Superficial celebrations?

William T. Robinson, Jr.

It must be human nature that people will go out of their way to find something socially to celebrate. The citizens of Nashville, Tennessee are no exception to the rule. We celebrate things that we find uplifting, honorable or commendable, whether it is a person, group, organization or special event. Personal celebrations include: birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, marriages, births, promotions and events to honor achievements and progress.

As an African American living in Nashville, I find no shortage of African American organizations (church groups, civil clubs, fraternities, sororities, politicians, and businesses) having events finding reasons to celebrate achievements and accomplishments relating to uplifting and honoring African Americans in the community. No doubt, some are quick to say, these celebrations validate our existence and worth as well as offer us an opportunity to unwind and escape daily pressures.

We are quick to dress up for many of these ostentatious ‘photo-ops’ and parade around like peacocks. Often we are honoring people within our own celebrated groups who have done very little other than hold a prestigious title or position. Many people are quick to celebrate, acknowledge and exalt holders of titles and high positions over what that person might have actually contributed to a group or the community. All too often, this superficial honoring of people who have done little if anything other than hold a prestigious title or position does nothing to truly serve the needs of the organization or the community honoring the recipient. The truth is that we often have too many organizations honoring individual people with swelling heads and inflated egos. They are not really being held accountable for true leadership or productive progress.

Respectfully, I’m not saying as African Americans we are not to celebrate achievement and progress. But it has to be real and effective—something we all can relate to and acknowledge in the African American community. It’s common practice for African Americans to dress up and go to an expensive hotel to feel important, but we must start celebrating with purposes that unite us and bring us closer together as a community—instead of having so many events that divide us into esoteric cliques giving the airs of being bourgeois and ‘class conscious.’

At any given time, you can see pictures of beautiful African American men and women dressed to kill manifesting an air of importance and dignity at private and public events. But the reality is that we live in a capital city that has a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest (the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and the general responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of Black Union troops at Fort Pillow). Maybe it’s just me, but I find it hard to truly celebrate African American achievements in Nashville when we have a bust symbolizing and uniting racists for White supremacy in our state capital. And to add insult to injury, the law protects it. Like it or not, the taxes of African Americans help support this abomination of White supremacy and racism.

Wake up Nashvillians, Black and White! How can we celebrate when we can’t eradicate a symbol of hate, racism, and White supremacy that is honored in the hall of our state capital? Why are we asking permission to remove this abomination? Why are we not demanding its removal by whatever means necessary? If our African American elected officials cannot remove a bust, how can they make a significant difference in the very communities that elected them?

Dress up and prance around like you are important if you wish, but nonetheless we live in a city and state that we allow to trivialize and dishonor African Americans on a daily basis. The powers that be have a uniting symbol that lets them know every day that they have their African American residents locked down and in check. Sadly enough, some African Americans in this city don’t see the bust as a problem. But it is the principle and audacity of apathetic state representatives that allow the bust to exist and be honored in our state capital.

It is a slap in the face of African Americans living in this city and state every day. Yet, for the most part, we continue to act as if we are accepted as equal and held in high esteem in many of our high profile city celebrations—as if we have arrived. Real celebrations should be incumbent on the removal of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the state capital.

I can only surmise that when we, as African Americans in this city, finally rid ourselves of this symbol of hate, racism, and White supremacy in our capital—then we can truly go forward and be recognized and respected as true Tennesseans. Until we, as African Americans, change this scenario—we are only going through superficial acts of appearing important and respected among others and ourselves in this city and state.