Sitting While Black

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (December 25, 1745 – June 10, 1799) was a champion fencer, classical composer, virtuoso violinist, and conductor of the leading symphony orchestra in Paris. Born in Guadeloupe, he was the son of George Bologne de Saint-Georges, a wealthy planter, and Nanon, his African slave. During the French Revolution, Saint-Georges was colonel of the Légion St.-Georges, the first all-black regiment in Europe, fighting on the side of the Republic. Today the Chevalier de Saint-Georges is best remembered as the first classical composer of African ancestry.

How many people know about this man. In regard to classical music somehow I learned about Mozart, Beethoven, (bugs bunny cartoons, Disney movies, documentaries.) But not this guy. Some scholars call him the Black Mozart, except that he was born 10 years before Mozart and after they met Mozart was said to have echoed a few of Joseph’s bars.

When I went to school I learned a lot about White inventors, musicians (we sang Oklahoma in Glee Club), presidents, television stars. But very little about important Blacks. Well, there was George Washington Carver. But all we learned was that he had something to do with peanuts. We did not learn about the numerous honors he won for his work or that in an era of very high racial polarization, his fame reached beyond the black community.

Seems we heard a lot about Nat Turner though, the guy who led that slave rebellion. According to some scholars, the stereotype of African Americans males as criminals was first constructed as a tool to “discipline” and control slaves during the time of slavery in the United States. More recently , a study examining the news reports from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today covering the effects of Hurricane Katrina showed that in 80% of the time black evacuees were portrayed in photographs, the word “looting” was mentioned in the captions, suggesting that the black evacuees were criminals. In America we have had the good actions of White people and the emphasis on bad actions of Blacks ingrained into our psyche. Blacks were not celebrated in our education. So I don’t believe in unconscious bias. That we make snap judgments about people and situations based on who we are, how we live, and how we were raised, yes, but it’s not unconscious.  I believe we act from ingrained teachings.

The idea that Black men are dangerous exists today. Still. Sitting While Black is the hashtag on Twitter.

It’s sad that this is happening in 2018. My father lived during the early 1900s when Blacks were still being lynched in large numbers. One of the bloodiest race riots in the nation’s history took place in East St. Louis. A Congressional committee reported that 40 to 200 people were killed, hundreds more injured, and 6,000 driven from their home. Fifty-three black Americans are known to have been lynched in 1920. Eddie was in St. Louis in 1919-1920. He performed at the Booker Washington Theatre (a Black vaudeville house) with his Deluxe Players, he had been called back by popular demand. In those days he sang his own songs, danced and told “side-splitting” jokes. I’m sure he saw his share of horrors.

By the 1940s Eddie was appearing in the radio program Duffy’s Tavern. Things in America had progressed enough that The Library of Congress placed Duffy’s Tavern on the Honor Role of Race Relations, because they did not have Eddie resort to stereotypical “Black” language. They said “Green clicks as a waiter, not because he’s a Negro, but because he’s a good comedian.” So, it is clear in this instance that changing how Blacks were treated was a priority.

I wonder what he would think about two Black men being arrested because they were sitting in a Starbucks and asked to use the restroom but didn’t buy anything and wouldn’t leave because they were waiting for a third party. I mean we have not gone back to lynching but it certainly seems that we have at least gone back to the 50s or 60s. Some people today still see Black men as trouble-makers. I don’t think that providing unconscious bias training is going to change that mind set. I think something has to change within the person. Maybe as more time goes by people will be able to just see each other as fellow human beings, floating around in space on a friggin’ planet.

Hey, thank you so much for stopping by. Peace and Love

Check out my Book: Eddie Green The Rise of an Early 1900s Black American Entertainment Pioneer.

 

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