If Black people were to wring their hands in disgust, protest and offense as a result of every racially inappropriate remark or gesture they were subjected to, the country would be embroiled in riots and disorderly conduct of unimaginable proportions. While no doubt inappropriate, Senator Reid’s comments in the book Game Change regarding President Obama did not cause Black people, other than Michael Steele, to cry foul and “go off.” Besides, in his case, he was simply “carrying his party’s water.” But I digress.
The truth of the matter is that racism in America is still alive and well in 2010. What is different today is that most Black people – at least the ones that I know – are not content to sit on their hands and play the role of victim. The realization that the old adage about teaching old dogs tricks rings very true to most. This is to suggest that there is a greater understanding today than ever before among Blacks about change. If change is to occur, it is going to have to come from us and not those who are steeped in ignorance and self-hatred.
The point is not to suggest that these attacks – that is, after all, what they are, attacks – should be ignored or simply swept under the rug. It is not that simple or easy. Once one has been subjected to the injustice of racial discrimination, no matter how subtle or overt, it conjures up a memory. Like the residual smell after a house fire, it lingers and occupies an indelible place in the brain that can be recalled with very little strain or provocation. So, the change that I referred to is akin to developing a thicker skin and a greater sense of one’s own identity. In doing so, we foster a greater understanding of ourselves, but more importantly, we have the power to enlighten the ignorant. Enlightenment comes in many different forms, but I have found it to be most effective when demonstrated through actions and deeds, not words. My own belief is that as a Black man, I have an obligation to exceed other’s expectations of me. My mother is famous for doling out clichés. My favorite of these is “No one can walk on your back if you are standing up straight.”
I was in Detroit last week and had a conversation with Errol Service, a McDonald’s franchise owner. We discussed among other things, how one lives an authentic life and what is really important. In the course of the conversation Errol said, “In 2010, I am living my life as if I only get one take.”
It turns out that he had spent time watching a motion picture being filmed on location. He was surprised at the number of takes it took to film just one scene in order to “get it right.” He said that it prompted him to think of his life as if he were making a film in which he only got one take. He explained that not only did it cause him to take stock in everything that he does, but it has also affected the way he interacts with people on an everyday basis. He has also started spreading this philosophy to his peers and employees in an effort for them to up their game and be their very best.
This philosophy makes sense and speaks directly to the change I am talking about. We have to own our identities and take full responsibility for what we do and the way we live our lives.
A close friend shared a copy of This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women.
The book is a collection of personal essays based on the National Public Radio series of the same name. This I Believe is filled with beliefs about what is truly important to this collection of people from all walks of life. While I have yet to finish the whole book, I was struck by one of the essays, “Leaving Identity to Other Folks,” by Phyllis Allen. The brief essay is poignant and personal, containing moments that we all can relate to, but, in my opinion, the last line of the essay is the perfect summation of this conversation – “What you have to do is be the best that you can be.”
“Standing in the rain waiting to go up the steps to the balcony of the Grand Theater, I gripped Mama’s hand and watched the little blond kids enter the lobby downstairs. It was the fifties, I was “colored,” and this is what I believed: My place was the balcony of the downtown theater, the back of the bus, and the back steps of the White Dove Emporium. When I asked Mama why this was so, she smiled and said, “Baby, people do what they do. What you got to do is be the best that you can be.”