America’s Mind: When We Were Just Black
There was a time in America when being black was the predominant feature of individual and social awareness. This was a time when a burden was borne through visible and perceived suffering as inflicted by a potentially great society. There was a time in this nation when many of our citizens were reminded daily that they were different and less privileged. Exclusively focused on crippling myths, they lost sight of the horizon. Now in the blinding light and warmth of the new American social sunrise, we can no longer wallow in the memory of the days when, as Americans of color, we believed or were told that we were just black.
There have been previous transitions. Perhaps the most revealing and culturally significant was Jackie Robinson’s emergence as a star figure in professional baseball. The American black population was energized and flocked to the ballpark to see their lone hero among the other athletes. They abandoned their comparable black baseball respites as other black players emerged and the unraveling of support for exclusively black business and culture seemingly began to fray and unravel. This may well have been something other than a breakdown but rather a breakup of institutionalized separatism that was fractious and forced. With this national phenomena of sports integration, a tangible step toward racial emersion was undertaken. I was taught that this was a disastrous blow to the psyche of the thriving and culturally rich black urban existence. Today I must consider my teaching a well-intended falsehood. As blacks tentatively spread their social wings, we were positively impacting the whole and the soul of America. Bit by bit, as we became exposed to and comfortable with the unfamiliar, the unfamiliar also became aware and comfortable. Who could have known that people of all colors standing in line for tickets or sitting among each other to see the national pastime would be such healing medicine.
There would be decades of demands and struggles. Famous and obscure names, faces and places that were highlighted as significant contributors and events which marked the road to social equality that continues to blossom in this nation. But it is difficult to identify many clear turning points as substantial as that which was represented by Jackie Robinson. His talent and good fortune impacted the whole of a nation and caused many to realize that the chains of social bondage were at times breakable. Then others began to question the total reality of the social inequity ideology altogether. This historic sports event opened the door for black Americans to consider and to act on thoughts of enjoying a wider-ranging social lifestyle. Suddenly the idea of dining at the restaurant of your choice, staying at the hotel of your choice or attending the school of your choice became possibilities and realities that has evaded so many for a lifetime. The structure of the black communities –particularly in urban areas- suffered to some extent. Those with means unintentionally deprived black business of their dollars and financial support as they spread their social wings. But over time and with continued focus and dreams, many spoke out and acted upon their dreams. Many prepared themselves and many succeeded in making a way for themselves and clearing a path for following generations.
America is like the tooth fairy. Suddenly you wake up and find an amazing gift under your social pillow. There is no need to attempt to understand it our imagine how such things happen. It is simply supposed to be this way in this nation. As I look back over my life I have seen remarkable things accomplished by men and women in this country that have been striking, occurring across a broad spectrum. From writers to musicians, entertainers to sports figures, even to politicians and activists to doctors, teachers and scientists. The best and the brightest from all walks of life have always emerged as stars and role models in this nation. Yes, there remain those –as social groups- who believe that such opportunities and possibilities are beyond their reach on the grand scale due to systematic disadvantages.
As with the emergence of Jackie Robinson, this may be the next significant time in the social development of our nation that arguments of race may become woefully diluted. Because now, one does not have to look very far to see a sterling example of what it means to be black in America that totally dwarfs the impacts of Jackie Robinson, as wonderful as he was. With the election of our new President the nation as a whole is basking in the radiance of a new age and progressive social conscience that we can all celebrate together. Never before in the nation’s history have so many blends of Americans collaborated on such a massive scale.
As a result, the people of this nation: all people, are coming to view each other differently. We are seeing love, friendship, relationships and the best and the brightest for whom and what they are without prejudice and we are getting comfortable with it. Those who have been reluctant to acknowledge the possibilities or to look out upon America’s social horizon will in many cases be compelled to do so or they will be left behind. After all, it is clear that so much of America is looking forward and welcoming their choice for new possibilities.
Then come the opponents. I will not speak their names. We know who they are. They made handsome livings and fortunes in their efforts to keep the fires of division burning. Yes, they represented both sides of the racial divide and no doubt they will be left with some following. But what will they be left with?
In truth, the field has “gotten pretty dog gone level.” The game is on and anyone who wants to step up to the plate can hit one out of the park. America has lived up to her promise and the remaining challenges we face are no longer defined exclusively by racial boundaries. Yes there are many Americans who are struggling and yes, they are literally a colorful lot. From among them will emerge many success stories of various ethnic roots.
There are many Americans who remain in ideological hiding, afraid to acknowledge where this nation is headed and what the wonderful social ramifications are. From the shadows they are observing a gauntlet of Americans who are committed to each other and the welfare of the nation they all love.
The good new is there is no denying that something amazing has been demonstrated by the wonderful people of this nation and observed by the many eyes upon us around the world.
Two things are abundantly clear. First, anything is possible in America: for the hardworking, the gifted and for a resilient people. And secondly and as importantly, it is time for many in this nation to pause and remember. And for reasons and experiences known only to each of us, it is time to look permanently and far beyond, the days when we were just black.
Cause from where I sit, a lot of people either are failing to notice or they just don’t care.
L. A. Walker, © Leon A. Walker