Human Heroes

In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm talks about being invited to a party in Ghana as a guest of the Kwame Nkrumah government. He describes being captivated by the music and dancing going on around him and speaks of his desire to dance along but abstaining, because he didn’t want to look undignified. While I understood his meaning, that passage always saddens me.

Last September, Tavis Smiley appeared on Dancing With The Stars. I admit when I heard about it I was surprised. My perception of him has always been of an erudite advocate of issues affecting the Black community and watching him doing his thing on the dancefloor was…interesting. I thought it was a good departure from the idea that stoicism is the only acceptable attitude for a Black man committed to social issues.

Historically, America wants it’s heroes and leaders to be perfect; living statues with no failings or human qualities. Intellectually, I think most people know this is ridiculous but psychologically, many people in American society still want that. There are some who don’t. When the Lewinsky scandal broke, I couldn’t have cared less then and I care even less now. The economy was racing like a Detroit engine and there were plenty of jobs. So long as that continued, Bill Clinton could fly in showgirls from Vegas as far as I was concerned. I prefer the Parisian attitude to situations like that, where as long as he isn’t embezzling money from the government, a politician’s private life is his own affair (pun intended.)

Black America in particular has always required those ideal paragons. We needed those of us in leadership positions to be hyperdignified, upstanding moral compasses to counter the broad slurs against Black intelligence, morality and dignity that racists used to deny Black people advancement. Most Blacks equate W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X and MLK with the images of their legacies and monuments. But they were men. Brilliant, but fallible, human beings. That’s why I loved seeing Barack Obama dancing and singing to his wife in public and looking even more dignified while doing so. Technology is a leveler, twitter and Facebook has removed a lot of the mystique from the leadership process and placed public opinion into the hands of regular people. Regular people by and large are not impressed by people adopting the stoic personas of past eras.

Why should enjoying life be seperate from social justice? Smiling doesn’t dilute the message. I love Duke Ellington and Gucci Mane.I love sarcasm. I use business English and hood talk, depending where I am. I think sex is an amazing experience. Especially with a partner. It’s okay to be a human being and still fight for the causes you believe in.

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Author: Torraine Walker

I'm a writer based in Atlanta, GA.

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