by Richard Chandler Burroughs
On The Road To Riches and Diamond Rings:
From coons picking cotton, to same-race college, to begrudgingly considered a citizen, to Congress, there’s one certainty: the African-American journey has often seemed godforsaken. The road is filled with potholes. It’s unpaved, dirty, concaved at the crosswalk and riddled with the depraved, urban zombies who buckled from the burden. Sometimes the reality that this country, this lovely land of ours, was never intended for African Americans, hurts with an unspeakable pain.
Maybe that’s not actually the pain. In fact, the real pain stems from what was intended for the duration of America: slavery, servitude and a life without real worth. It’s so insulting to even think, that the good folks who founded this country, were not forward thinking enough to even consider what would happen, when the yolk and shackle were shaken off, when the dirt turned to diamonds and the free labor dried up like fruit in a Steinbeck novel.
Unfortunately, America never intended for African Americans; it only intended for black slaves, and though that can easily be labeled a harsh reality, it’s just that: harsh and a reality. Yet reality has varied perspectives, because just as the serpentine road to the modern black man’s existence, in America, felt long, winding and fraught with shame, I’m sure it must have felt so immediate and all a bit too gauche to the powers that be. I’m sure it’s still discussed in hushed tones and with modern twists of panic and outrage, when the reality that America’s new diamond is America’s former so-called-dirt.
In some quarters of the country, and on a daily basis, that mindset is often referred to as “why them folks don’t like Obama”.
Naturally, it’s a bit of normality to imagine the wish and expectation of slave owners, was to never consider a landscape where freedom would ever ring out loud enough– that he who was once called a boy, had to be hailed as sir. Never consider the time when a doctor could fix it, a lawyer, a pilot, a man of science could mix it. It wasn’t expected, especially since the black man’s elevation would have to come to fruition under impossible odds. The “New York Knicks winning it all” type of odds. So on yet another MLK birthday celebration, here we are. How did we get here?
I came of age in the 80s and that’s not just pride in my text. That’s heroin, heatwaves, hustling and hard times. That’s vegetable ketchup and trickle down Reaganomics. When the drug scourge was bigger than Bieber and basic respect got shot up like dope. The war against people, and not countries, was the routine. War against drugs. War against hunger. War against rap music.
In fact, rap music was song 2, 4, 5 and 9 on the sound track for the journey from dirt to diamond. It was precious and protected because it was the synthesis of how black people coped with the immediate specter of not having hope. It was a cultural screenplay, wrote, produced, starring and consumed by folks, who existed behind an aspirational barricade; and that’s what made it so motherfucking pretty. Pretty like Thelma. Pretty Like Pam. Pretty like that. Yeah, it was cultural tourists at the gestation, because nothing is created in a total vacuum, but when the tourists become the table-setter, the shark is no longer in the water.
We’re celebrating MLK this Monday and if I was a historian, I would gander the notion that Mr. King would not even want this country celebrating him, while we do as we’re doing. While we can’t get along on the basics. Life, liberty, the law. If the country wasn’t braced for slaves to become president, then whose fault is that? If history ever spoke, it would whisper the story of change. It would enchant with tales of evolution, revolution and the new reality that portends balance, speaks in awe about when dirt turned to diamonds.
The story doesn’t have to be nominated. The script don’t need a Golden Globe. We all need respect, we all should expect, respect. Black isn’t an analogy of suspect. It’s not even a proper indicator of people, either singular or as a group. Black is the absence of white, which was why black music was always a separate category, as it was nominally a category, that was absent of white. Decades past Civil Rights and minutes before another NYPD work-slowdown, I’m not sure where we stand as a country, which is not cool.
When the American conversation about reparations, is met with befuddled looks and blanks stares, mainly from the beneficiaries of chattel slavery… people are bound to be thoroughly unhappy. Especially when a high school economy class can clearly explain how this country doesn’t exist, as is, without that work-til-death, free slave labor; trust, people are bound to be thoroughly unhappy. Combine that with the guardians of the status quo, the city and state workers who police the land, losing all credibility with those who have the least to lose, then the visual of a powder keg comes to mind.
In the Winter of 2015, pre-reparations, sans any fucks to give and pro-humanity, the needle is moving. In fact, the needle is on a vintage, vinyl copy of something that sounds like discourse set to a downtempo disco beat. Martin Luther King was the voice of people fed up. He made those voices be heard. He was a megaphone for the disenfranchised, the former slaves and those who wanted a piece of the pie. But she who wanted a piece of the pie, begat she who don’t want that pie, but instead wants her own ingredients, and her own recipe, to create her own happiness, respect, education, healthcare and self-determination. To make her own euphemistic dish for the promise of America.
We can start with education for black boys and girls, since most roads lead out from there. Can we translate our education system to something that serves and turns out smart students instead of sad statistics? Big question, lots of answers, but if I only learned one thing, it’s that I’ve always been better off from learning.
That is not too much to ask.