Black History Month, Part I - Beyond Diversity
January 31, 2012
As we begin the celebration of February, Black History Month 2012, we first want to focus on some very recent black history and then take a candid look at the past.
Just last month noted film producer, screenwriter and director George Lucas released â€œRed Tails,â€ an epic tale of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. The founder and CEO of Lucasfilms, probably best known as the creator of â€œStar Warsâ€ and â€œIndiana Jones,â€ Lucas said he held onto the idea of doing the movie for 20 years.
He recently revealed that even with all of his connections and film success he couldn't get any studio to finance the film. Why, you say? Some insiders believe it was primarily because it had an all-black cast.
Lucas finally decided to put up the money himself and spent a total of $58 million on the production budget and another $35 million in distribution costs. The film featured Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard in the title roles. According to the Hollywood Reporter, â€œRed Tailsâ€ came in second in its first week of release behind â€œUnderworld.â€
â€œRed Tailsâ€ is an American story about how the Tuskegee Airman and their little-recognized contribution helped to defeat Hitler and the Germans in World War II. The film is fast-paced, action-filled and has a feel good story.
â€œRed Tailsâ€ captures events in 1944 when the 332nd Fighter Group, comprised solely of African-American fighter pilots, finally got their chance at crucial action in the skies over Italy and Germany. As the European war continued to take its toll, the Pentagon brass had no recourse but to consider unorthodox options. So they brought out the untried, untested African-American pilots of the experimental Tuskegee training program. And the rest is â€“ well, history.
Obviously, with this being an election year, predictable history is about to be made again. There is no question that the election of Barack Obama back in 2008, when he garnered 96% of the Black vote, was historic. Two-hundred years ago we were in the cotton fields, in the slave masterâ€™s house, cooking his food, cleaning his house, nannying his children. We lived our entire wretched lives, breaking our backs, slaving toward someone elseâ€™s dream. That was only four generations ago. Now weâ€™re in the White House.
In spite of this, there are still huge problems. Black unemployment continues to rise, mass incarceration decimates African-American males and our children are still dropping out of school at an alarming rate or just not being properly educated because of inner city school budget cutbacks. We can get angry. And we should. But being angry is not new for us and will not solve our problems.
Unfortunately, itâ€™s easier for Washington elitist liberals to use political double-speak and dance around the problem than it is for them to point to concrete evidence that working and middle-class Black people (the bulk of whom still experience rampant and unregulated discrimination in the workplace) have a reason to be excited about the next election.
One of the obstacles that continues to plague black America is poverty. Given the economic and social structure of how poverty reproduces itself, even though there are programs in place, these programs are unfolding cataclysms for minorities. We have seen many of those programs exposed and eliminated, and yet there are still those who would use the fact that they once existed as a reason to deny benefits to those who have earned them and depend upon them.
But for most of us in 2012, a society in which race doesn't hold us back is still a distant goal. All things are still not equal by a long shot. In many areas -- access to loans, health care and even the amount of face time black candidates get in the media -- the racial fault lines determine that blacks are treated less favorably than non-blacks, regardless of income or social class. We are still struggling for some of the same basic rights as other Americans. Policies seem to follow the rhetoric.
Generational and Economic Differences
Our concern and one of our goals in 2012 should be to ensure that the generation which replaces ours will be stronger, wiser and better informed -- able to make its own contributions. The new generation needs to prepare by setting up institutions that will continue to benefit them and their children as they prepare to grow old and live longer than any other generation.
In today's tough economic times, we can no longer spend what we want and not worry about tomorrow. The ultimate baby boomer philosophy of "we want to have it all" is gone. It has been replaced by realistic changed thinking. While we would still like to have it all, we know right now that may not be possible. We have been forced to change, yet we're not a generation that has had to deal with the reality of sacrifice, nor one that fully understands and appreciates the benefits of hard work.
Some of us are still part of the generation that refuses to step aside and sees itself as part of the group that passionately believes that if we adjust, we will continue to prosper. But hereâ€™s where history comes in.
The clock is ticking. During the remainder of Black Music Month 2012, we should continue to touch on and remember distinguished people and events from all sides of our industries. There is a chance that this generation may reclaim its earlier legacy. We could have a second coming in terms of social idealism and find unselfish new ways to contribute that mean something beyond ourselves. In some realms, this new generation already appreciates and takes pride in what they have been bequeathed.
This generation didn't invent the genre, but we were the fans who made it so durable. Even as much of our music remains youth-oriented, today's impatient young "music freaks" can't escape the feeling that they want something more. But they now have to recognize that the performers, media choices and times have changed. We canâ€™t give in or give up. Now, more than ever, the path to success still leads through education.
Finally, Black History Month allows us to reflect on the rich heritage of music that we help to create and develop. Itâ€™s a history that conveys from one generation to another its lessons and obligations. In a very real sense, we are also part of the modern social justice movement. More of us who have the ability need to respond to change and meet the challenge so that we can help make a difference. The world is watching both our achievements and our failures. We have to grow beyond diversity. We have to remember the journey is just as important as the destination.
As we look forward we want to make certain that we haven't forgotten the past and those whose struggles allowed many of us to survive. They took their time and persevered. They gave us reason for hope. They struggled, often without even the most basic tools that most of us take for granted. So as we celebrate Black History Month 2012, we must not rush on and forget about them. Their story must be told and retold. If itâ€™s not worth talking about, then itâ€™s not going to get talked about. And if itâ€™s not getting talked about, itâ€™s invisible -- something weâ€™ve been for far too long.