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Archive for March, 2009

I’ve been feeling extra nostalgic lately. Could be that I’m turning the big 4-0 this year, or that things often seem better in retrospect than when you’re experiencing them the first time. In any event, I used to love watching Hee Haw when I was a little lad. Every Saturday night around 6 p.m. (I believe Lawrence Welk was scheduled opposite it on another channel, and he was good too, but Hee Haw was always more fun), my mom, dad, and I would tune in to watch Roy Clark, Buck Owens, Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones, and the rest of the gang. For a (mostly) family-friendly hour we were guaranteed some great music and knee-slappin’ laughs.

I know this probably sounds crazy to some of you. You may be wondering, What was a black family doing watching a hillbilly show like Hee Haw? I wonder the same thing sometimes, even as I reflect fondly on that old program. The easy answer is, there wasn’t as much to watch on TV back then; I believe we only had three channels during that era when Hee Haw was appointment television for us. But, frankly, it also was great entertainment. And things didn’t seem as complicated race-wise back then–at least not to my young, prepubescent mind. In fact, Hee Haw was one of those ways that my family and I actually felt a kinship with the white community.

Ironically, programs like Hee HawThe Andy Griffith ShowThe Waltons, and The Dukes of Hazzard–shows that endearingly played on the redneck/good-ole-boy theme and rarely acknowledged the existence of black folk–were often the shows that helped me feel closest to white people. Without the experience of having grown up on some of those shows, I believe I might’ve been less patient (and probably more cynical) in my real-life relationships with white friends and acquaintances.

Conversely, I must confess, those shows in some ways misled me into believing that relations between blacks and whites were warmer and more honest than reality allowed. Thanks to television, I thought I knew white people better than I really did. But that’s another post.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t trade my Hee Haw memories. Seems strange to say that a cheesy TV show helped prepare me to embrace racial reconciliation, but it’s the truth. And, by golly, the music and jokes weren’t half bad either.

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Anyone catch President Obama’s appearance on The Tonight Show yesterday evening? I didn’t, mainly because I prefer Letterman or Nightline during that hour. Plus, I knew I would be able to catch the highlights on any number of websites and blogs the next day. Unfortunately, it turns out the President made an insensitive remark that implicitly insulted the Special Olympics and its athletes. He has apologized, but the damage has been done and many of his veteran critics now have new fodder to blast him with.

I frankly had mixed feelings about Obama appearing on the Tonight Show, not because it wasn’t “presidential” or because no previous sitting president has done such a thing (I like that he wants to reach the everyman), but because the very nature of a late-night talk show is to be loose and silly and offhanded. You feel obligated to be a little more crude and crass; you want people to find you humorous. In that kind of environment, with that kind of casual mindset, a lot of unintended comments can fly. And you would think that after Obama’s mindless crack about Nancy Reagan at his pre-inaugural press conference, he would be more careful.

Still, I’m sure we’ve all mindedlessly cracked jokes that we’ve later regretted. (I almost got my butt kicked in high school by a black belt in Karate one night for making a joke, at his expense, during a Friday-night football game. I learned a lot from that gaffe, though I’ve gone on to make many more verbal blunders over the years.)

This article from DiversityInc magazine shares some useful tips about what do when you’ve said something stupid and hurtful to another person. The list could be helpful to anyone seeking to add another tool to his or her reconciliation resource kit.

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An article in the Chicago Tribune caught my attention this morning. It’s about the “Ebony Experiment,” an Oak Park, Illinois, couple’s controversial mission to “buy black” and spend their money exclusively with black-owned businesses for an entire year. John and Maggie Anderson’s purpose is to encourage the growth of African American business and entrepreneurship and help solve what they call “the crisis in the black community.” Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“More than anything, this is a learning thing,” said Maggie Anderson, who grew up in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami and holds a law degree and an MBA from the University of Chicago. “We know it’s controversial, and we knew that coming in.”

But the Andersons said they also have known that a thriving black economy is fundamental to restoring impoverished African-American and other “underserved” communities, and they have discussed for years trying to find a way to address the problem.

What they came up with is provocative. One anonymous letter mailed to their home accused the Andersons of “unabashed, virulent racism.” “Because of you,” the writer stated, “we will totally avoid black suppliers. Because of you, we will dodge every which way to avoid hiring black employees.”

Apart from that letter, a solid majority of comments they have received have been encouraging, the Andersons said, adding that most people see the endeavor as beneficial to all.

“Supporting your own isn’t necessarily exclusive,” said John Anderson, a financial adviser who grew up in Detroit and has a Harvard University degree in economics and an MBA from Northwestern University, “and you’re not going to convince everybody of that.”

The undertaking “is an academic test about how to reinvest in an underserved community” and lessen society’s burden, John Anderson said. Focusing the estimated $850 billion annual black buying power on black businesses strengthens those business and creates more businesses, more jobs and stronger families, schools and neighborhoods, the Andersons and other advocates said.

In today’s crippled economy, is there a place for the Kwanzaa principle of Ujamma, or cooperative economics? Furthermore, is there a legitimate place for this kind of activism in the lives of people, like many of the readers of this blog, who desire racial and social reconciliation in an already fragmented nation?

This issue elicits many questions, particularly the one alluded to in the excerpt above concerning the criticism that if members of the white community promoted something as brazenly separatist and racialized as this, they would be immediately castigated as racists. And that suggestion of a double standard is understandable. Yet, whether we agree or disagree with that contention, I think it’s important to acknowledge the complexity of our national history around the issues of race, slavery, segregation, and social justice. Though we’ve long since repudiated and attempted to move forward from our nation’s biggest failures on the matter of race, a lot of the residue of our failures continue to inform our personal and institutional relationships today. To ignore that fact only hinders our efforts toward true progress and reconciliation.

This commentary by blogger Fredric Mitchell presents some interesting food for thought that, at the very least, can help bring context to our thinking on topics like the Ebony Experiment.

Still, there’s so much to ponder here: Isn’t this Ebony Experiment inconsistent with the Obamaesque notion of a “post-racial America”? Is there a place for an ethnically-exclusive approach to economics in our day and age? And, if so, what does it say about our commitment to diversity, justice, and reconciliation?

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