Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Culture Blogs: Shades of Brown (Part 1 of 3)

Bronze, Burnt Umber, Chamoisee, Chestnut, Mahogany, Ochre, Russet, Sepia, Sienna, and Tan are only a smattering of the various shades of brown that exist.  Some of them warm browns and other cold.  Some of them dark and others light.  But they are all brown, and they are all colors that one could use to describe the various hues of the black men below.

This week I wanted to start a short series of blogs on black men.  After hearing so many friends tell me that I'm "the whitest black guy they've ever met" I decided that it was time to educate folks as the various shades of black men there are.  Following are famous black men, with a little of their biographies, achievements and how I see them in the world we have today.

Wyclef Jean
My wife introduced me to Wyclef Jean.  Before I met her I had no idea who this intriguing man was.  Because I didn't listen to a lot of hip hop or rap I missed him.  Perhaps it is because he appears also to fulfill some of the common stereotypes concerning black men.  He looks a like a gangster with all the red he's wearing and the chain too.  But it was when I listened to a song of his that nearly brought me to tears, that I recognized him as more.  It is called Ghetto Religion.  I would share with you a small bit of the lyrics here.

The Ghetto is a part of my religion,
The only thing my eyes can see,
There ain't no man gonna stop the vision,
The Ghetto is a part of me.

It hit home not because I live in a Ghetto, but because everyone around me thinks that Ogden, my hometown, is a Ghetto.  It is a part of my soul.  Just like his homeland of Haiti is a part of his soul.  He ran a charity to make his homeland better and later ran to be President of Haiti back in 2010, all because of his love for his homeland.  He didn't make it, but he's an example of a black man who found success.

Okay, I'll be honest.  I want to be like Will Smith.  He's amazing.  As a young man I wanted to be able to act, sing, and dance.  Unfortunately, I was only blessed with a voice.  But he was a triple threat from the beginning.  To top that all off he's athletic, ripped even.  I couldn't ever compare to this man (in his strengths at least).   But he and I share a gripe about the world.  He's also considered by folks to just not be black enough.  In the song I wish I made that he describes the fact that even though he does great in the movies, for some reason they don't play his music in the clubs.  He hits the simple stereotypes that folks think about black people either needing to steal, do drugs, or shoot people to be black enough.  And the sad part is, he's right.  Often times we define blackness by the violence they speak with, and the violence they live by.  Personally I think this is the new relic of racism that we have given birth to in this country, because when black men started to show the kind of talent they had, our culture unfortunately labeled them as being white attributes.  And we as black folks well we let our culture be redefined by violence instead of the integrity of our families, and the love of our communities.  However I am proud to be "white" like Will Smith.  Strangely, nothing could make me happier.


When I was growing up we listened to a lot of black gospel music.  It was part of the heritage that folks that have known me throughout my life have never been very aware of (even though I often walk around singing the songs of my youth).  One of the artists I came to know back then was Kirk Franklin.  He's cut from the same pattern of blackhood that produced Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, that of following after God.  This is the pattern that so many of my friends are unaware of, that I follow after.  For those who doubt whether or not this is a part of black culture just google "Black Gospel."
I relate with Kirk more than most of the other men you will find in this series, because his life is so much like my own.  One of my favorite songs Let it Go expresses this best, because there is not a line of that song that I can't relate with.  He is an example for black men everywhere as for what it means to rise above the poor choices one makes to become a fine human being.


Each of these men is a musician.  Each of them is a family man.  Each of them fight against the stereotypes that are thrown at black men for what some of their generation has chosen to do.  They remember their roots in Rosa Parks, Dr. King, and Malcolm X.  And every one of them is aware of the sacrifices made for them to have freedom in this country to day.  Yet one is a politician, the other an actor, and the last a holy man.  That is the reality of culture.  Every culture is the quilt of the individual patterns of its members.

And even when you look at the young people who are rebelling, it is the very fact that we have achieved our freedom and are not fighting everyday to make things better that our young people have forgotten the sacrifices of their forefathers.  And in some cases the violence of gangs has to do with providing for or taking care of your family.  As we will likely touch upon in the next segment of this blog.

Another amazing black person is Nora K. Jemisin.  I've been promoting her book about half the month on my blog and I'm really sorry that the month is coming to a close.  She's deserving of far more praise than I can share about her.  And because I want to continue this conversation with you in the comments I'm offering three lucky commenters on my blog a copy of her book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  It is the first of a trilogy she's written (and every last book in the trilogy has been nominated for a Nebula Award).  On Thursday morning I am putting all the names of those who have commented on this blog into a hat (more than once if you commented more than once) and choosing three blessed souls to send a paperback copy of her book to.  So this is pretty much your last opportunity to comment before I have the drawing.  And I'd love to hear from you.

Aloha, my name is Jayrod Garrett, and I'm the First OG.  And how do you define black culture?
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