‘Strip Club Queens Atlanta’ to debut March 5” (Washington Post March 5, 2013)
From the poem: “She does not know her beauty”
“My name is Iyeoka Ivie Arabomen Okoawo.
My father named me after my grandmother.
My name means I want to be respected.”
“She does not know her beauty
She thinks her brown skin has too many flaws
If she could see her image in the Unogbo River where her mother was born
She would know…”
Poetic excerpts from the pen of Gerald W. Deas, MD:
“I wanna be my own man don’t wanna be on loan man”
“..For you’d rather walk barefoot than to lose your soul..”
I really thought we scraped (and actually avoided) the bottom with the cancellation of the proposed “babies mommas” series. Clearly, I underestimated the extent to which this cultural negation and denigration would sink. But then again, they are not kidnapping and forcing Black people at gun point to do these modern day minstrel shows; at least that is what I believe. It is not like the participants are slaves, and working without the right to self-will and determination; but then again, maybe this is a modern day expression of a form of economic slavery. They are, I guess “getting paid”. But at what price do you sell your very person-hood. Now I can anticipate all of the standard responses: (1) The economy is always on the down-turn in the Black community and people must make a living, somehow. (2) “It would not be on if the “public” did not “want” it. To 1 & 2, it is absolutely true that a ‘slow’ economy for America in general, translates into a very slow-motion, damn near stopped economy for Black America. A Black American can only get a ‘whiff’ of notice if they are fortunate enough to be a member of that often lauded “middle-class”.
But we have seen these and worse times since the issuance of Mr. Lincoln’s Proclamation of Emancipation. And opting to return to slavery was never an option. “There is a river”; (the title of that wonderful Poetic-Historical book by Vincent Harding) that flows throughout our sojourn here in America. The flow of that river constantly pushes us forward, albeit sometimes slowly; but forward nonetheless, to a greater expression of dignity and freedom. Dr. Harding was relying on a Biblical reference to explain the collective power of perseverance and hope that always got us through the worst of times, and the worse days in those times.
Many Black Americans were forced in the pre-civil rights era to take jobs that were far below their educational or skills capability. I met the largest number of Black college graduates in one place, in my 18 year old life, when I started working at the General Post Office in Manhattan. These Black Americas took and held those hard jobs in the hope that their children, unlike them, could one day be able to realize their full human potential. They held these “lessor” jobs with great pride and dignity. They endured, they did what they had to do, but they did it in the right way. “there is”; as some of those old folks use to say; “no right way to do wrong”. I remember many years ago talking to a drug dealing neighborhood friend (who did eventually give it up) who tried to apologize and rationalize his actions by saying: “Well, I would not be selling drugs, if people did not want it”. I conceded his point: “You are right”; but as he begin to smile in an anticipated victory, I completed my thought: “You would not be selling drug’s; instead you would be engaged in some other type of community destructive behavior; you need to stop because it is the wrong thing for you to do to people; you can’t do wrong just because people want to pay you to let them harm themselves; and because I care about you, you should also stop because there are no retirement homes for drug dealers; and the odds are you are going to end up dead or in prison; and we both know your mother is going to suffer greatly at having to ‘funeralize’ and bury you”. The issue is not one of a willing “audience”; it is a matter of your willingness to accept that the only way for me to achieve X is to do harm to myself or others. (3)“There are many “White Americans” who play self-depreciating, and shall we say “embarrassing” roles in the entertainment industry. And Poor Snooki and her crew always get thrown under the bus when, The: “See there is some ‘White’ embarrassment on TV” defense is offered.(Poor Snooki, It must be hard out here bearing the White folks burden of embarrassment). First, I don’t think anyone should feel that in order to practice their craft, they must be open to diminishing their person-hood; to be laugh at in a racially or culturally derogatory way. Is all “self-depreciating” humor bad, no. Comedians like Jerry Lewis, Jackie Gleason or Red Skelton transformed into many funny characters, and made fun of themselves; but it was their performance not their race or nationality that was the source of the humor. And yes, there are many “unflattering” roles performed by White entertainers; but one important difference: There is a very large spectrum of opportunities that enable these folks to avoid these roles, if they choose to do so. For Black performers, it all falls on their level of self- worth and self- esteem. There is a wide opportunity of choice that is just not open to Black creative artist. This was comically and honestly portrayed in the Robert Townsend movie Hollywood Shuffle. In this tragic satire we saw “classically” trained Black actors; who had an excellent mastery of the spoken English language, being forced to transform themselves into odd characterizations of “street-hoods, pimps and hoes”; not to stretch their acting skills, but because these were the only roles open to them.
As we ready ourselves for the “Strip Club” show; one or two of whom who actually could be designated a “housewife”; but I suspect that even the producers thought that “Strip Club Housewives of Atlanta” was a bit much (although I have wrongly over-expected, and been disappointed in the past).
I can only wonder what creative, inspiring and lifting “magic” all of these lost folks would create if given the opportunity to create in dignity and beauty? Perhaps some would still choose ‘Stripperdom’, and perhaps not; but the absence of choice; and that choice was removed early in their lives, is critical here. This is a version of Hughes’s “Dream Differed”. When people are unable to fulfill the calling of their natural talents, the loss of the creative visions of themselves; they slip sadly into a self-hatred nightmare that forces them to take on Dunbar’s ‘We wear the mask’, approach to life. Without too much coaxing, they transform themselves into a cartoonish expression of what was divinely conceived and crafted in greatness and goodness. To reflect on the words of the poet Iyeoka Ivie Arabomen Okoawo; “She does not see her beauty”… And we don’t know or see our beauty. This renders us unable to face and accept our own amazing strengths and gifts. We work, oh so hard to hide our beauty; not just from the world, but more importantly, from ourselves.