Monday, December 28, 2015

Reclaiming a Heritage, Step by Step

I continue with researching my "family tree".  As an African American the real family tree challenge is to find facts from the slavery days back to our descendants in Africa.  My journey is only beginning so I do not fully know what challenges or barriers exist to track my descendents to Africa.  One barrier I have come across is that early on the government of the United States of America did not document slaves by names in the official census taken in this country.  A document called "Slave Schedules" were authorized by the government as part of the census.  What the slave schedule did was identify the slave owner by name, but not the names of the slaves owned.  Only the age and sex of the slaves were documented in these slave schedules.  For an African American today to track where their descendants were during the slavery days therefore becomes very challenging. As my research continues I will see what other documents exist that track free Africans being brought from Africa into slavery conditions in what is now the United States of America.

Documenting my family tree to my father's grandkids has identified one ironic fact.  Many of today's African American generation are giving their children unique names.  African Americans are moving far away from the tradition that was forced upon slaves coming to America.  During the slavery days, slaves were assigned names by slave owners.  These names were often European names that better suited Caucasians than people from Africa.  A slave had no input into what he/she would be called. They were told what their name would be.  Since the 1970s and the era of black pride, more and more African Americans have been moving away from naming their kids traditional Caucasian names.  That movement is clearly shown in the names of my dad's grandkids.

So I have to applaud the younger generation for helping to move African Americans away from being totally "Caucasianized" and moving us back to some element of our original African culture.  Continue to give your children unique names reflective of your culture and beliefs.

I hope this movement continues in other areas of our lives.  I look forward to African Americans rejecting the vices thrust upon African Americans.  Some are the same vices that were thrust upon Native Americans.  Some of those vices are the American culture's widespread acceptance of excess usage of alcohol and drugs.  Vices which proportionately damage the lives of African American families.  Alcoholism dealt a death blow to many Native American families.

For some reason all I can see when African American families gather to socialize and break out the alcohol, is the thought of some non black business owner reaping the profits of the alcohol industry in their million dollar home.  A home where you will not find a black person for miles.  I see the image of legalized marijuana being sold in Colorado and that industry being controlled by Caucasians.  Then I see a young black teenager in another state being taken to jail and punished for the possession of marijuana.

In the days when Native Americans were being moved off their property by "settlers" the Native Americans would often be given "gifts" of smallpox infected blankets.  That smallpox would then wipe out total Native American communities.  Alcohol and drugs are the new smallpox for African American families.  Why buy smallpox and bring it home to your family?

I look forward to the day when the image of having a bankroll of money and flashing cash is not seen by some African Americans as being successful.  Do the math!  Money invested gains interest.  Interest being additional money.  Money carried around to impress others gains you no interest.  It only promotes spending and a quick loss of your finances.  When I see photographs of African American flashing a big bank roll, I say to myself, "slavery still exists".

I know this viewpoint may offend some, but such is life.  As I've told many, I don't take my freedom for granted.  I make comments that I know slaves in the past couldn't say.  People didn't give their lives in the Civil Rights struggle for me to forget what they went through.  And don't get me started on African Americans continuing to be in slavery by the use of the "n" word.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Day Reflections From the Past

I was thinking about my Christmas memories from the early 1960s in Saint Louis, Missouri. I recall my parents did not have the income to purchase many gifts. But I didn't know what others were getting in terms of presents, especially people who were affluent and had money to spare. So, not knowing made Christmas time tolerable in those days. I only recall one or two Christmas days from my youth. Getting a tricycle around age 6. Then bringing home some used gifts we got from school when I was maybe in the 3rd grade. I do recall from the Saint Louis days helping to make a Christmas wreath using popped pop corn and sewing the popcorn together!  I recall the old "silver tinsel" and putting it on a tree. Getting swamped by too many toys was not something I had to worry about when I was a kid!

When my adult Christmas days came, I know I overcompensated with my two sons and gave them too much on Christmas Day. But in a way it was making up for the Christmas Days I never had (in terms of material things). So my sons' Christmas joy was also my Christmas joy. As parents you want your children to have better than you had.

In the early 1960s Christmas time images in the media (television, movies, radio) largely depicted the Caucasian culture foreign to us as black people. Black people were rarely featured on television, or in movies. Television during the Christmas holiday primarily showed images of Caucasian people and their lifestyles. A TV commercial featuring black people was a rare event in my days as a youth. I actually remember yelling out loud whenever a commercial showed a black person. It was like we did not exist in this country. Yes, the images thrust at us was of a culture that did not reflect how we as black people lived in reality.

In my youth, during the holidays you might see one or two black entertainers on TV singing traditional white Christmas songs. At home I know my parents played Christmas songs by black entertainers that you never heard on "white" television shows. Of course it was a big thing back then to find a black Santa Claus to take your kids to see.

As the 1960's progressed, we as black people got more into our own culture and ways to celebrate Christmas. A black Santa became common. Kwanza became an African American alternative to celebrating Christmas. Our music became more prevalent and black entertainers started making "albums" where our soulful versions of Christmas music was featured. Thankfully progress was made. Sometimes I think the progress we made has slowed some over the past years. We still control our destiny. It is up to us to keep progressing forward and to not allow future generations to think they have to fully adopt the values and customs of a culture that once enslaved them. It's more than okay to be a black person.

On this Christmas Day it's okay to think about your Christmas Days of the past. Yeah, compare those to the Christmas Day you are having this year. Then promise and commit to keeping some element of your black/African American heritage as part of your Christmas celebration.