I know that I am one of many who ran to look up the definition of “black” after Malcolm did so in prison the first time I saw Malcolm X. I took the subsequent commercial break as an opportunity to grab the purple Webster’s Dictionary off of my mother’s oak bookcase.
Indeed, none of Webster’s definitions (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/black) would be descriptions that I would ascribe to myself: “very dark in color”, “dirty, soiled”, “absence of light”, “thoroughly sinister or evil”, “marked by the occurrence of disaster”. I could go on.
That is not Black.
And I am Black.
I am a direct lineage to a people that have survived the, arguably, most atrocious injustices of any group over the past 400 plus years. From the first Africans, stripped from their homes and dragged across the Middle Passage, to the house & field slaves surviving on the plantation, to the freed sharecroppers who were in many ways worse off than the slaves, to those terrorized by the reign of Jim Crow, to those who concocted a remarkable Renaissance in Harlem, to the Mammy figures who were just mothers trying to make ends meet, to the little girls bombed at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama, to the image of Emmitt Till viewed by the world on the cover of Jet Magazine, to the agents of change a part of the Civil Rights Movement, to the radical Black Panther Party who were tired of the status quo, to visions of Black Power personified by Sweet Sweetback and Foxy Brown, to the Sugarhill Gang’s delight that would eventually inform the culture of the entire world, to the beautiful site of weeping elders at the reality of America’s first Black President.
The Black story in America is tumultuous, ugly and beautiful. The above is a mere snippet, barely a postcard of the journey.
What it comes down to, is that Black means: survivor; in a very particular sense of the word. Hence, although it was ascribed to my people as a means of constructing the bottom rung on the racial ladder…its meaning has transformed.
The resilience inherent in the meaning of Black in the context of America snuffs Webster’s definition and replaces it as an homage to my ancestors and an implication to continue the progress.