Black Is Beautiful

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Black is Beautiful

It is 1972. I am 7 years old. My mother who normally wears her hair in a large easy to care for afro has just gotten back from the beauty parlour where she has had her hair whipped up into an impressive multi-tiered array of cornrows (a la Cicely Tyson.) It sits atop her head like a crown and will be the glory of the ensemble that she will wear to emcee a gala fashion show being held in the nave of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. She is dressed to the nines. Her black and gold embroidered gown echoes tudor fashion and quite simply, the entire ensemble makes her look like a queen. It is moments like those that taught me what it meant to say BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.

imageWhy do I return to that moment now? Because, every day, there is a new video, a new story, a new revelation about how black people are being beaten and victimized by police and society in general. There is another mass shooting by a male white supremacist who can’t stomach anything female or browner than him having any sense of public pride. My Facebook feed is full of cries for help and justice. There are arguments about why “all lives matter” and the importance of animal rights and Iran and nuclear proliferation…and in the midst of it all, I fear sometimes we have lost the point.

My brothers and sisters, we have forgotten the simple fact that:

BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.

I recall that those three words caused just as much storm back in the day as #BlackLivesMatter does today. White people were not only offended, but downright scared, because just a few years earlier, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers made it clear that they meant business. They were literally prepared to die for Black Power and the idea of BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL was deeply linked to that passion.

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1968 Olympics (AP Photo)

But of course there were those who would soft pedal this message. Way back when he was relevant, Bill Cosby, chimed in with a quote that the “all lives…” folks would like:

“It isn’t a matter of black is beautiful as much as it is white is not all that’s beautiful.”

…yeah, Bill, that seems about right coming from you now.

People, I want to take this moment to unabashedly and most selfishly say that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. I say it not to take away the beauty of any other people…with a family that looks like the United Nations, that includes black, white, Asian, Latino and all variations in between, I couldn’t do that. I say it because, I need to be able to look in the mirror today as a 50 year old living through a media hell that feels like a constant throwback to 1964 Alabama and say BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. Just as I did as a 7 year old in a world where I was frequently surrounded by and asked to live up to whiteness. If you are black, you need this old 1970’s language more than ever to simply get through reading the papers. Say it aloud: BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. If you are not black, you might want to take a moment to chime in and support those of us who are seeing nothing but images of ourselves dying and being tortured and an ongoing parade of oppression…try it: BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. Consider this, because my education has been here in the United States, where we only learn about the dominant culture history (white and male), I’ve had to promote and support and glorify and praise whiteness my entire life.  My college degree is based entirely on how much I know about white history, people and ways of being.  I celebrate national holidays praising white men and barter with paper covered with their image.  I cross bridges, pass monuments and all but the odd MLK or Cesar Chavez boulevard, is named for white people. I’ve been taught more than enough about “white is beautiful.” Having a moment where we all declare that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL is not too much to ask.

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Black Panther Party 1965-1970 (Ilka Hartmann 1970)

No, we should not turn away from the difficult work at hand, police and prison reform, elimination of public firearms, more comprehensive education, etc. And we need to find ways to get past the black white narrative of oppression in the United States.  But in this moment, for me, I have to pace myself through this epic march. I need a cool refreshing, replenishing drink of self love…

#BlackLivesMatter…yes, but let us not forget for one moment that before that, BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.

A Rhodes by Any Other Name…

From my other blog All Out Adam….thoughts on the continuing journey of an LGBT man of color.

All Out Adam

“I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence…If there be a God, I think that what he would like me to do is paint as much of the map of Africa British Red as possible…”

– Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902)

I will undoubtedly incur some wrath, disappointment and confusion for this post. It may seem uncharacteristically negative in some ways; please remember that I am too on a journey.

Colin Walmsley (who lists himself as “Rhodes Scholar, researcher, writer, explorer”) recently published a blog post on Huffington Post: “The Queers Left Behind: How LGBT Assimilation Is Hurting Our Community’s Most Vulnerable” in which…

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Not Over…

imageWhen Bree Newsome scaled to the top of the flagpole outside of the State Capitol of South Carolina (with the help of James Tyson) she did what many black and white Southerners alike had dreamed about for a long time. She simply and with respect, took down the Confederate battle flag. This particular flag was put in place as a direct protest to the Civil Rights Movement back in the 1960’s and there has been a great deal of debate about it ever since. A particularly interesting debate occurred some 3000 miles away last week in my current city of San Diego when Dwayne Crenshaw of RISE San Diego was interviewed by Allen Denton of KUSI about the Confederate flag. I encourage you to watch this entire piece (KUSI Confederate Flag.) Besides the nervous vocal ticks of Allen Denton when he is with Mr. Crenshaw and the interviewer’s not so subtle bias toward the more academic approach of Trevore Humphrey of the San Diego History Center, the most telling moment is when Crenshaw skillfully reminds Denton that yes the Civil War was about economics…the economics of slavery; and yes, the Civil War was about states rights…the right to own slaves. He drives home the central point of everyone who ever objected to the public display of this flag from 1960 to Bree Newsome, to this weekend when the flag finally officially came down: there is no escaping the connection of the “Stars and Bars” with slavery in the United States.

But this leaves us with a very large and challenging vacuum. Suddenly, a symbol that has been adopted by millions of people in the South as a signifier of Southern culture, history, pride, etc., regardless of its direct symbolism of the racial polarization of our nation, has been legally and democratically removed signaling what will probably be a trend of its removal by other governments and agencies. Already retailers have removed it and are refusing to sell it. This is the Paula Deen fiasco on a much larger historical and cultural scale.  The days of the even tenuous political correctness of the Confederate Flag are over.  What is a Southerner to do in its absence?

I don’t have an answer to that. I was recently involved in a brief Facebook exchange with some black colleagues who spoke of something that we almost all share. We have researched our family history using a number of online tools that are available today and everything is fine until we try to go back before 1865. There are no records of our families or our people or our history prior to 1865. Actually, that’s not true, there are records “Negro/Male/24; Negro/Female/7; Negro/Male/ 50…” They are as anonymous as parts of machinery, for that is all they amounted to for the people keeping records of human life in the United States south prior to 1865. My and my friends histories, were ignored and deleted while our ancestors were slaves. I believe that this is part of the reason we have the kinds of struggles of belonging that we have today among many blacks. We can’t point to our people who facilitated the lives and wealth of our “founding fathers.” We can’t name the nursemaid that cared for the slaveholding elite that drove industry in early 19th century America. We have systematically been written out of the history of the United States prior to 1865.

So, I don’t have an answer to how or what form or why Southern pride will be reborn once the Confederate Flag is uniformly relegated to history books and museums. I do, however, know that Southern pride is very real and a valuable part of what makes the United States what it is. My earnest and sincere hope is that the people of the South are able to find the part of Southern heritage that they can celebrate that doesn’t celebrate the denial of my heritage as a black person.

Huffington Post: South Carolina Confederate Flag Comes Down