February and the “black”-less activist

Posted on Feb 2 2016 - 9:53am by Kaypounyers Maye

Last year, I wrote an article discussing Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and The Racial Mountain.”

Hughes’ essay discusses a young poet’s rejection of his “black identity” in an effort to declassify his talent. The poet’s disdain for identity has been echoed in contemporary society. From Raven-Symoné to Stacey Dash, the black community has been plagued and abandoned by stars who disagree with race labels. This behavior caused uproar in the black community. Though this distress is warranted by their ignorance, there is another issue that deserves attention – the “Things Haven’t Changed” rhetoric of social activism. Not only is this ideology disrespectful, it’s contradictory to Black History celebrations.

During my childhood, my father, born in the 1930s, told tales of his youth in Jim Crow Alabama. He would recount memories of harsh segregation and racial pressures. Hearing these stories would make me pseudo-nostalgic and appreciative for my circumstances. To me, my father was Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Ralph D. Abernathy wrapped in one. I don’t believe there is any way I could ever repay my father and his contemporaries for the things they have done and the things they primed my generation to do. It’s easy to see why the “Things Haven’t Changed” rhetoric of social activism disturbs me so greatly.

First and foremost, this language is extremely disrespectful to my father and his social journey. To some, especially me, the wording reads as an implicit insult to the social warriors of the 20th century. To say “things haven’t changed” is to say that the struggles and triumphs of those before us are irrelevant to modern endeavors. As if modern activism is superior to the fortitude of those before us.

With that, we must think critically about how we frame the contemporary black resistance in the face of adversity. It’s important to recognize that we are standing on the backs of people like my father. No matter how small or large the fight of our predecessors, it’s our duty to believe in change.

By using the disrespectful and subversive “Things Haven’t Changed” language, we lose the shoulders of those before us. We are subconsciously distancing our struggle from theirs. There should to be continued unity between current resistance and previous struggle. We must continue to instill integration between the generations. Without this explicit appreciation, we expose the fight for equality to damaging language.

In last year’s article, I wrote, “As we reflect on the meaning of Black History Month, it’s important we understand that this time of celebration is to educate those in our culture who don’t understand. Let us be reminded of the beauty in our culture and be able to achieve in the names of those who have set the precedent.”

It’s my hope that this article further emphasizes the sense of appreciation. Let’s find more ways to spread our message to those who don’t understand. If this disrespectful dialogue continues, it’s my fear that our activism will lose its “blackness” and its history.

Be aware, be active, but be reminded that things have changed thanks to those before us.

Kaypounyers Maye is a sophomore education major from Gulfport.