Archive for July, 2008


Darker than Blue

In the 1970s, a prophet of soul music, Curtis Mayfield chronicled the Black experience in urban America. His songs are revolutionary, filled with hope, unity, and togetherness. One song titled “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue” addresses the fact that regardless of our skin tones, all Americans are the same. Curtis Mayfield is a storyteller and if you really want to get a feel for what being Black in urban America in the 70s was like, listen to his music. He points out many events in America in which few Americans were proud.


Fast forward to the now and many of these social afflictions still exists. I believe many of these social afflictions are what Michel Obama was referring to when she implied this was the first time, in a long time, she was proud to be an American. I think you can add the recent New Yorker cover to her list (and mine) of things not to be proud of.

Satire is supposed to carry and air of truth to it and Webster defines satire as “ a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.” How could the New Yorker ever think that their current cover would be received by Black Americans as satire? Which “vices and follies” of Barack and Michelle Obama were they highlighting? For me the cover is shameful and offensive.

There is no enjoyment to be gained by listening to someone recite how hard life has been for them. Therefore, it is quite easy to understand the reactions to Michelle Obama’s comment on being proud of America for the first time in her adulthood.

Reflecting on my own life’s journey, I feel certain many of hers and my experiences run parallel. There is no way for me or anyone else to know what was running through her mind when she made her comments, but I can highlight some events that may have been on her mind at the time.

Before I start, let me state for the record, I am a proud American and I am proud of my country. That being said, there have been times when I was not proud of my country. I was not proud of America while being forced to stand on the bus and enter Woolworth through the back door in the 1960s.

I was not proud of America in 1971 because Norfolk Virginia Public Schools were still segregated and my school had too few books for the students and most of them were missing pages. Every school day I pledged a legions to America but America did not keep it’s pledge to provide equality to me.

I was not proud of America in 1985 when the Philadelphia Police department firebomb 62 row houses in a Black neighborhood to end a standoff with a small group of “Move” radicals. Eleven people died, including 5 children and an entire block was left in ashes. I was not proud of America in 1986 when Ronald Reagan supported the apartheid government in South Africa and labeled Nelson Mandella’s African National Congress a notorious terrorist organization.

I was not proud of America in the 1990s when President Clinton stood silently and let over 400,000 Rwandans’ be murdered within a 30 day period.

I was not proud in 2000 when the longest running democracy in modern day history failed and for the first time in our great history, the US Supreme Court “inadvertently” selected our President.

I recently read the book titled “The Appeal” by John Grisham. In it, the bad guys win. No one comes to save the day, no wrongs are righted, the innocent suffer and in no way does it paint a proud picture of our current justice system. What it does, is force the reader to self examine this small part of our way of life and ask oneself how it makes you feel to watch good hard working Americans be squashed under the heel of corruption. Most of the characters in this book are not proud of the American judicial system.

I truly hope as a nation, we have matured enough to handle a bit of self criticism while searching for equality and recognize life in America differs for many; and we have to take the good with the bad. We are not a nation of Zealots and everyone still has the right to criticize events that they find shameful because often times that criticism becomes the catalyst for change.

Side note:
Curtis Mayfield made history with his soundtrack to the movie Super Fly. For the first time in history, the soundtrack for a movie generated more money and sales than the movie itself. The album is considered one of the most influential works in R&B history. It ranks 69 on the Rolling Stones top 500 greatest albums.

After stage accident, he was paralyzed from the neck down. He recorded his last album “New World Order” from his bed, one line at a time. Curtis Mayfield is ranked 99 on the Rolling Stones 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.

Curtis Mayfield – Super Fly

Curtis Mayfield – We People Who Are Darker Than Blue

Other Darker Than Blue People

Babe Ruth – We People Darker Than Blue (Live 1975)

Sinead O’Connor – We People Darker Than Blue

Curtis Mayfield YouTube Fan – playing Bass