Saturday, May 27, 2006


Eric L. Wattree

I feel compelled to reiterate a theme that I addressed in an earlier article where I emphasized that education is the key to improving our condition in the Black community.  I realize that I’m at risk of sounding like Willie One-Note, but I see the need for education in the Black community as a refrain that needs to be played over and over again, because all of our problems can be boiled down to that one simple point.  The fact is, God made birds to fly, fish to swim, and man to think.  If a bird refuses to fly, or a fish refuses to swim, they’re not going to survive very long.  The same is true of man—if a man, or a community of men, refuses to think, they cannot remain viable in this society.

Education will teach us right off the bat that the only rights that we have in this world are the rights that we can take and then defend.  Now, I don’t mean “take” in a military sense—that would be a recipe for disaster.  When I say “take”, I mean using our collective intellect to obtain.  Because it has become clear that we can’t out scream the White man, we don’t have the electronic resources. And it makes absolutely no sense to try to appeal to his compassion, because he doesn’t have any--and what’s going on in Iraq shows that we certainly can’t match him when it comes to brutality. But Martin demonstrated without a doubt that if we marshal our collective intellectual resources, we can out think this man.  We are a highly creative people—we’ve simply got to develop the gift that God gave us, as our essential means of survival.

God didn’t create anything in this world and leave it defenseless.  He gave the chameleon the ability to change colors and blend in with its environment, to make itself virtually invisible. He gave the skunk a funk that’s so powerful that nothing wants to get close enough to eat it. And some fish can blow themselves up so large that they can’t be swallowed.  He did the same with man.  He placed man on Earth as a naked ape—he wasn’t as strong as the elephant, or as ferocious as the lion, and couldn’t fly like the eagle, so God gave him a brain. It didn’t seem like much, at the time, but the human mind has allowed man to create machines that can now crush any elephant, slaughter any lion, and soar well beyond the eagle’s domain.

He’s done the same thing for Black people. He’s given us a highly developed sense of creativity, which, by definition, is a primary indicator of intellectual development.  But our problem is, we only utilize God’s gift for our entertainment, rather than using it to soar like the eagle, and step beyond the domain of ordinary men.

It’s amazing to me how the Black man fails to recognize his powerful gift of creative intellect—we’ve already seen it in action. The hill that Martin had to climb to reach the mountaintop, and see over the heads of common men, was much steeper than the molehill we have to climb today.  Yet, he managed to dredge up a strength and power from his soul that was so profound that it served to lift the rest of mankind to a higher level of humanity. That was not only a testament to one Black man(s ability to pull himself up from the dust of his humble beginnings, but also, a testament to the capacity of his people to meet the test of greatness.

Similarly, I’m also amazed that whenever I hear a discussion on Black pride, someone always seems to brings up the issue of Egypt, and whether or not Cleopatra was Black. All that's academic. We don't have to go back to antiquity to find a source of pride. All we have to do is study the life and times of our parents, our grandparents, and that generation of Black people born between the turn of the century and WWII. In less than a hundred years our people have gone from being the defenseless and nameless victims of public lynchings, to becoming people like Colon Powell, who was responsible for the defense of all of America and the entire western world. In less than a hundred years, the Black people of that generation went from housekeepers and flunkies, to the boardrooms of multinational corporations. And in less than a hundred years, we’ve gone from playing washboards and tin cans on the side of the road, to becoming the greatest musicians the world has ever known.

As a musician, I think about that time a lot—when White folks use to laugh and simply tolerated as “quaint” those “simple” brothers with their washboards and tin cans on the side of the road.  They weren’t seen as a threat, because they were deprived of going to the prestigious music conservatories that White musicians had access to. But today, America is defined by the legacy of those very same musicians.  Every time anyone turns on a radio anywhere in the world, they should have to pay royalties to Bird, Miles, Coltrane, Quincy Jones, Marvin Gaye, and the myriad of other Black musicians that have carried on our legacy.  Yeah, they laughed at us in the beginning, just like they’re laughing at us now; but now, you can get a  Ph.D. in just about any university in the world for just trying to figure out what Bird was doing—and fifty years after his death, they still can’t get it right.  That is the power of creativity, and that is our legacy as a people.

So, we’ve got to start taking ourselves much more seriously—because we are a powerful people, with an exceptional intellect.  But we’ve got to develop it, and refine it, and extend it to the whole of human knowledge.  And we’ve got to stop taking ourselves for granted, and expecting one voice to speak for millions.  We must seek to educate ourselves, so that millions can speak with one voice:

Neither scholar nor the head of state,
The most common of men seems to be my fate;
A life blistered with struggle and constant need,
But as my legacy to man I bequeath my seed.
More fertile, more sturdy, these ones than I,
This withered old vine left fallow and dry;
The nectar of their roots lie dormant still,
But through their fruit I(ll be revealed.

Eric L. Wattree, Sr.

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