Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2002 / 24 Shevat, 5762
Based on Skin Color
The basic idea of those doing the scolding is that it is my duty as a black writer to speak only well of the Negro. I should never engage in "doing the white man's work" by "tearing down" other Afro-Americans. To do otherwise is only to curry favor from "that old pale thing," as Malcolm X described the white man.
I don't buy any of that. I do have a duty, but it is not to somebody's skin color, regardless of what they do. I'll give people a bouquet or a boot to the backside - or, as is sometimes the case with the Rev. Al Sharpton, both at once - depending upon how outstanding or out of whack their latest public moment has been.
Haley ran a game based on the vulnerability of those he hustled. He stole material. He made up ancestry. This has been proven. He was a fraud.
But, some say, "Black people need heroes." This means that because Haley has been made into a hero, he should forever remain in place on his pedestal. Not where I'm coming from, not if he steals someone's material to buttress what must be the biggest literary con in history. This is particularly absurd because we have so many black people who are actual heroes - so many that we can throw a rotten fish back into the water and still have plenty of nourishment when we get home.
Give real heroism some respect.
Some say Haley's "Roots" did more good than bad because of the attention it brought to slavery and because of the work it gave to so many black actors in the television miniseries based on the book. There is a point to that argument, because our country still has not adequately addressed slavery and because it is still a surprise any time the Negro is depicted on screen as a human being, not a buffoon, knucklehead or hoochie.
At the same time, I would say the book and miniseries helped the pointless Afro-American romance with Africa - a romance that lets Africans off the hook. This has been consistent for about 30 years, but it seems to be abating finally in the face of the truth that Africans were not a bunch of noble savages overrun by the demon white man, but were indispensable to the success of the slave trade.
And they still sell slaves.
The reality that should be made clear to those who still want to bow down before "the motherland" is harsh but true: Given our having grown up in - and helped create! - a very sophisticated society, and given the fact that, as of now, American Negroes are the most remarkable black people in the world, we have much, much more to offer Africans than they have to offer us.
Right now, droves upon droves of African girls are being raped because African men believe that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. I won't even mention the mutilations and slaughters resulting from tribal hatreds and the multitudes stricken by diseases because of the ignorance of what a little boiled water can do.
We will help Africans, no doubt. But we will surely help ourselves even more if we call the pitches as we actually see them.
That's what I'm going to
JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy
of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994, Always in Pursuit: Fresh American
Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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