Monday, November 12, 2012

Black Power!

This past Columbus Day, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill—professor, author, speaker, and self-titled “hip-hop generation intellectual”—released his list of “The 15 Most Overrated White People.” Among these were Elvis Presley, William Shakespeare, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and Joel Olsteen. While you might take offense at the concept, some of the comments are pretty funny. For example, of Joel Osteen, Hill writes “[Olsteen is] the only preacher in America who can give an entire sermon without referencing a bible.” You can view the list with commentary here.

I’d seen Dr. Hill on The O’Reilly Factor a few times and always got a kick out of the banter between Hill and Bill O’Reilly. When reporting on the list, O’Reilly introduces Hill as “our pal, Marc Lamont Hill, who teaches at Columbia University, causing trouble again—he's always causing trouble.” O’Reilly then wants to know “Before we get into your dopey list, what if I wrote an article, ‘The 15 Most Overrated Black People.’ What do you think would happen?” Boy, I didn’t see that coming. Okay, I’m lying. I totally saw that coming. This a variation of those common questions “Why is there no White History Month?” “Why are there no historically white Universities?” “How come there are no white Student Unions?” and “What’s the purpose of Essence magazine?” I wish I had the words to answer these questions fully and completely and forever. These questions are very, very annoying to black Americans, many of whom still carry with them every day the legacy of Jim Crow laws, systemic discrimination, and slavery. And that’s just the legacy, which doesn’t even begin to address the affects of discrimination perpetuated in the here and now. 

I know there are some who believe that if we just stop talking about this stuff, we could put this thing to rest. Well, these folks are just flat out wrong and often a big part of the problem. If you think I’m wrong, consider the recent news report about Denise Helms, a white 22-year old Californian who wrote this response to President Obama’s reelection on her Facebook page, “Another 4 years with this Nigger. Maybe he will get assassinated this term.” After the post went viral, Helms defended it this way “I’m not racist and I’m not crazy. just [sic] simply stating my opinion!!!” Oh, honey ….

But, back to Dr. Hill. His answer was interesting. He said, “[These issues] are not opposite sides of the same coin. When I scream ‘black power’ I’m talking about community development.” Now, let’s pause for a moment, because this is not a perfect answer. I’m pretty sure that not every black person who’s ever shouted “black power!” had such pure motives. (Well, they probably did want to develop the community. It’s just that they figured if a few white people got a beatdown in the process, so be it.) But, I appreciate Dr. Hill’s response just the same, because it hints at the issue in a more powerful way than I’ve ever heard expressed in polite society. Here’s what I heard Dr. Hill say to O’Reilly—“When black people come together to discuss what’s important to us, we empower ourselves by healing hurts and correcting wrongs. But when you all get together in the same way, well, let’s just say that some black folks might want to watch out!” My apologies to Dr. Hill if I’m misrepresenting his ideals. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Hill!) I invite you to view the program yourself and form your own opinion. Bottom line, I’m just happy they’re talking about it.

Oh, and I don’t believe Mr. O’Reilly got around to creating his list, but sure enough, someone else did. So, if you want one man’s opinion of the "15 Most Overrated Black People" you can get it right here. Happy (belated) Columbus Day!

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