Paul R. Lehman, Dr. King’s persception and the separation suggested in Black CultureJanuary 20, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Posted in African American, American Dream, Bigotry in America, democracy, desegregation, discrimination, Equal Opportunity, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, I have a dream, Martin Luther King Jr., Prejudice, President Obama, segregation, skin color, whites | 1 Comment
Tags: African American and American, African Americans, black, Black Culture, Civil Rights, current-events, Dr. Martin Luther King, ethnicity, European Americans, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Parade Magazine, President Obama, white
Today as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and Martin Luther King, Jr’s Day, we need to pause and try to put into perspective what Dr. King saw as a priority for America and the African Americans. We can find King’s objective in his words, especially when he deliberately avoids separating African Americans from the rest of America. For example, in his 1963 “I have A Dream” speech when he includes all people as “God’s children, “who must learn how to live together. Too often some people think that because King was an African American that his focus was strictly on and for African Americans. That thought would be false. The most challenging problem King fought against was the separation of the African American people from the rest of society. Unfortunately, the problem of uniting all Americans as one people is still with us, and continues to defy common sense.
One of the ways African Americans are being kept separate from the rest of American society is through the language used by society that seems harmless. For example, the phrase “Black Culture” is frequently used by people of note in the media. But, what does that phrase mean? People use it as though it is a clearly defined aspect of American life restricted to black people. Most people when asked to define “Black Culture” will try to come up with something that reflects the experiences of African Americans in American society. Before too long they discover that the phrase is too vague to define precisely because the term black is too broad a term to restrict to African Americans. If the people who use the term want to focus on African American experiences, then they should not use “Black” as part of an identity because trying to pin-point its specific reference becomes very challenging.
The first thing the phrase “Black Culture” does is separate the black from other colors, thereby creating a situation to make use of contrasts. We all know that culture does not exit in a vacuum, so identifying culture by a color is simply inviting a challenge. For example, if someone were to suggest that music created and recorded by African American artist is black music, then what happens with artist from other ethnic groups record the same music? Does the music change color or as some suggest, race? According to Stevie Wonder, “Music is a world within itself, With a language we all understand, With an equal opportunity, For all to sing, dance and clap their hands.” Society never looked at Elvis Prestly as African American when he recorded the song “Hound Dog” that had been previously recorded by an African American woman, “Big Maybelle.”Nor did society view Pat Boone as an African American when he recorded Little Richard’s song “Trutti Frutti.”The point here is what does one consider culture and can it be created without other cultural influences?
Since Dr. King was concerned with justice and fairness for all, the last thing he would want is a society that would separate the accomplishments of Americans into isolated groups where discrimination could take place. Those accomplishments can and should be part of the society’s story and not restricted to or relegated to a place of less importance. While the phrase “Black Culture” might seem to be specific to African American experiences, those experiences occurred in America and usually were influenced by some aspect of American society. Unfortunately, society does not acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of non-European Americans as readily as it does European Americans. So, the efforts and contributions of African Americans as well as other groups of color might go unnoticed for some time. For example, how many people could answer the question of who is the most famous astrophysicist in America today? The chances are that not too many would name an African American, Neil deGrasse Tyson, as that person.
To the people who know Tyson, he “is a science rock star whose passion for the laws of nature is matched by his engaging explanations of topics ranging from the mystery of dark matter to the absurdity of zombies” (Parade 1/12/14). The fact that Tyson is an African American is important to American society, not just to African Americans in society. So, we are told that in March, Tyson “will become an even bigger cultural phenomenon as he hosts Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey, a 13-part, prime-time series airing on both Fox and the National Geographic Channel.”What does this information have to do with “Black Culture”? Society has a way of pointing out differences in people and things when those differences constitute only a fraction of what the similarities represent. The information that Tyson will present to his audiences transcends the concepts of race by color. What Tyson plans to do on his show is to “help you ‘understand your relationship to other humans, to the rest of the tree of life on Earth, to the rest of the planets in the universe, and to the rest of the universe itself.” He adds, “I want it to get inside your skin. I want you to be so affected that the world looks completely different.”
To some people, Tyson is just as challenging to accept as President Barack Obama because of the negative stereotypes that have been historically associated with African Americans. King would more than likely be pleased with some of the progress that has been achieved, but sorely disappointed with lack of progress society has made in address the needs of so many other Americans. He would not be in favor or separating the history and accomplishment of African Americans from the American story. As a matter of fact, King underscored the problem of separation in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize speech when he said that “This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a big house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Moslem and Hindu, a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interests who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn, somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other.”
In order for us to understand Kings legacy, we must first understand his sense of mankind’s problem and how we must address it.