Despite the horrors of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., bloody riots all over the country, and a bloody immoral war in Vietnam, 1968 was a pivotal year, a turning point for Black progress in every arena in this country.
Uhuru! We Black people knew freedom was near.
At last, Black men and women were getting an opportunity to compete culturally and excel on equal terms. Jazz, poetry, art, civil rights, dance, films, Black excellence was coming into view, represented by a generation also confronting and becoming a part of an anti-war consciousness.
The doors of opportunity were opening.
But alas, Uhuru.
Now, influenced by the material success of the Black cultural genius that was unleashed in 1968 and beyond, from music to sports, we replaced the militant “Uhuru” message of the 1970s with the “My Brand” message of today.
The beauty standard shifted from Angela Davis to Cardi B.
Who can be surprised therefore, when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) gives an exclusive interview to Cardi, rather than to MSNBC’s Joy Reid, or to NPR’s (now CNN’s) Audie Cornish? Or to any other conventional Black journalist?
The Afro hairstyle-wearing Sisters of the ’70s have been replaced in our visions by “side chicks” in elaborately coifed wigs and hair sew-ins, falls and weaves, costing hundreds of dollars per appointment, not including hundreds more for fingernails, a pedicure, and an eyebrow shaping, as if the most important thing in life today is looking like a model on a runway in a TikTok video, at all times.
Imagine, if occasionally the hundreds spent on cosmetics was saved by us for the down payment on a house, or on music lessons, rather than on weaves for the children.
What are we doing with our lives? What are we aiming to be, as individuals, as Black people? Don’t we want our children to live better, more upright lives instead of just being ‘cuter’ than the generation before?
I think too many of us are living in a fantasy world where we are always trying to enhance our “brand” rather than trying to discover our purpose in life, and trying to live up to that ambition.
When I got a start in national journalism at Newsweek magazine in 1968, I just wanted a chance to ply my skills in the “big league.” (At the time Newsweek was one of U.S. media’s major “Seven Sisters” of news: ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time.) Circumstances bent me toward radical causes and ideologies, however, and I’ve never regretted the shift. There were a lot of journalists of like mind who were beginning to break through into the mainstream, and together began to make a change in the landscape.
We have traveled a great distance on this Freedom’s Highway since 1968 when Dr. King was murdered. Sadly, I would say, we have been headed in the wrong direction.
We have fought, and gained entry into Da Massa’s House, and are yet to discover that the house is uncontrollably on fire! Our adversaries do not take Black people seriously. We demanded reparations (reparative justice) from them for our wounds suffered in slavery, we were given Juneteenth.
Stop that. We already had Juneteenth. We didn’t need white folks’ permission for that.
The mantra among the now ascendant millennials is, ‘someone who looks like me,’ in whatever complimentary role there is to discuss. In the news media, what we end up achieving is not a vibrant Black Media, but rather a new White Media, only in black faces. Black cast members added to the “Sex and the City” reboot, and we celebrate that as progress. A Black Little Orphan Annie, live on network TV.
I don’t care if I never see another gripping, realistic, well-acted, brilliant, inner-city crime or cop drama, or a romantic reboot of “West Side Story” with a cast that “looks like me.” No.
I want to see the original story of the romance between Kwame Touré (Stokely Carmichael) and Miriam Makeba (Mama Africa). I want to see the heroism of Marcus Mosiah Garvey and his companions on the screen, organizing a Black shipping line before being betrayed by Negro stool pigeons.
I want to see the prison drama of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his followers, fasting, sometimes eating only potatoes to avoid pork in the prison diet, and praying and becoming a massive force of reform within the prison system, in the Black inmate population, and changing the carceral system from within.
So, I don’t care how successful our artists have become relating the cultural messages they are permitted by White people to tell us, thank you. I’ll take the struggling, sometimes starving Black artistic symbols over the trampy, pop culture icons we worship today.