Redemption Song | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Redemption Song

Audre Lorde once said: "It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences."

I've taken this quote and evaluated it for myself, and to me, it can be applied to how black people relate to each other. We complain constantly about how other races treat us, but we often fail to recognize that even without another race of people holding down black folk, we do a damn good job of it ourselves.

It's hard being black these days. Not just for the tried-and-true reason that non-blacks look down on us, but because we judge each other. I could spend this entire column asking questions to get a dialogue started about why we do that: Is it because of our society or the struggles we have endured or the white man holding us down? I could go that route, but that would be futile--it's already been pondered over and over again.

I am perplexed by how my people continue to judge each other on everything, particularly our levels of "blackness."

My father made the intentional decision to expose his family to all things afrocentric. Perms were out of the question, so my sister and I wore braids far beyond the normal age that most young black girls wear them. TV shows that didn't portray a positive African American experience weren't allowed. That meant no "Good Times" or "The Jeffersons" and, certainly, no "Sanford and Son."

My sister and I received names passed down through African heritage. This wasn't a common thing at that time. I've since met many Funmis, but as I was growing up, the name was like a disease.

Am I not black enough?

Our family celebrated Kwanzaa instead of Christmas. On Dec. 25, when all the other children were showing off new toys, we were home making red, black and green chains to hang from the ceiling in representation of the African flag and our struggle. We sang Negro spirituals instead of gospel songs on Sunday mornings. We spent summers at African camps and performed in African Liberation Day rallies while other kids were in cheerleader camps and church fashion shows.

Am I still not black enough?

My mother wore a silver-colored afro. My father dressed in dashikis every day. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement. People addressed my parents as Bro. Howard and Sis. Mary, not Mr. and Mrs. Spencer. (That alone created many a joke for my friends.) My parents made us work in a Bolton garden on weekends when other children played kickball and tag.

My father wanted to show us the importance of being self-sufficient. I didn't get it then, but I do now.

Am I black enough, yet?

Our lifestyle wasn't easy or fun. My sister and I often felt like rejects. We had to constantly fight--well, my sister will tell you that she did all the fighting. I was the instigator who called on her when the going got rough.

I know many who grew up this way, but this is who I am. I made it through adolescence holding firmly to the lessons I'd learned about Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes, Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey and Queen NZinga. I learned a sense of pride that I doubt can be matched.

Am I still not black enough?

I see how you look at me, my brethren with dreadlocks, surprised that I know all the words to "Redemption Song." I also know why our people wear dread locks. Do you? It's a fad for them, but it represents our people's struggle and dedication to freedom. I see sisters rocking natural hair and throwing their fists up in the air while turning their noses up at me. Sister, I respect your choice to stand against a society that has mentally enslaved us. But don't assume that I haven't made the same vow. You look at me and see 18 inches of Remy in my hair and long eye lashes, and you think you know me. Yet you dare to stare into my eyes and see the pain you feel. My fist is raised just as high as yours; my voice screams "Black Power" just like yours.

We're all different. Making judgments before we learn about each other makes unification harder to reach. I've grown frustrated with being invited to events and then made to feel like you're throwing invisible stones at me because I don't look like you. As if my appearance indicates my level of blackness.

Self hate is a phenomenon that tears into the core of our people. We can't expect unification while owning a mindset of separation. Know this: pride cannot be measured by appearance. Still, I have no problem recognizing the fly-ness of my people from the inside and out. I simply expect reciprocity.

Funmi "Queen" Franklin is a word lover, poet and advocate for sisterhood.  She has a weakness for reality shows.

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