The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

COVENANT #7: Strengthening Our Rural Roots

My mother was born in Augusta, Georgia.  I’ve never been there.  The “Covenant With Black America” makes an excellent point: the majority of black Americans are descended from rural people, slaves and sharecroppers.  Most of us have relatives who still live in the South, with strong cultural traditions lost to those of us who were raised in the cities.

Those of you who have been reading this know that I feel black Americans have been damaged by the experiences of the last 400 years.  In my mind, we would have to be superpeople not to.  You also know that we have a sub-culture, not a culture.  There is no separate black language, religion etc. as Africans, Asians, or Europeans possess.   To create these things, you must be separate, isolated for hundreds or thousands of years.  We never had the chance.

Similarly, there have been comments about segregation.  It is true that the black community was more cohesive during segregation: we had to be.  And that following integration, talented, middle and upper-class black families moved to the neighborhoods with better resale values, opportunities, schools, etc., leaving the inner cities to wither.  I also think that it is too late to do much about that in a geographical sense.  Those of common interests—for instance, racial matters, can, on the other hand, reach out across the internet and create vast and vital communities.  But I think that in time poor blacks and poor whites and poor ANYTHING will be scattered in pockets, outback regions and trailer parks across the country…and that the rest of the country will simply, slowly grow browner as those who live and work and school together are rendered, by familiarity and exogamy, into a genetic blend. 

I’ve seen it happening in my own lifetime: there are simply far more people of obviously mixed heritage walking the streets. But it will take time as the world comes back together, and the process will never be complete.

But as to the “evils” of integration.  Well, there are advantages to prison life, as well.  You are given structure, and meals, and told what to do and where to go.  Many founder when released into the outside world.  The human spirit, in my mind, wants to express its potential to the very highest degree.  I would rather fail with my face to the sun than succeed staring at the ground.

My grandfather was a leader of his community in Kansas.  A black community.  But his world was severely limited: as long as he kept to his place, he was fine.  My father walked a broader world.  He could perform in Las Vegas, but not stay in the hotels.

I have the chance to compete against, to rise or fall, to succeed or fail, the best in the world.  The whites I compete against have vast advantages, and even more, the advantage of not comprehending the depth and height of their advantage.  I watch the inner cities crumble, but I also see black Americans spreading through every tissue of society, influencing policy, growing wealthy, taking charge.  It takes generations to undo the damage of generations.

And despite the chaos, and the understandable fear of those who feel they have been left behind, the healing had to start somewhere, and sometime. 

My son will inherit a better world than the one I was born into.
But those are side issues: I’m rambling again.  The Covenant asks us to consider that what culture black Americans DO have can largely be traced to the South, to the place where we DID have the longest period of RELATIVE isolation.

There are facts of unequal health care, college experience, land ownership, and more.  To address these is to strengthen the root of the vine, so to speak.

Individuals are urged to support and contribute to existing black institutions devoted to assisting black landowners.  To work with neighbors and local grocers to connect with black farmers in the area.  To find out if your families own land in the South and develop a strategy to hold onto that land.

And, of course, to hold all  leaders and elected officials responsible and demand that they change current policy.  Examples are given of current agricultural and food projects, land cooperatives and so forth—showing what communities can accomplish when focused and committed.

Leaders and elected officials are encouraged to help improve the overall quality of rural life, including education and health care.  To ensure that small-scale farmers can sell to local markets directly. To provide credit to sustain farms.  To offer adequate and affordable legal assistance to all farmers.

There are other suggestions, of course.  I encourage readers to purchase the book, and to visit for more information.

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