Celebrating Black History Month 2013, Part II - Events That Shaped Our Lives
February 11, 2013
In this, the second in our current four-week series for Black History Month 2013, we want to recognize the immense contributions African-Americans made to our changing culture. They are mirrors of our outer and inner selves. They were involved in events that shaped our lives.
The first thing we want to do is take a brief look at some of those events, trends and reasons for change. To better understand, we need to keep in mind that we're the only group in history raised during an era of continuous technological and social change.
We never really got a chance to catch a breath, so we became a generation that figured the only way to get through this quagmire was to continue to experiment, to try new things, to find new music.
For most of us in 2013, 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. The racial fault lines determine that blacks are still treated less favorably than non-blacks, regardless of income or social class. We are still struggling for the same basic rights as other Americans. Policies seem to follow the rhetoric.
And so 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 2013, we must not rush on and forget about them. They survived time.
The Crossover Decades
Now let's look back to two of the most incredible decades of musical history ever for black music. First, let's flash back to the early '70s. There were well over 100 radio stations "beamin' black," or so they thought. They figured they were programming mostly to black listeners, but they were wrong. As a measure of assessing the popularity of black music radio in the early '70s, audience research companies, including Arbitron, began touting the fact that not only had black radio arrived, but it had brought with it scores of non-ethnic listeners. Black radio had indeed crossed over in a big way!
What made black radio such a good indicator of musical tastes? First, an overwhelming proportion of blacks listened almost exclusively to it. Second, black stations found their audience had expanded so much so that, where there were strong signals, they consistently placed among the top-five stations in the market. In many markets, they were not only format-dominant, they were market-dominant. In such a highly competitive business arena, stations have to be sensitive to public tastes to stay in business. Advertising finances them. Thus, the larger their audience shares, the greater the advertising revenues and the greater the profit margins.
Despite its popularity, black music and radio faced many obstacles in their struggle for recognition and freedom of expression. Indeed, the fight for equality continued as the central theme in the African-American experience.
As we reflect the state of black music and radio of the '70s and '80s, we find the conditions of African-Americans overall in America constantly reflected in our music. The music and America both evolved together. The '70s and '80s were decades of rebellion, change and protest. Black music and radio mirrored that effort. Those were the days when the FCC's license-renewal requirements included ascertainment reports.
There were times when one could hear public service shows on the weekend that were full of anger and protest expressed by community action groups who were "tired of being tired." Indeed, black people had come a long way, and the black rebellion was set against the great white put-down and our insistence on rights sprung from a newfound pride.
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.
While unawareness was seen as the most serious barrier to the newfound pride and to easing the racial crisis, well-meaning whites could not shed a paternalist attitude toward blacks.
With the many activities of the '70s and '80s, being black became a new religion, and converts were made when the search for identity resulted in discovery. All of a sudden at major sporting events, blacks were singing and playing our National Anthem. Some of you may remember the Grambling State marching band quick-stepping and playing it in 1975, for the second time. They did it first in 1968, which made them the only performers to ever twice play the Anthem at the Super Bowl. Then Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys and Beyonce gave our national anthem a new feeling with their soaring renditions. Somehow black people have been able to feel a sense of pride whenever one of us steps up to the microphone and puts some of us into a song that didn't have us in mind when it was written. This trend continues right down to today, to this year's Super Bowl game in New Orleans with millions watching in front of huge 3D flat screens in Hi-Def and surround sound.
There is no doubt that we're a part of history, a growing part. A look at the updated facts of the African-American market shows that growth. The African-American and, lately, Hispanic populations have exploded â€¦ increasing twice as fast as the majority population of the deep South, particularly in the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The most extensive growth in the black population did not come from immigration. Ninety-five percent of all blacks are native-born Americans.
The growth is part of our accumulated experiences and shared histories. Those histories and these people do, however, define our opportunities and obligations to the next generation. We need to help restore and inspire dignity for what they accomplished.
As we become involved in another year, despite our problems there is reason for hope, and one of the reasons for that hope is the fact that we are still here. We are all in the struggle together. We didn't have to be, but we are. Unfortunately, some that would like to have been here have been called away, which underlines the fact that longevity is a precious commodity and life is sweet.
The Time Gap
For many of us, Black History Month is naturally about people, recognition and time. For all of us, time is taking its toll. Just to survive, most of us have had to keep moving and grapple with that elusive enemy. We've also had to battle with the monolithic majority corporations. The competition has forced us to be stronger. It has spawned a more sophisticated communicator and a more highly skilled executive. Because of both, there is new reason for hope.
The current generation has set up institutions that will continue to benefit them (at the expense of other groups) as they plan to grow old and live longer than any other generation. This is not a generation that had to deal with the reality of sacrifice.
We know the clock is ticking. During Black History Month 2013, we will continue to touch on and recognize some distinguished people and events from all sides of our industries. Ordinary people who, just by believing in themselves and refusing to give up or give in, have given back.
There is a chance that this generation may reclaim their earlier legacy. They could have a second coming in terms of social idealism and find new ways to contribute that mean something beyond themselves. In some realms, this new generation already takes pride in what they have bequeathed. Women, for example, are breaking into many male-dominated fields on a broad new scale, providing expanded options for those who follow.
This generation didn't invent the genre, but they were the fans who made it so durable. Even as music remains youth-oriented, today's young music buyers and downloaders couldn't escape the feeling that they wanted something more. They now have to admit that both the performers and the times have changed. The explosion of energy and technology that began in the '90s is just a memory
Historically, part of this movement began around the turn of the century, with a deepening racial chasm that launched an extraordinary violent and repressive era in America. It was a time when some state legislatures in the North and South were controlled and influenced by members of the Ku Klux Klan. It was a period when groups of respectable white Southerners continued to burn black men in public, brought their children to watch and mailed their loved ones souvenir postcards of the smoldering corpses. It was a time when African-Americans lost the right to vote to a white South determined to control their lives and labor by any means necessary. One state, North Carolina, stripped the vote from black men in 1900. By 1910, every state in the South had taken the vote from its black citizens, using North Carolina as one of their models. And when the violence ended, a war of memory persisted.
And that story holds many lessons for us today in 2013. It reminds us that history does not just happen. It does not unfold naturally like the seasons, or rise and fall like the tides. History is made by people who bend and shape the present to create the future.
Black History Month allows us to reflect upon the rich history of our industries that conveys from one generation to another its lessons and obligations. Accumulated experiences and sharing of the histories are what Black History Month is really about. They define our opportunities. It is our hope that by recognizing the events and opportunities we've selected, we will help to encourage dignity for what they accomplished.
Despite the struggle and the obstacles, the future holds promise. That's part of the new reality of Black History Month. As we look to the next two weeks, we will continue to celebrate with you, we encourage you to join us in looking back and remembering.
Many will say that we are simply in a cycle. But the situation isn't really cyclical. It's spiral. You've got a high experimental demographic with new people willing to give it a try. The movement is one ultimately driven by optimism.
A Historical Movement
There's another non-musical movement surfacing. This one is a demand for America to rise up and defeat the twin evils of bigotry and segregation. However, it is also a demand fueled by faith in God and a devotion to the principles of equality and liberty upon which this nation was founded. It is a demand made with the certainty that America will honor its promise and live up to the "true meaning of her creed."
Stripping away all of the pre-analysis, post-analysis, overlong speeches filled with applause lines, empty promises, disinterested congressmen and perfunctory nods in the direction of bipartisanship that have come to symbolize so much of the annual state of the union address, the vision offered by our president was one filled with a similar faith in America's founding principles, belief in American strength and demand for American leadership.
We are indeed living in historic times. Our nation is in a time of testing. America is engaged in a very real battle of blood and ideology with an enemy that embraces a culture of death. Islamic fascists are intent on imposing a totalitarian government on the people of the Middle East and the rest of the world and determined to bring weapons of mass murder to bear on the people of America in order to achieve their ends.
We are engaged in an economic contest with China that demands we improve the education of our children and train American workers for the technology jobs that will drive the world economy. Domestically, we are challenged with balancing entitlement spending with our commitment to the poor and elderly, expanding opportunities for ownership to all citizens while nurturing the American entrepreneurial spirit. Ultimately our success hinges on national unity, resolve and, most of all, American leadership.
I am certain that many who have committed their lives to the uplift of all people came to a point of choosing. There is little doubt that in quiet moments they asked themselves "Should I go on?" And, "Can I lay this burden down?" As we are constantly reminded, we must march forward because we have been called to be strong in a time of struggle and consequence.
The consequences will shape our thinking and the period through which we are passing will remain special. It will continue to be special because of each of us. And it will be special because we have learned that transformation combined with faith and determination, dignity and grace can help us to shape history instead of being shaped by it.
(Next week: Part 3)