Something to aspire to


I’ve been thinking about this post from Steven Barnes’ blog. Particularly, this section

“this would easily relate to my sense that the negative programs run by America, and black America, pertaining to young black men are absolutely poisonous. That black immigrants who come from a culture in which there are role models and mythologies that support excellence, as opposed to young black men, who, faced with countless dehumanizing and emasculating images in the majority culture turn to the only powerful images they can find. In America, this happens to be Hip-Hop culture right now”

It reminded me of a previous post where I touched on the importance of role models to children. This seems like as good a time as any to talk some more about that.
Heroes give us something to aim for. An idea of what our limitations are, or should be. Children who grow up believing that there are no limitations in what they can accomplish therefore start out with a significant advantage over children who expact to achieve little. For now, even if you don’t believe this accept it as my hypothesis.
Now, the image of black people in the American media is, with very few exceptions, limited to athletic, entertainment, criminal and/or sexual prowess. (sidenote: As for Africans, we’re usually starving, exterminating each other or living in the jungle. However, we retain the same ‘animal’ sexuality) Don’t believe me? Talk to someone from a foreign country whose only exposure to America has been through the media and ask them what they think about black people, or just observe them around black people.
Since these images are all children see, they expect little more of themselves. A good way to counteract this mental poisoning and expand their horizons is to show them as many images as possible of extraordinary people who look like them as possible. This was originally the idea that led Carter G. Woodson to create negro history week, the precursor to black history month. It’s also a large part of the reason why African and Carribean immigrants tend to do comparatively well despite all the racism and idiocy we have to contend with. We have a larger pool of role models to draw on when creating our expectations.

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One Comment on “Something to aspire to”

  1. Aletha says:

    I stumbled upon your blog. I’m white, but I have to correct you about something: i.e, that blacks as entertainers is a stereotype. I have heard others say this and it troubles me. “Whites” don’t make a distinction of this sort. Or, let’s say everything depends upon what one means by “an entertainer.” Elvis Presley was a white entertainer. He was appealing, has been oddly, durably famous, but his appeal is still transitory. Ditto with the Beatles! Bach, on the other hand, is not “an entertainer.” But Bach isn’t exactly “white” either. It makes sense to say he’s German. But white?

    Meanwhile, I admit (whether because of my race or whatever) I have no understanding or interest in hip-hop. But Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane — I just mention three names from a jazz pantheon: these are not “entertainers.” Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, for instance, while it is a set of separate pieces hangs together as a whole album in a magical symphonic way. I don’t think of this as being “black” music — just its being great music. But I could see how black people might claim it as their particular heritage just as Bach is particularly celebrated in Germany. And why not?

    Music is probably the most abstract object of human contrivance and if, as it happens, black musicians have created these objects of such great caliber… What can you say? Jazz has transcended its black roots by its being such a magnificient form. Norway is a big jazz place today and Japan has embraced jazz for a long time! One of Sarah Vaughn’s most exquisite live performances was recorded in Japan. If black people want to hold up an achievement to children, I can’t think of a better one with which to start.

    Jazz is the musical form I most particularly wanted to share with my kid, though I love all kinds of music. Thelonius Monk was once asked what kinds of music he liked and he replied that he “liked all kinds of music.” If was as if, being black, he was supposed to like only his own thing.

    I have my own bias perhaps (though I love lots of kinds of music) butit’s a good bias: I think Bach is a kind of God of music. But in this century, the music that is made today, that is alive, complex, and most amazing is jazz. And it’s an African American form in its roots and just a transcendent human form in all its branches. Nobody can own it. If you have ears, it’s yours.

    I’m not listing musicians but I can’t leave this topic without mentioning violinist Regina Carter. She is amazing. Purchase everything she has recorded. I have. And sax player James Carter, as well. Chasin the Gypsy which opens with the wonderful, funny, life-affirming piece “Nuages.” Javon Jackson. Rachelle Ferrell. These people are not entertainers. They are great musicians. best wishes and merry christmas!


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