HOW AMERICA MADE ME AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN, AND I WON'T CHANGE UNTIL..
By Cash Michaels
journalist, filmmaker, commentator
You see, what many people don't get is that...as an American citizen, which I AM by birthright, I instinctively KNOW that me and mine do NOT enjoy the full fruits of citizenship. There's no way around it. Being black in America TODAY means being targeted in any form or fashion because of the color my skin. Yes, many things are better than they were, but that's ONLY because African-Americans STOOD UP, and joined with others to DEMAND better, FIGHT for better, and DIE for better, so that those who come behind us can enjoy the FULL fruits of citizenship.
Well if we have to STILL engage in that struggle today, in the year 2014...some 50 years hence Freedom Summer...then something is very wrong...we still haven't accomplished the "Dream" of equal rights.
That means there is still MUCH to be done, and contrary to the belief of many, electing a black president wasn't anywhere near enough!
How do I KNOW that as an American, I don't enjoy full citizenship in the nation of my birth?
Either some cop believes he can get away with treating me differently; or some Republican passes a law crippling my voting rights; or some insurance company decides it can charge me more because of where i live(red-lining); or some bank jacks up my loan; or some supermarket in my neighborhood stocks lower quality food at high prices; or some white businessman makes big bucks funneling illegal drugs and guns into my community; or some radio station programs the worst kind of music possible to my young children; or some video channel profits from teaching my kids to call one another "bitches" and "hoes" and "dogs"; or some employer decides he won't hire me because of my "Muslim-sounding" name or because I graduated from an historically black college; or some realtor doesn't rent me the apartment that I want because of the color of my skin; or because Congress may or may not reauthorize the Voting Rights Act every 25 years to ensure my "right" to vote is protected; or because clerks in department stores follow me around afraid that I might steal something; or because my child's white teacher treats her differently than she does the white children in her class; or because white parents make it clear that they do not want to have my child bused to "their" school in "their" neighborhood; or because movies and television shows portray black women as highly educated hoes hungering for the white man's touch, and black men as mindless, violent idiots who are low-level animals better off dead!
I'm sure there's more, MUCH more, but those are just some of the reasons why, the moment I step out of my house in the morning, my FULL citizenship is in question, which means I have to fight EVERYDAY, in some way, for a morsel of dignity that other American citizens only take for granted. THAT IS A DISGRACE, and that's why, since this country treats me and mine DIFFERENTLY as citizens, that I take that difference, and use it to motivate myself and my community to carry on the struggle that my ancestors fought. To me it's VERY, VERY clear...when a black man and black woman and black child can wake up every day, look in the mirror, and know that the last thing they have to worry about that day is how the color of their skin is going to affect their lives, THEN AND ONLY THEN can we legitimately deem ourselves FINALLY as FULL AMERICAN CITIZENS!
But for now, our struggles are apart from the general American citizenry because we are targeted differently. Our citizenship is STILL segregated, even if the walls have come down elsewhere. What gets me, though, is that for Raven Symone and other "colorless Americans" like her, they want the "dream" of Dr. King without paying the price. Little smug rich girl is living large and feels free to wipe her feet of the doormat of struggle on which she stands. "I'm a star who transcends color," Raven believes, this was her chance to establish that on the most visible platform possible, ironically with one of the most powerful black women in the world who, despite her power and riches, has worked to find ways to stay connected to at least the history of her community. Oprah can buy and sell the Ravens of the world for peanuts, and yet we see her give scholarships to HBCU's, establish a school for young girls in Africa, appear in projects that present important slices of black life, lift up legendary AFRICAN-AMERICAN icons like the late Maya Angelou (someone Raven BADLY needed to be mentored by). THAT's why Oprah was startled to hear such damn foolishness come out of Raven's smug mouth. As rich and powerful as she is, Oprah knew Raven was talking CRAP.
It would have been REAL easy for Oprah to have said to Raven after the little smug one insisted, "I am NOT an African-American," "Chiiiiiiild, I KNOW what you mean. I haven't been African-American for years!" NO, Oprah didn't say that, because she knows that we haven't arrived.
That time when she went to an exclusive Swiss store to make a purchase, and they wouldn't sell anything to her because they didn't recognize Oprah, clearly reminded her of the truth. And that's why, though they have the right, I feel awfully, AWFULLY sorry for 'colorless' negroes like Raven who rub their feet on our struggle. Because one day, regardless of how rich and famous she is, someone is going to teach her just how "colorless" she AIN'T, and it's going to hurt and hit her HARD. And then Raven is going to want to march, rally and do whatever it takes to strike back. And we're just going to look at her and say, 'Whatever...!'
You see, I've been down this road before as a reporter for a black newspaper...black well-to-do families who moved to predominately white North Raleigh from someplace else years ago...sending their kids to the old North Hills Mall where they got into trouble being accused of stealing or something...all of a sudden, these "American" families who just happened to be black, realized that no one would stand up for them, so they come across town to The Carolinian, the AFRICAN-AMERICAN NEWSPAPER IN THE 'HOOD...crying, pleading and begging for a newspaper they normally wouldn't touch to line their pet cat 'Poo-Poo's' litter box with to plead their case...and all of a sudden, because young "Franklin II" or "Veronica" is in trouble because someone at North Hills DARED to treat them as what they looked like, these folks are "down with the struggle." I've been through this, I know the hypocrisy too well. I know that as much as we would like to think so, as long as we are black, we cannot divorce ourselves from the reality of this nation.
Riddle me this - if anyone should feel more "colorless" and absolutely NOT African-American, it's the president of the United States. Barack Obama has tried every trick in the book to step away from being identified as a "black" president because he knew doing so would divide the nation. But guess what? As hard as he has tried, there are those who have refused to accept that, and have built a 24/7 industry of "othering" the man, actually accusing him being born elsewhere, of being a secret "Muslim terrorist," of now plotting to allow a deadly disease to ravage America in payback for slavery (Rush Limbaugh). THIS IS WHAT I DON'T GET ABOUT YOU folks insisting that I just be "an American." You actually SEE what they are doing to the leader of our nation. YOU SEE how they rhetorically LYNCH this man, AND his wife and family. YOU SEE AND HEAR this, and it doesn't click with you YET that if this nation isn't ready to accept Pres. Obama for WHAT HE IS - A BLACK MAN - then what the hell makes you think it is ready to fall in love with the rest of us no matter what we call ourselves?!!!
YES, this is OUR country, but NOT just because we were born here. THIS IS OUR COUNTRY because those before us FOUGHT AND DIED in the effort, in the STRUGGLE, to make America what it ought to be! WHO IN THE FRIGGIN' HELL BELIEVES THE JOB IS FINISHED BESIDES RAVEN SYMONE?!!! What they're doing to the president, and to the rest of us via the rollback of voting and civil rights, is PROOF POSITIVE that we of African descent are NOT FULL-FLEDGED citizens yet, and that we MUST keep fighting for that. WE HAVE NOT ARRIVED! STOP FOOLING YOURSELVES! ARE YOU "RAVEN" MAD?
To be clear, I'm not advocating being a black "racist." Dr. King fought for civil and human rights. That man ALWAYS HAS BEEN, AND ALWAYS WILL BE my hero. He dreamed of the sons and daughters of slaves and former slave owners living in peace and unity. I'm for that without question, and live by those principles in my life. But it is the damn fool who doesn't realize that King was killed BECAUSE he insisted on FULL-CITIZENSHIP, meaning not just political and social, but ECONOMIC rights.
The moment King talked about a poor people's campaign, he was GONE! And guess what? Just like "colorless" negroes today, lily-livered "leaders' urged King NOT to challenge the powers that be on the Vietnam War, or on economic justice...AND HE REFUSED. King said the movement was about freedom, JUSTICE and equality, and to call to America where it was doing wrong (the "Drum Major's instinct").
Dr. King said he would bow to NO man or power to tell it like it IS!
Well THAT'S where I'm coming from. People of color who KNOW that the struggle continues are ALWAYS in movement mode, which means they self-identify accordingly. That doesn't mean everybody does everything, but all of us do something, even if it's just to support each other through prayer, or answer the call, when it comes to voting, or instance.
African-Americans proudly work with white Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and indeed the whole gamut of American descendants who love their country dearly, but also are proud to represent their great heritage and living proof that America's most powerful strength is its ability to bring people together from different and diverse backgrounds for the singular purpose of building a better and more just country together, and a better and more understanding world.
Believe it or not, there are those who see the above goal as a threat, because they were brought up to believe that GOD made them the overseers, and that all power MUST go through them.
As recent events have proven, America is far, far away from embracing the most important words of our Constitution - "that ALL men (and women) are created equal." Thus, since no one is going to stand up for us BUT US, Americans of African descent must struggle on.
And the way that we tip our hats to one another is through identifying the context of our citizenship, by deliberately linking ourselves to past struggles for freedom, to the very beginning of our being, because history has shown us that the unquenchable thirst and hunger for freedom began with our ancestors who were brought here, AGAINST THEIR WILL, from a far away land. I don't give a damn about who lives in Africa now, or whether they accept me of not - that is not warranted - but I am truly humbled, and grateful, to those brave African warriors of hundreds of years ago who made it across the ocean in the bowels of the filthy slave ships, took the lashes and the torture, who labored bloody HARD in the fields of a strange land, saw their children born, and then SOLD off like cattle, and as they grew older, always knew that one day, the children of their children's children would rise up, and CHANGE THE WORLD!
For ANY of us today, to willfully dismiss that history, to willfully be ignorant of the fact that NONE of us would be here unless our ancestors who were brought to this 'New World" in chains, found a way to persevere, and start families that continued the struggle, and put up with the indignities of not being even LEGALLY recognized as FULL CITIZENS...for ANY of us to be smug...KNOW FULL WELL that the struggle is NOT OVER...but decide that for them individually it is, is a FOUL INSULT to that legacy of struggle for ALL, and a DAMNABLE DISGRACE that cannot stand without notice!
And that's why "understanding" Raven - Symone is NOT within my power. For years, Raven has been a symbol of success in my home to my young daughter...Cheetah Girls, "That's So Raven"...the whole bit. You can be certain now that any and all DVD's, CD's or anything else "Raven" in my household WILL BE DISCARDED, because i have no reason to further support someone who has prominently announced that she no longer supports her people!
In closing, there are those of you who don't understand what the big deal is. Some of you are young and white, and haven't been fully taught the history of your country. I get it.
Some of you are older and white, and you've ONLY wanted to embrace the history of this nation that solidifies and justifies your selective vision of America. As far as you're concerned, there should only be "one" America...the way YOU always believed it should be, and to hell with this "diversity crap!"
I get that too, and feel sorry for you. YOU are certainly the problem.
But then I get to young black people, like Raven, who admittedly know nothing about their history, and like their older white counterparts, don't feel that they NEED to know. All they really care about is what's happening NOW, not realizing that the young black people of today have LESS rights than they did just four years ago, thanks to a corrosive politics they REFUSE to pay attention to. They don't vote, they don't follow the news, they don't attend church, they divorce themselves from the issues of their community and the world...and yet, they expect to survive and do well ignorant of all that's important to their survival.
THEN, all of a sudden, when they find themselves being shot down in the streets by right-wing nuts and trigger happy cops, these same young people find themselves slap dab in the middle of stuff they had no idea existed.
If they had the requisite consciousness to realize that true freedom in this nation, if not the world, is something you MUST fight for, and that being a citizen does NOT mean that all of your rights are automatically just given to you, then maybe they would have realized that the struggle continues for ALL of us. That ALL of us are STILL fighting for the right to be treated and looked upon the same as other citizens. That, YES, unfortunately, there are people in this nation who hate the sight of you because of your birthright, and will do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING they can to limit your ability to prosper and grow, because they see your success as taking something away from them.
No, this isn't a healthy way to see life or exist in this country, but neither is seeing day after day tragic events happening, or bigots hiding behind public policy to deny me my rights, or evil "privateers" go in front of large audiences and LIE, LIE, LIE about our president because he dared to be elected TWICE with the purpose and mandate to change the disgraceful way our government is managed.
I can't put my head in the sand, and while voting is important, it is NOT enough! This must be an EVERYDAY commitment to bring about much needed change. And the ONLY way that can happen, is for me top go back to the source of strength and purpose that allowed me to exist AT ALL.
My heritage, coupled with my unyielding belief in GOD.
Those are my shields against the trickery of those who mean EVERY harm to me and mine. And UNITY, not only with those of my community, but with ALL who believe and work for TRUE JUSTICE, TRUE FREEDOM and TRUE EQUALITY in this nation, is my weapon!
So I'm PROUD to be an AFRICAN-AMERICAN, and that AIN'T CHANGIN' no time soon...because America will not be changing anytime soon.
But America CAN change sooner, if those of us, in the spirit of Dr. King, strive on to win the paramount struggle to make America the true nation that we mean it to be!