Our History: Mama Matters
The meaning of a people’s history is not defined exclusively or even primarily by reference to the achievements of a few standouts, although the stories of these individuals may indeed reflect the struggles and triumphs of the entire group. While I believe that this is the case, more often than not, with many of our accomplished African Americans, it is important to focus on the experience of African American’s en masse. Much gets lost in the “you can do it to” trivialization of the painful daily realities that pervade the historical and ongoing experiences of African America. When the certain fact of the matter is that many are prevented from “doing it” by the reality of white privilege that manifests itself in the mean-spirited subterfuge of full and self-determined African American participation in the larger life of our society. The accomplishments of a few African Americans, who have slipped through the safety net erected to protect white privilege and their psycho-socio comfort zone against Black encroachment, is actually twisted against other talented African Americans who are persistently thwarted. “Look what others have done.” “Why can’t you?” “You must not be trying hard enough.” Such thinking exonerates the system and the perpetrators of oppression, of their dastardly deeds and systematic and personal practices-through manipulation of systems and rules over which they have unaccountable control-that maintain the psychotic delusion of white supremacy.
The suffering of African Americans en mass generated by our ongoing racial oppression continues to generate the culture that drives the engines of pop culture the world over-yes African Americans, not simply Blacks everywhere. We have to embrace the meaning of our History for the sake of ourselves and all other Blacks throughout the world. It was the great surge of the human spirit driven by a profound spirituality that carried the wave of our humanity across the centuries. It surged like a great tsunami through the cultures of the world, overtaking the mass media, the streets, the hovels and hamlets wherever protest was summoned by human degradation and indignity. This great contribution, this unplumbed spirituality, this tidal wave of hope and human aspiration started in Mama’s tenacious hope that love would not, indeed could not surrender. Our mother’s outsized fight and determination to have not boys but men transferred In Utero, through the soothing sound of their half sung prayers, called out of the depths an indestructible spirit of humanity that we share through our inter-subjective bond. This sense is at the root of even our wayward attempts at self affirmation, hence its irresistible nature to peoples throughout the world; its soothing capacity; its hopeful tone and its defiant mood. Our history is written through the sometime misunderstood experience of the folk; the unsung, the unnamed, the unmentioned and at times the unmentionable. My father used to tell me, “let no man write your epitaph.” He may just as well have said “let no one else determine the meaning of your history, your time.
A Friend of the Crucified,
Rev. Matthew V. Johnson