For quite a long spell in African-American history, each of us has had to bear the burden of the race on our shoulders. Custom and tradition — and intense desire for equality — dictated that we mind our manners and avoid personal acts and activity that would make the entire race look bad. Thus, we were skittish about eating chitterlings and watermelon, especially in public. Washington activist Petey Green eased some of that with a riotous routine on how to eat watermelon (not properly with a knife and fork). Amos ‘n’ Andy was booted from both radio and television, a banishment spearheaded by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that persists to this day.
We were also saddled with guilt about poor grammar and incorrect English, “bad” hair that we tried to ameliorate with conks (remember Malcolm X?), processes and other straighteners, skin whiteners and certain cuss words (in particular, the dreaded 12-letter, four-syllable insult that begins with “m”), and we were to avoid or chastise those who violated the unwritten rules of deportment.
We even tolerated and laughed along with a white comedian, Lenny Bruce, who evoked laughter with his shtick mocking Joe Louis’ inarticulate interviews after dispatching the white hope of the week.
“Well, Joe, what do you think about the fight?” went Bruce in his nightclub performance.
“Ahhhh, arrrrrah, ughhh, I glad I win … blah, blah, blah, Deetroit.”
Indeed, we were embarrassed.
But no more. That was then. In the interim, we progressed to the point where not even the buffoonery of a Herman Cain can make us shudder and shrink into the shadows to hide our faces. There was a time when such antics would have been comparable to Amos ‘n’ Andy. But declaring ultraconservative billionaires the Koch brothers his “brothers from another mother” and describing himself as “black-walnut ice cream” only drew snide snickers and disdain from many nonsupportive African Americans.
His ignorance of the war in Libya and President Obama’s foreign policy fell only on his shoulders, not the rest of us. His long pauses and poor answers to questions about policy issues that presidents confront daily reflected solely on him.