Legacy: Black and White in America
By Sam Johnson
Black and White in America unfolded as a two-part story telling both the life of modern day African-Americans and the Civil Rights generation. The film covered topics such as racial integration, the influence of politics, the impact of leadership through the black church and the constant struggle in the black experience. The main focus of the film is the need of the progression in Black America through the plight of the black male, the division that we use against ourselves and what it will take to make things better to and for the future. The rise of Barak Obama has definitely been one for the ages in the black community. Since his elected presidency, we have steadily improved our level of faith and belief in our children, by convincing them more so now than ever that they don’t have to live an American dream but rather they can become one.
As Legacy progresses, we don’t just see the current state of the black union, but it delivers a message of hope spawning from the non-violent yet potent speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to the revolutionary rise and ascension of the controversial Malcolm X. Whether the influence in today’s culture is the wave in the hip hop generation, the constant differences between the baby boomers and generation X (also known as the microwave generation) Legacy was able to pinpoint a variety of highlights in black American history. Unfortunately, the film did not offer anything new under the sun in reference to the lifestyles and experiences of African-Americans.
January 29, 2007 a special dinner tribute to the civil rights generation to commemorate the first anniversary of the deaths of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King on Capitol Hill by the Smithsonians’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. This event took place at a very special time because this was also the eve of which Barak Obama announced his candidacy to run for president. A groups of leaders in walks of life, who are all pillars in the black community, came together to discuss the times and tragedies of their generation versus today’s generation. Several Civil Rights activist and prominent leaders offered their expertise on surviving the times.
Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the SCLC told a powerful story of how he used to steal biscuits from his mother’s cabinet when she was away. One day a white man came to their home asking his mother for something to eat referring to her as Auntie. She replied “Am I your auntie? Whose sister am I your mother’s or your fathers?” Before he could respond she asked him was he hungry and he replied yes. She went into the kitchen and took Joseph’s biscuit and gave it to the man. As he watched the man walked away with his food he asked his mother why she gave his biscuit to the white man. Lowery said his mother’s words were simple “Because he was hungry”. He gained an even greater amount of respect for his mother’s integrity. “That had a great impact on my life. I appreciated my mother’s posture towards racism. She returned love for hate not eye for an eye. And she taught me it was more important to be human than to be black or white and that we should have compassion and respect for all human beings; because she gave him the bread not because he was black or white but because he was hungry”.
Deborah Roberts, ABC corresponding news reporter shared her story of how she was able to be successful in spite of all the negativity sent her way. Although her parents didn’t complete high school, they paved the way for her future by emphasizing the importance of education and instilling great traits in her and her siblings. Throughout her upbringing she says “I was persecuted sometimes by other black kids who thought I was acting too white or speaking too white and it was sort of sad because I was surrounded by some blacks who accepted this notion that you can only reach to a certain level if you were black. There were some black who really accepted this low bar of who we are and who we should be and that if you wanted reach beyond that well then you think you’re somebody you’re not or you think you’re white”.
It’s here where seeing the division of our people amongst themselves is such a tragedy. It is an unfortunate situation that often occurs in lives of students both past and present. When a black student tries to excel in their academics and surround him/herself with elite individuals by being proactive in positive groups/organizations he or she is instantly ridiculed for trying to be something they’re not according to what some view black roles are in society. The expectation in the minds of some is for black men to be either dead or in jail or if they do survive to only be restricted to the limitations of being either a drug dealer, a rapper or a basketball player. The reputation doesn’t get any better for black women who are often identified with being strippers, erotic dancers and or video vixens. Roberts poured out her heart as she explained the cost of getting where she is today and encouraged listeners to believe in yourself, set goals and achieve no matter what others around you are saying.
That being said we now know where the negative aspect in the African-American Diaspora comes from which is mostly ourselves. However, for every penny of thoughts there are two sides to every coin and justice would not be served if we didn’t define where the leadership in black community plants its soil. “Black leadership came from two logical areas. The black church, which was the only major social institution that Negroes both funded and controlled and then secondarily from black educational institutions usually historically black colleges and universities. Both of these institutions created a kind of elite that had a deep faith in American democratic principles” according to Manning Marable, professor of Columbia University.
Finally, no leadership conference of today’s times would be complete without hearing from of one the most influential voices in the world, the hip hop community. Madam Madon, a 24 year old single mother with a 2 year old son who is a local rapper of the metropolitan DC area. She compared Brown Junior High School in Virginia to her days in DC at a predominantly white school and felt a sense of urgency to escape the degrading insults of disappointing scholarly mannerisms on the parts of both the institutions and the students in the black community. “When I came back to Northeast Washington DC, that was the hood. The school was four levels behind. The books were dusty. I actually secretly wanted to come back to the white school because I felt like I was demoted. I wasn’t challenged. I was made fun of because I already knew everything and I was bored. The culture of failure in the black community where I grew up came from the fact that we saw so little overachieving. We saw more people getting locked up. Jail became the culture”.
Collectively, this documentary did a fine job of giving an overview of everything in our community has evolved. We got a gist how leadership went from Civil Right Activist to Hip Hop artist and the direction things are going now as opposed to the past. It strongly supported the backdrop of how leadership has came and went in black America through the church and educational institutions. But most of all it told a story that has been told one too many times. Through the positive messages to progress in this piece if one has already seen Tavis Smiley Black in America, The State of the Black Union or any other documentaries similar to this, then there’s not much more one can anticipate. Though the lessons in the film can be of great assistance, actions definitely speak louder than words. It is somewhat like a script versus seeing the actual finished product. One can read or see a script hundreds of times, but until it’s brought to life in the form of a play, movie, of television show, it’s nothing but black and white. Until this documentary becomes a Legacy in our own lives it will only live up to the words of a script and what still separates us today, Black and White.