Early on this month when I was in one of my moments of melancholy weakness over on thing or another I started texting my friend and fellow St. Louisian Negro Intellectual about how a recent depressing moment at work. My boss, a human rights/peace activist was bemoaning how the immaturity of the Bush Administration and its rush to politicize the war effort tragically damaged how many view the role of the military versus our civil justice system ... among several other things. He was wondering how long would it take for people to be rational about national security and not react on a purely fear-based emotional level. And I pointed out that I'd told our other boss about the lengthy struggle of African Americans and how went it comes to moving things to a more progressive view things tend to take time -- and in our case -- hundreds of years.
Upon hearing this he, half jokingly, exclaimed: "Great! I'm wasting my youth on stupidity!"
We then settled into a talk about how our generation was supposed to be different. How things were supposed to continue to become more progressive and enlightened. That people were supposed to lighten up and old, agonizing problems, like sexism, racism and other "isms" were supposed to melt away as the new generation grew to be more tolerant, open-minded and understanding. Of course, I was raised by a pair of deep South Negroes, so I could never afford to be THAT hopeful. I expected things to get better, but for there to be setbacks. Learning black history will teach you that. Progress always comes with a price.
But when my boss jokingly exclaimed he was wasting his youth on stupidity it saddened me because it made me think of all the men and women, all the black people of promise who never dared to even have a dream because of racism, segregation and slavery. And the following exchanged happened over a text between myself and my friend, Negro Intellectual.
Snob: Just depressed my boss talking about fighting ignorance. Pointed to the Civil Rights Movement as an example of how long it takes to correct massive wrongs. He said, "Great. I'm wasting my youth fighting stupidity." That then made me thing of all the blacks who never got to follow their dreams or even have dreams because they were either beat down or fighting stupidity. Life is not fair. My grandfather didn't live to see the first black president and my grandmother's youth and beauty was wasted on being treated like a beast of burden.
Long story short: We can't afford to waste our lives. We have to live the dream so many didn't dare to have.
NI: Sister, if anyone feels you it's me. You are right. We are the recipients and benefactors of toil and snare and it's a shame so many of our generation are wasting the gift we've been given.
He later quoted Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and told me to "Keep the faith, baby!"
He's that kind of guy.
But if anything makes me upset with some young African Americans is that they still are behaving as if they are not free. Worry what other people think -- white and black. Still working under rules created out of the need for survival decades, centuries ago. People holding, hiding their true feelings out of fear. Members of my family weren't "free" after the end of slavery, during Jim Crow, yet they had the courage to attempt to live lives as free people in flagrance of the laws created to hold them back. They joined the military, they traveled the world, the loved and loved hard, they thumbed their noses at the establishments. Even my grandparents on my mother's side, the ones who came up from the fields and picked cotton to make it, they refused to be broken. So they spent their youth fighting "stupidity," the stupidity of racism, of people's low expectations. They dared to dream and went for it despite all odds. But this is 2010. While racism is a still a problem, we can go where we want, be with who we want, we have the right to dream and pursue those dreams.
When I think of the slave in the field, the one destined to live and die a slave, I wondered if he or she ever had the audacity to dream? To dream of freedom. To dream of being in control of their own destiny. Did they dream of having a little house and a family and being only beholden to themselves? Did they dream of learning a trade and making a nice living for themselves and just having some peace in the world? Did they dream of finding long-lost family members, long-lost loves? Did they still dream in spite of a world that called them "uppity" if they did dare to do so?
My parents raised me with the belief that I could not afford to waste my opportunities. Too many people died never living to their full potential, died fighting ignorance, died in the fields for want of a dream for me to go "meh, it's too hard, think I'll just give up and never leave St. Louis. Never live my life. Never love hard and foolishly. Never learn. Never grow. Never be free." Because while I am living "my" dream. This isn't just my dream. This is the dream of my grandparents, who made it out of the cotton fields of Arkansas to own their own home and celebrated each time myself and my sisters finished college. Who celebrated every one of their grandchildren who finished school, convinced education would be the way of achieving our dreams, of getting the family to that next level. This was the dream of my father's mother who died loving me before she ever knew I would exist in the world. Who instilled the belief in her sons that just because they were born black and poor in Texas didn't mean they could make it if they really tried. That they could overcome and they did, growing up to have careers and loving families of their own. This was the dream of my great-great-great aunts who left everything they had in the world to my father because they wanted his daughters to go to college. This is the dream of my great-great-great-grandfather who helped sneak is family out of Mississippi in a covered wagon in the middle of the night with burlap sacks tied to the wheels so they wouldn't make much noise as they ran the whole family towards Arkansas border out of slavery and into freedom.
I have obstacles, but they are NOTHING compared to who came before me. The ones who risked life and limb to prove to the world that "I am a man/Am I not a woman." Who dared the world to deny them and even if the world did they forged on with a fortitude that even they didn't understand. They just knew good enough wasn't good enough.
I don't know about you, but I'm free. Free to change my mind. Free to go most anywhere, anytime. Things are hard, but they sure as hell ain't what they used to be. Don't waste this gift you've been given. This gift that so many people pined for. Live where you want. Do what you want. Go where you want. Love who you want. There are no chains holding you. Don't let fear or negativity or ignorance keep you from doing what's best for you. Don't worry what other black people think. Don't worry what white people think. Don't worry about what anyone thinks. Just go for it.