by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
Which would you choose to be?
It’s rare that I use my column to highlight someone else’s writing, the exception being a commentary that is culturally provocative, or that reinforces my Africentered philosophy.
The following column meets both of those criteria, and in fact is eerily similar to a column I wrote less than a year ago. Of course I didn’t use the ‘N’ word (no, not that ‘n’ word, the other one—Negro). The past column also focused primarily on local statistics, as the one that follows reflects the current situation in a small community in Georgia. But our basic premise is the same, as is our effort to force Black America to look into the mirror of cultural reality.
Another reason for reprinting Charles E. Richardson’s article is that history has shown that only through repetition can the seeds of critical thinking be cultivated. They say if you repeat a new word ten or twenty times, it becomes part of your new vocabulary. The same goes for truth, not matter how painful.
Oh yeah, as someone who always has to get in a word or two, I have taken the liberty of supplementing Richardson’s column with a few comments of my own, highlighted in italic.
“There was a time until the early 1960s when the terms to describe those of African decent, like me — African-American, Black or Afro-American — were almost unheard of.
I remember a distinct conversation with a friend discussing descriptive terms for ourselves in 1963 or ’64. The term “Black” was just coming into vogue and he didn’t like it one bit. “Call me a Negro,” he said, “but don’t call me Black.”
Now, the word “Negro” (White publications used a lower case “n”) has almost become a pejorative, so I was a little surprised when my pastor, the Rev. Willie Reid, used it during Thursday’s revival. “Back when we were Negroes,” he said, and listed several things that were different about Black life in America back then.
That got me to thinking. Back when we were Negroes in the 1950s,“only nine percent of Black families with children were headed by a single parent,” according to “The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies” by Kay Hymowitz.
“Black children had a 52% chance of living with both their biological parents until age 17. In 1959, “only two percent of Black children were reared in households in which the mother never married.” But now that we’re African-Americans, according to Hymowitz, those odds of living with both parents had “dwindled to a mere six percent” by
the mid-1980s. And check this, in Bibb County (Georgia), more than 70% of the births in the African-American community are to single mothers!
(Here in Milwaukee, over 70% of Black households are headed by a sister and there are three zip codes where nearly 90% of births are to single women! Not by coincidence, Milwaukee hosts one the highest Black teen pregnancy, poverty and infant mortality rates in the United States.)
Back when we were Negroes and still fighting in many parts of the country for the right to vote, we couldn’t wait for the polls to open. We knew our friends, family and acquaintances had died getting us the ballot. Dogs and fire hoses were used to keep us away and still we came. But now that we’re African-Americans, in a city (Macon, GA.) of 47,000 registered — predominately Black voters — more than 30,000 didn’t show up at the polls.
(Wisconsin faces an unprecedented new law that will require appropriate identification at the polls before you can vote. A small segment of our community does not have what will be considered valid ID. A free ID card can be secured at any DMV office, for those willing to undertake that extra step.
There is little doubt the Republicans came up with this idea, which they said was intended to correct voter fraud, to inconvenience, or disway minorities, the poor, and elderly from the polls. Many will be inconvenienced by it, but I don’t think it will have the negative affect some are suggesting. Give some one a reason to vote, and if they have a sense of community and citizenship, they will jump through hoops to participate in the system; just as our ancestors did.
I also reject the paternalistic theory of many missionaries that Black people are lazy, apathetic or politically illiterate. Sure, the law may be an unncesssary hurdle, but its no higher than the walls of apartheid we climbed over to secure the right to vote.)
Back when we were Negroes, we had names like Joshua, Aaron, Paul, Esther, Melba, Cynthia and Ida. Now that we are African-Americans, our names are bastardized versions of alcohol from Chivas to Tequila to C(S)hardonney. And chances are the names have an unusual spelling.
(Made up names, for an ungrounded, made up people. Some social scientists believe we are searching for a new cultural identity, but instead of relating to our African roots, we seek to introduce a new cultural paradigm that is both mystifying and nonsensical. What is more frightening is that every other ethnic group names their children based on their culture. Christians use the bible, Jews use the Torah. Some cultures, like Africans, name their children through a process of community input based on attributes or what they want him or her to become. My African name is Kwaku–meaning child born on Wednesday–Osei, which means maker of the great, bearer of the news.
Most of the names our youth are giving their children are either meaningless, commemorate an event, a popular beverage, or even a sexual act. It may sound cool, but I can guarantee many of them will be limited in their careers choices. White corporations will pick a Sam, Alicia, Bill or Ashley before an individual whose name they can’t pronounce.)
Back when we were Negroes, according to the Trust For America’s Health’s “F as in Fat,” report, “only four states had diabetes rates above 6 percent. The hypertension rates in 37 states about 20 years ago were more than 20 percent.”
Now that we’re African-Americans, that report shows, “every state has a hypertension rate of more than 20%, with nine more than 30 percent. Forty-three states have diabetes rates of more than 7 percent, and 32 have rates above eight percent. Adult obesity rates for African Americans topped 40% in 15 states, 35% in 35 states and 30% in 42 states and Washington, D.C.
(Some suggest the hypertension rate in Milwaukee among African Americans hovers near 50%. And more alarming, most don’t know they have the disease. Not by coincidence nearly 70,000 people in Milwaukee don’t have any form of insurance. The only time they go to a hospital is when it’s an emergency, which means they usually won’t receive follow up care.)
Back when we were Negroes, the one-room church was the community center that everyone used. Now that we’re African-Americans, our churches have lavish — compared to back-in-the-day churches — community centers that usually sit empty because the last thing the new church wants to do is invite the community in.
(Amen. I would also include many of the churches operate on business principles, with a bottom line that is more important than spiritual guidance. As such many of our churches push issues that would impact the bottom line under the rug. They don’t preach on morality, much less liberation theology.)
Back when we were Negroes, we didn’t have to be convinced that education was the key that opened the lock of success, but now that we’re African-Americans, more than 50% of our children fail to graduate high school. In Bibb County (Georgia) last year, the system had a dropout rate of 53.4%.
(Don’t get me started on that topic. Suffice it to say while we are fighting the nonsensical war over Black educational empowerment, we have lost two generations of children. Moreover, depending on which data suits you, even if half of our children graduate from high school, half of them have to take remedial education courses. A small percentage is prepared for college, or the new workforce requirements. There are 42,000 jobs listed on the Job Center network. Few of our children qualify.
Malcolm X talked about a passport. We’re stuck on fighting for a WIC card.)
Back when we were Negroes, the last thing a young woman wanted to look like was a harlot and a young man a thug. But now that we’re African-Americans, many of our young girls dress like hoochie mamas and our young boys imitate penitentiary customs and wear their pants below the butt line.
If I could reverse all of the above by trading the term “African-American” for “Negro,” what do you think I’d do?
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