The emergence of Charles Ramsey as the reluctant hero who rescued a woman that had been held captive for the past ten years brought to mind for me at least acts of heroism that countless other black men have committed in times of need.
When I was a junior in college, I found myself in the middle of a mob scene at a concert that had general seating. The crowd was literally swaying back and forth, as people pushed their way to the door. People were getting injured, as the mass of bodies smashed together. A young white woman standing near me became hysterical and began screaming and pulling out her hair! I grabbed hold of her with my left arm and went into HULK MODE, smashing into people with my right forearm until I cleared a pathway to the door! When I burst through the doorway, I handed her off to the surprised arena staff who took her to the triage. I only hope that she tells her grandbabies the story about the time the big black man rescued her from near death, at the Jethro Tull Concert, back in 1974!
More recently, shortly before the start of a movie, an elderly man was having a heart attack in the theater I was seated in. I assessed the situation and bolted to the lobby to get the man some help. When I returned to my seat my wife expressed great surprise at my actions. We were relatively new in our relationship, so her surprise in part was me revealing the ‘boy scout’ in me. She knew me as lover and confidant and had become very aware of my street demeanor – the no nonsense proactive threat adverse personae – that I switched on the moment we left the house but she had no clue, before that moment, of my proclivity for coming to the aid of others. What she witnessed that day changed her perception of me (right up until the day I divorced her)!
I embraced the idea of helping others, at an early age, by routinely witnessing acts of benevolence committed by my mother and father.
My father never articulated his motivation for helping others but I surmised that his dedication to his mother and sisters, his bond with our nuclear family, being the referee in disputes between our neighbors and his love of this country were all part of an earnest compassion for other human beings. My mother once told me that my father’s feeding of the birds, that gathered in our backyard, in the winter, was a spiritually motivated act of love and compassion.
My mother’s motivation for helping others, was based on her love of Jesus Christ. She frequently reminded my brothers and I of what Jesus had done, during His time on this plane; how His spiritual presence affected us each day and of what He expected from God fearing Christians. My Mother devoted her life to service, to our family, our community and the church. She was literally caring for others right up until the moment that she took her last breath.
Most of my positive influences derived from my family but I was also influenced by the media of the times. I compared the lives of my older brother and I to The Nelson (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) and Clever boys (Leave It To Beaver) because the creature comforts that our parents made for us mimicked their TV lives. They were idealized role models but role models nonetheless.
My parents nurtured me so well as child that I had the audacity to become a benevolent adult.
I have come to understand, over the years that most people don’t expect black men to be benevolent or altruistic. The media has played a major role in the characterization of black men in American. According to how we are portrayed, we can be at best superior athletes but at worse chronic felons, unrelenting predators, bullies of women, children and weaker men and are thought to almost always be self centered and nihilistic. Fortunately, we black men are the only ones that understand that we love other people, love our families, many of us love our country; and many of us consider ourselves to be patriots.
I learned in elementary school that one of the first Americans to die in our quest for freedom from tyranny was a black man named Crispus Attucks. Most men over forty had their schools, books and magazines, television and movies and information passed down from older members of the community, as the greatest sources of information about those that we embraced as role models. I am happy that I went through my formidable years before the media frenzy that exist these days began; that demands that the most sensational news be available for a current news cycle. New media has created attention deficit disorder for consumers.
At the start of World War II, Dorie Miller a mess cook on the USS West Virginian became a hero, during the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941 (my father was also stationed at Pearl, during his time in the Navy).
Knowing the role that that Black Folk have played in the history of this country and the economic impact that our free labor had during this nations formative years, helped me understand that we as Americans are inexorably tied to the fabric of this country and its greatness. No other group of Americans can make that claim.
I struggled, in my younger years, to reconcile the treatment of black people and the near extinction of our closest relatives the Native Americans with my love of this country. I have never been fully able to do so because the assaults upon us have been unrelenting, yet I know intellectually that I live in the greatest country on earth.
African Americans as a group have been treated unfairly in every aspect of American life. And that treatment has had a devastating impact on us as a people. From a psychological perspective, living in the land of opportunity, while being subjected to institutional racism, has caused too many of us to fall for what my father described as the “okey doke“. We, as a group, indulge in the most self destructive behavior we can muster.
Today, in the 21st century black folk kill each other over petty differences and during the callous execution of criminal acts. I read a statement on Facebook that declared that African Americans commit more acts of murder against one another, in a given calendar year, than the Ku Klux Klan or other hate groups have committed against us in the entire history of this country!
I live in Detroit, where young black men shoot victims seemingly on a whim and murder each other routinely. I know that they do so because of a contempt for life that emanates from self hate. As children, most of them didn’t have the social support system that young black children had in the forties and fifties.
In the sixties, the Civil Rights Movement begat the Black Power Movement. The backlash from the Black Power Movement fomented the irrational fear of the black man. That irrational fear has caused – for reasons too numerous to mention here – the wholesale disenfranchisement of blacks.
Today there is more poverty, illiteracy, drug use and crime in the black community than at any other time in the history of America! Not one single person in our community believes that the root causes of these problems came about because we want to live this way!
Despite my love of my country and my patriotism, America does not love me back. It’s a dichotomy that I’ve lived with all of my adult life and I’m not optimistic that it will lessen over time.
By 2010, I knew that if the brotha that was chosen as COMMANDER IN CHIEF OF THE UNITED STATES AND LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD did not receive the respect, by his fellow Americans, that has been historically bestowed upon white men in his position, that it was not likely to happen for the average black man! Fortunately for us, Barack Obama shrugs it off and does his job. Me, Charles Ramsey and many other black men, of a certain age, developed that same attitude, as a matter of survival. We have managed to stayed focused and keep our eyes to the sky! Pressure makes diamonds.