I dedicate this one to...
For the last two Februarys I've written pieces on African American History Month, on the Blues Family Tree Project and our archive and concerts, on African American culture and history. Yeah, every February we black folks become very popular -- to each other and everybody else. The mainstream press and all of the schools and businesses finally stop and pay attention to us. For twenty-eight days we exist and have culture and history that is worthy of attention.
And before I start to sound like I have some kind of problem with this, let me stop that notion. February is a wonderful time to take stock of African Americans' contributions to this country, this society, this culture.
The black folks of this country -- all shades of us -- deserve a time when celebrating the richness of our culture is something we share with all our neighbors. Dr. Woodson started this celebration as Negro History Week, a time for Black folks to celebrate ourselves. It then expanded to a month (sometime in my youth). And now February seems to have found widespread acceptance throughout (even) Middle America as a time to celebrate this important cultural community. (It must somehow be good for the bottom line!)
Twenty-eight days is probably enough time to have parties, special celebrations, to do programs, have concerts and contests, to make special acknowledgment of our struggle. It is a start. Twenty-eight days, however, is not enough time to expose students and our kids to the importance of the African American presence in this society. February is not enough time for the mainstream media to pay attention to the positive news in the Black community.
Twenty-eight days is enough time to notice, but is not really very much time to learn, to understand, to appreciative the far-reaching significance of African American culture as an integral component of American society. Twenty-eight days is not enough time for any of us to address issues of race/racism and class/classism in America.
It's really not about affirmative action and special treatment for Black folks. It's about knowing the truth, hearing the whole, non-white-washed story. It's about looking at America's history and track record of telling the truth. It's about starting with the assumption that we have incomplete information on how things have evolved in this society. It's about assuming that most grade school -- even college -- history teachers (in most schools) just don't have a grasp of or competence in the subject. Remember, they are products of the same educational system in which they now teach. Nobody required that they know this history. By and large, most don't. So how will they teach our kids?
OK, enough with the general, broad statements. You should see my bias by now. If you read this little mag each month, you have noticed that we don't wait until February to deal with African American culture. We do it in each and every issue. And we are still deficient in our coverage of what is going on, what is important, what is newsworthy in Austin's African American art and culture scene. And I say this not as a way of implying that African Americans deserve special treatment from us either. African American arts and cultural issues are important to the culture of all of Austin. Of course part of the problem here in Austin is the black arts community is small, provincial, and dispersed. But that alone is one of the important issues.
From both historical and contemporary points of view, this leaves most of us without a true picture of life in Austin, and the whole of America. This matters to some of us, others not. In real terms it means that most of us need to be in the remedial class when it comes to contemporary African America, its history and culture. Even those of us who profess to know about the culture of America mostly know about the culture of Euro-white-America. Just watch network TV, watch the Arts and Entertainment Channel on cable, go to Live Oak Theater or the Symphony, listen to Austin radio, read the Statesman and Chronicle, go downtown, go to the University of Texas, the jazz bars, a City Council meeting.
In Austin you can't get caught up, you can't get the big picture by agreeing to pay attention once each February. There are not enough of us here to keep it in your face all of the time. You gotta accept some responsibility for the rest of the year too. The media and the schools, and churches, and corporations are not going to help you very much. There's much to learn, but it's good stuff. Take your time, read some books, have some conversations, take a drive, take a whole year or two or the rest of your life to understand America's brand of multi-culturalism. But learn the difference between a token celebration and a true dedication to increasing your depth knowledge of the cultural life of America. I can't teach much in this column (I'm a student myself), but I can dedicate this piece to some folks who figure very importantly in my knowledge and appreciation of my culture and history. Here's my off - the - top - of - my - head short list. I hope you recognize some names and want to learn about some more.
So, I dedicate this one to A.C. and Modis. And too, THIS ONE IS FOR NAT TURNER. This one is for Carter G. Woodson. This one is for DuBois. This one is for Madame C.J. This one is for Monroe Trotter. This one is for James Weldon and James P. This one is for Eubie. This one is for Howard, Tuskegee, and Hampton, and Spellman and Morehouse, and Huston-Tillotson, and Wylie, and Jarvis, and Texas College, and Tugaloo, and Jackson State, and Xaviar, and Grambling, and Southern, and Paul Quinn, and Bishop, and Lincoln, and Bethune-Cookman, and Pine Bluff, and Maharry, and Fisk. This one is for Asa Randolph. This one is for Daniel Hale Williams. This one is for Paul Robeson. This one is for Satchmo and Marylou Williams and King Oliver. This one is for Bert Adams. This one is for Gene Ramey. This one is for Yardbird and Diz, and Miles, and Trane, and Billy Eckstein, Art Blakey and Max Roach and Willie the Lion, and Monk, and Miles, and Browney, and Bub Powell. This one is for Zora Neale. This one is for Matthew Henson. This one is for Marcus Garvey. This one is for Adam Clayton Powell. This one is for Langston. This one is for Jean Toomer. This one is for Paul Laurence Dunbar and G.W. Carver and Booker T. This one is for Claude McKay. This one is for Alain Locke. This one is for William Johnson. This one if for James VanderZee. This one is for the Washingtonians. This one is for Alvin Ailey. This one is for Florance Mills and Bricktop. This one is for the Clef Club. This one is for James Balwin and Ralph Ellison. This one is for Gwen Brooks and Alice Walker and Toni Morrison and Terri McMillan. This one is for Baraka (Leroy Jones, too) and Nikki Giovanni. This one is for Houston Baker and Henry Louis Gates. This one is for Dewey Redman. This one is for Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. This one is for Grey Ghost. This one is for Erroll Garner and Mr. Jelly Roll. This one is for Ella and Chick. This one is for Minton's and the Apollo and the Cotton Club and the wishing tree and Congo Square. This one is for Charlie Christian. This one is for Teddy Wilson. This one is for Kenny Dorham. This one is for the Journal of Negro History and Life, and Fire, and Ebony and Jet, and the Chicago Defender and the Amsterdam News. This one is for Kwanzaa. The one is for Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Henderson and Ma Rainey. This one is for Rossetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson and Josh White and Edwin Hawkins and Odetta. This one is for Marian Anderson and Jessye Norman and William Grant Still. This one is for Barbara Jordon. This one is for Shirley Chisolm. This one is for Duke/Peacock, Stax and Atlantic and King, Motown and Barry Gordy and Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and the Supremes. This one is for Ray Charles and Percy Mayfield. This one is for KNOK and WLAC. This one is for Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon and Snuff Johnson. This one is for James Polk and James Clay and Ornett Coleman and Ornette Cobb and Freddy King. This one is for Henry O. Tanner, and Jacob Lawrence and Charles White and John Biggers. This one is for Brown vs Topeka and Plessy vs Ferguson. This one is for Thurgood Marshall. This one is for Buddy Bolden. This one is for Charlie Patton. This one is for Leadbelly. This one is for Mance and Lightnin' Hopkins and Lightnin' Slim and Slim Harpo. This one is for Jimi Hendrix. This one is for Ike and Tina. This one is for James Brown. This one is for Johnny Holmes. This one is for Erbie and T.D. and Ural. This one is for Ernie Mae Miller. This one is for Mr. Joyce and Martin Banks. This one is for the Victory Grill and Charlie's Playhouse and Ernie's Chicken Shack and the Deluxe Hotel. This one is for Doris Miller and Dr. Givens. This one is for Heman Sweat. Dis one is for Bob Marley. This one is for Harold Washington. This one is for Julian Bond. This one is for Gordon Parks. This one is for Jackie Robinson. This one is for Jack Johnson. This one is for Martin and Malcolm and Medgar. This one is for Rosa Parks. This one is for Ralph and Jessie. This one is for Stokely and H. Rap. This one is for the Panthers. This one is for SNCC and SCLC and SDS. This one is for Angela. This one is for Ali. This one is for Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne, W.C. Handy and Ethel Waters.
This one is for ancestor worship. This one is for African - Nigger - Colored - Negroid - Negro - Black - Afro - African - American - History - Heritage - Month. This one is for the next generation and tolerance and knowledge and unity. This one is for me and my connection to all of the aforementioned names and titles. This, Bud, might not be for you. But, to all, I offer my best wishes for a spirited and culturally educational and insightful February.