Identity Politics
Jun 2, 2013

The shifting definitions and perceptions of Blackness: past, present and future

Thank you to everyone who sent me your well wishes and blessings during my recent vacation to New Orleans. The heat and humidity were welcome. The music was top-notch. The food was stellar. Architecture, alcohol, artistry, all of the things I love about that city were readily accessible and abundant. I had a great time, and was reminded about how I intend to retire to New Orleans. Yet, I was also confronted with the enduring legacy of identity politics and how far America is from healing these centuries-old wounds.

I promised myself before I hopped on the plane that on this visit, I would make it a point to take a plantation tour. Regardless of how much I adore New Orleans, I am clear that the blood of those in bondage runs deep in her soil. I can't hear those glorious brass bands play without thinking about the way jazz started: Sunday gatherings in Congo Square where slaves were allowed to play their drums, sing and dance in a few moments of freedom. How they took those discarded horns from military regiments and created a new form of expression that is now prized all over the world. Enjoying those art forms without having a true appreciation of the conditions that created them minimizes them somehow. So, on Memorial Day, I left my friends lounging in their hotel rooms and hopped a tour bus for two Creole plantations about an hour outside of the city. To, for the first time, confront the slave past that all of my Southern-born ancestors fled in their youth and to which they never returned.

It is, perhaps, far too easy for people my age and younger to avoid any contemplation of what slavery must have been like. The heat, the work, the treatment, the living conditions...most of us have no desire to have an empathic awareness of the atrocities our ancestors endured so that we could live in the here and now. I'll save the deeper insights for future blogs, but I did gain an entirely new respect for how brilliant slaves had to be--regardless of their classification as house slave, skiller worker, or field slave--to survive, to endure, to continue post-Reconstruction and still keep fighting so that we could be here today.

Yet, we squander so much of that hard-fought freedom on frivolousness. Just this week, Black and Whites alike caused an uproar over a Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial couple and their daughter. No stereotypes, no slang, no near nudity or anything else one might consider offensive. It is 2013 and there are still far too many people who are grievously pained by the idea of "race-mixing," which shows what poor students of history we truly are. We are so concerned with the look of things, and pay so little attention to what we say, what we know. Most of us are unaware of the genius that was stolen or knowingly brought from Africa. We hide our eyes, ashamed of our perceptions of slaves, and fear our extinction at the slightest hint of diluting the race...when we stand here today, one of the world's most interethnic people, centuries after slaughter could not bring us to extinction and survival has persisted, despite all efforts to see us eliminated. It would behoove us to appreciate the greatness in our veins. It is vitally important that we remember exactly who we are, and cease being so easily distracted by nonsense.

Here is a combined playlist of what I've played on my show, before and just after my vacation:

  • Go-Go Gadget Gospel - Gnarls Barkley
  • Everybody Wants To Rule The World - Anthony David & Shawn Stockman
  • Things Are Changin' - Gary Clark Jr.
  • Swing Low - Bobby McFerrin & Esperanza Spalding
  • Hush, Hush, Hush - Herbie Hancock ft Annie Lennox
  • The Big Easy - Raphael Saadiq ft The Infamous Young Spodie & Rebirth Brass Band
  • As Above So Below - Anthony David
  • Tracks Up My Sleeve - David Ryan Harris
  • It Seems To Hang On - Ashford & Simpson
  • Complicated Life - Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • Be Thankful For What You've Got - William DeVaughn
  • My Yard - Jamie Cullum
  • Making Time - ZO! ft Choklate & Phonte
  • You're Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else - The Jones Girls
  • AP Touro - Rebirth Brass Band
  • Got Til it's Gone - Jeff Bradshaw ft Marsha Ambrosius & TWyse
  • Buckjump - Trombone Shorty ft Rebirth Brass Band & 5th Ward Weebie
  • Dejá Vu - Beyonce ft Jay-Z
  • Africa - NEXT Collective
  • St James Infirmary - Allen Toussaint
  • Can't Look Down - Anthony David
  • Hot Like Fire - Aaliyah
  • Forgive Them Father - Lauryn Hill
  • Home - Bilal
  • Too Darn Hot - Ella Fitzgerald
  • (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave - Martha Reeves & the Vandellas
  • Too Hot - Kool & The Gang
  • Master Blaster (Jammin') - Stevie Wonder
  • Turn Your Lights Down Low - Lauryn Hill & Bob Marley
  • Hot Pearl C - N'Dambi