old World immigrants braving the Atlantic. In this New World they established better lives, futures, and fortunes.
That neat reduction of immigration sure gives short shrift to those of us whose North American antecedents predate the 1790 Club. Seventeen-ninety, the year of the first United States census.
At their base, each immigration wave shared characteristics. Downtrodden Europeans arrive upon North American shores. At first this new tide of foreigners is resented by nativists and the prior wave of opportunity seekers. As a response, ethnic enclaves are formed because in a stranger land among spiteful strangers there is security and comfort among one’s own countrymen or creed.
Time passes and the Old World binds weaken. Through mixture into the greater society identity loses its strong ethnic emphasis. However as we’ve progressed as “Americans,” we’ve seen after the struggle became legend, and legend lauded into heritage, heritage must be celebrated.
What ethnicity these days doesn’t have its parade, festival, or fulsome proclamation from some vote-hungry politician?
Were it also all so gilded for black Americans.
Today, Africans are following in the same footsteps of the nation’s early European emigrants. So much so those sub-Sahel natives dismiss seeing themselves as “black.” Rather they prefer strictly categorizing themselves according to their lands of origins. They refuse letting the “black” construct apply to them.
Mirrors inside their residences must reflect some pretty arresting images.
The American black experience remains quite distinct tiles in our national portrait. Begun in 1619, lasting until the early 19th century, that African migration was involuntary. Those subjected to upheaval didn’t chance the journey to possibly improve their own lives. They were on new soil to toil towards benefiting others’ lives.
Nothing laudable about that.
Throughout the February contributions to the Slow Boat Media Facebook page, Malcolm X played prominent parts. Our times demand another Malcolm.
While assuredly many believe Martin Luther King’s use of moral persuasion could again compel Americans to find their better angles insofar as relations among ourselves, the reverend’s opponents, though fervid bigots, were nowhere near as arrogant, ignorant, and boorish as the inhumane garbage Donald Trump encourages. At least during the civil rights movement ambivalent currents ran throughout the churning segregation ranks.
In King’s era, the truly committed racists were always going to surpass what the majority of that ilk could stomach. The latter assemblage looked into mirrors, recorded how others saw them, and decided the feelings expressed represented distasteful strangers.
That introspection does not reside among the screaming, florid-faced mobs identifying with Trump and his spew. This bunch has no doubts their self-invented grievances are just.
Trump has lied to them. Not just frequently but continually. They prefer his falsehood fountain to contending with “what truly is.” What comfort they find in this babble only delays the inevitable.
Perhaps the appeal is the real estate fraud’s harkening to a past which also suppressed a great many of his adherents’ forbearers. Indeed, too many of our fellow Americans are woefully unaware of whence they came and how. In Der Trump’s bizarro telling, those gathered around him, choking down his messages are the “heroes,” the bulwarks against modernity, tolerance, and justice.
Dr. King’s rhetoric would simply bounce off those numbskulls, much less enter one ear and flush the other. Such intransigents would need a Malcolm to challenge them in ways that gave recognition about sharing the same plight with those they pilloried. Unlike Dr. King, Malcolm could also speak their language, belittling, no, bludgeoning them with it.
Who knows? Enough pointed ridicule and maybe it might dawn on all but the thickest how thoroughly they’d been duped by Der Trump, the GOP, Fox News, and reactionary purveyors of conflict for discord’s sake.
Until the short-fingered vulgarian revived then released the ugly in Americans most of us prematurely believed had been vanquished with Barack Obama’s ascendance, Black History Month didn’t much interest me. Instead wasn’t it a constant topic at home, in my New York neighborhood?
Oral storytelling tradition still thrived during my formative years in Quarropas. Besides my parents, the elders who influenced me had all migrated north during America’s black diaspora. Forget limited. Opportunities in their rural southern Jim Crow communities were sliver thin. While white attitudes towards blacks above the Mason-Dixon Line were harsh, they weren’t as generally vicious as below it. Economic advantages found throughout industrial America salved plenty of slurs and second-class treatment.
Those familiars reciting their lives indirectly imparted lessons upon impressionable minds. The declaimers literally stood a head above us for the longest. Even after growing taller through adolescence into our teens and youngest adulthood, and stood level with them, we remained passive respectful vessels who absorbed lifetimes.
Usually some news from “down home” or life event involving a fellow migrant who’d shared trials on the trails common to blacks then sufficed loosening the verbal spigots.
Although these impromptu recollections never intended comparing the successor generations’ lives against the speakers’ own, even the least astute listener should’ve been grateful what later birth had spared him or her. What pierced deepest, what lingered in minds longest, were the vivid details and lucidity which sparked tales. No facet had been too small to forget or incidental to exclude.
While none owned skills to transpose their experiences onto paper, the ability to verbally unreel brief sagas from the Depression through the postwar 40s – personal histories took less arduous routes when the Nuclear Age delivered the last into Canaan, the North – never failed transfixing our young suburban ears.
Every story had a denouement. Nothing ever concluded vaguely. Structured simply their recollections frequently delivered lessons – without lecturing – and often laughs. In those few cases exhibiting the worst of that era’s strife, racial as well as gender, late-date commiseration with the victims and pitying the tormentor won out over misery and calls for vengeance.
They didn’t know “karma.” They did believe in heaven and hell; that the just would receive glory, and the wicked punished. I mustn’t imagine how simple that comes across in our cynical, accusation equals verdict times. However, this was what relieved and made their daily lives bearable during those crushing years.
Today our lives are complicated, the pleasures extracted seemingly meager against the efforts required to attain them. Returning to simplicity, the people who imprinted me couldn’t have lived lavishly if they wanted.
Certainly each owned nice possessions, but weren’t possessed or defined by these symbols. What they truly valued was the comfort derived being amid family and friends. They enjoyed being connected, mingling on levels my contemporaries and I might surmise but whose depths we could never fathom nor imitate.
Food. A bottle of whiskey. Of course the home-cooked meals were delicious. The main ingredient in each pot, pan, plate? Love. Basic a function as eating is, watching the joy emoted while supping might’ve appeared exaggerated if the observer unaware that throughout portions of their lives sustenance was meager and those provisions unsure.
Liquor was a reward, nothing less. Anticipation of amber spirits in stubby carefully held glasses were the elixirs that made the last workweek tolerable. These allowed them to unwind after “Mr. Charley” nearly wound them into snapping.
The fifth eased conversation among people who had known, who still knew. Theirs the kind of chatter which drew choruses who needn’t trouble with introductions into the topic. The circle’s most recent arrival, its longest participant could and did jump in anywhere without hesitation.
While my mundane glances aren’t representative of Black History Month achievements ordinarily sought to commemorate a worthy citizenry’s accomplishments, they acknowledge upon whose shoulders multitudes stand and memories we should hope to forward.