It is Black History Month in the U.S.A, a month to reflect on the history, contributions, achievements, self-identification and self-identity of black people.

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others…One ever feels his twoness – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

(The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, African American, 1868-1963; sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist)

I grew up in a small town.  The majority of older black adults there lacked formal education.  The dialect or poor English spoken by these adults never seemed to embarrass my mother.  In fact, my mother often recited some of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poems that were written in patois/black dialect, winning applause. 

As kids, my sister and I sometimes read or wrote correspondence for black adults.  We did this because they needed.  We did not feel superior.  The adults praised us, gave us “thank-you’s”, hugs and/or “a little spending change.”

As an adult, I am frequently annoyed by black folks who treat uneducated or poor black folks as inferiors, folks at whom they look down their noses. 

“Folks ain’t got no right to censuah othah folks about dey habits…We is all constructed diff’ent, d’ain’t no two of us de same…” (Accountability; by Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872-1906, poet, novelist, playwright)  I assume that you understood this quote.

My mom USED TO sing this little ditty when I was a kid:  “Black folks, white folks, everybody come. Join the colored Sunday school. Make yourself at home.”  I did not think the ditty suggested that black folks should be white. 

I came across the following quotes that speak to black people being defined by others.

“As long as the colored man look to white folks to put the crown on what he say… as long as he looks to white folks for approval… then he ain’t never gonna find out who he is and what he’s about.”

(Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, act 1 by August Wilson, Jr., African American, 1945-2005, playwright)

“Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.”

(Carol Moseley Braun, African American, 1947-, politician and lawyer; Interview in The New Republic, November 15, 1993)

A Primary Election takes place in Evanston on Feb. 28.  Black candidates are included in the mayoral and ward races.  Please vote, but please vote for those candidates that will not hesitate to speak up for or against matters that affect all Evanstonians and not those candidates that just want to be socially accepted.

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”  (The Greatest, 1975, Muhammad Ali, 1942-2016, professional boxer and activist)  I contact.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...