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Do Black People Still Have Something to Prove?

Last Friday, I was privileged enough to attend the opening night of Black Eagles, a stage play written by Leslie Lee and produced by Twin Productions . The play, which was held at the Patriot Hall Performing Arts Center in Sumter, SC, sang the praises of the Tuskegee Airmen. I say I was privileged to attend the event because in addition to the performance of 12 fine community theatre actors, was a real life Black Eagle, Leroy Bowman. Mr. Bowman still lives in Sumter and I was honored to be in his presence. I wish more people had been there to witness the tribute that was paid to him.

We all know the story of the Tuskegee Airman, right? In case you don’t: the Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During World War II, blacks in many U.S. states were still subject to Jim Crow laws. The American military itself was racially segregated. As a result, the Tuskegee Airmen were subject to racial discrimination, both within and outside the Army. Despite these adversities, they flew with distinction. The Tuskegee Airmen were particularly successful in their missions as bomber escorts in Europe.

The play was featured three actors who portrayed aging Tuskegee Airman who reminisced about the 'good old days' and how they overcame the common thought that black airman were not capable of being military aviators. Throughout the play, there was a common thought that guided the young airman’s actions… they were not only representing themselves in their endeavors to integrate the US Army Air Corp; they were also representing their families, their communities and the entire black race. They had to prove to white people that they were just as good, smart and capable as they were. As a result of carrying the burden of an entire race on people on their shoulders, they had to try harder, study longer and be better. Their resolve was tougher; their work ethic was stronger. They did all this because they had to prove that black men could pilot fighter jets just as well as white men. In doing that, it would prove that black people were good enough. In fact, one of the characters exclaimed to a fellow flyer who had been slacking off, “Man, this just isn’t about you. We are doing this for our families; our communities; for all black people!” Wow. That’s a lot for one black airman to bear.

That line reminded me of stories my mother told me about her youth. She told me how important public presentation was. So much so, that her home economics class in school was more like a finishing school. Their teacher didn’t only teach them how to run a house, she also taught them how to enter and exit a room; how to dress appropriately. Basically, how to be a lady. My mother told me that when she and her sisters left the house, they had to be ‘girdled down’, because they could not be seen in public with their bodies shaking and wiggling all over the place. That would have reinforced white people’s thoughts that black women were loose, unkempt and not respectable. When she walked out of the house, she didn’t only represent herself, but her entire family, as well as the entire race of black people. That’s a lot for one woman to bear.

I’m sure many older black people have tons of stories just like this; how they had to go above and beyond just to prove that we, as a race, were good enough. My question to you is: do black people as a race still have something to prove?

I don’t think so. My theory is that we have effectively assimilated into the culture of white America to the point that individually, we no longer feel we represent the race. We only represent ourselves now. That eases the burden on our young people today, but I contend that as a race, we are suffering as a result.

When we had to work twice as hard to get opportunities, we cherished the opportunities more. And as a result of the opportunity, we worked harder to prove to the world that we are good employees and we deserved the opportunities. Now that employment opportunities are more equal than ever before, our work ethic has diminished significantly. We go to work late and do less work while we are there… if we go to work at all. If we perform poorly or get fired, no longer does it look bad on the entire race of people. It only speaks to the kind of person we, as individuals, are. That’s a good thing, right? I’m not so sure. Now, it is a lot easier to be a slacker because there is no pressure from the race to be a good representation of us all.

When young girls leave the house now, they use little to no discretion about their dress. Whereas my mother took extra care not to allow her body to jiggle inappropriately, young girls today seems to wear as little as possible and the most non-restraining fabrics that actually facilitate the jiggle. The more the jiggle, the better. If young girls represented the entire race of people with every step, would they wear Lycra and spandex, or something a little more controlling?

You know, I think we all will agree that as a race, integration was a major step to the empowerment and betterment black people. But seeing the camaraderie and the desire to prove the world wrong about our race that the Black Eagles play displayed, I must wonder if integration is really all that it cracked up to be. Because now that we have proven that we are just as good, we are also proving that we can be just as bad. Edit

5 comments

My theory is that we have effectively assimilated into the culture of white America to the point that individually, we no longer feel we represent the race.

This will only be true when stereotypes are completely neutralized. Not there yet!!

I really enjoyed the article on Avatar, as well as this one. Delete Reply

Stereotypes probably will never be neutralized. But yes, we have assilimilated and lost our culture and group pride along the way. What is pity. Delete Reply

I honestly believe it is better for us to think beyond ourselves, how will this reflect on my family, my community and my people. When we do, we are less prideful and satisfied that we have "made it" while others that look like us haven't.

At most advertising agencies there are few if any blacks in the creative departments (which also happens to be the highest paid department). I have always represented more than myself.

The conversations we have had, and I am talking recently, would surprise some. These educated and enlightened people (young and old) are:

a. Surprised I am as good at my job as I am
b. Impressed that I have experienced and know so much
c. Fascinated that I am a "foodie" and a fan of the arts
d. Shocked that my sons until recently were raised in a two parent home

I don't get upset by their findings, I am happy that I can impact their impression of black people. I don't want to have to represent my people but if I do by default then I am going to present the best image that I can.

I tell my sons all the time that they represent their mother and I in their actions, deeds and words. I hold them responsible for the image they present. That is never a bad thing. Jesus was proud to represent His Father. Delete Reply

Black culture needs to be more encompassing to embrace more intellectualism. Let's expand the definition of what it means to be black. Let's get beyond the parameters of Soul Food, slang/Jive Talking, and Rap Music. To speak proper English and get good grades should be a black trait. If enough people cared and pushed this, maybe one day it will be. Right now if you are intellectual, most people think you are White, Asian, etc. or trying to be like those races. What a shame!!! Delete Reply

We don't have anything to prove. White people have something to prove, that weren't inferior - obviously that is not the case. Stereotypes are never going away, and I feel it's silly for me to stress myself out worrying about whether or not some random racist thinks I'm unmarried with five kids at home to support and grew up in the ghetto. What I can do is to continue to live my life as the upstanding young black woman I am.


I agree with plaintalk in getting hold of our youth and destroying the notion that somehow being educated is being a sell out, as if being intelligent is not a black trait. There are three answers to that: education, education, education. Delete Reply

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