Anyone who listens to the music written by Smokey Robinson – songs that include such classics as “Ooh Baby Baby,” “The Tears of a Clown,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” and “You Really Got a Hold On Me” – would acknowledge that not only is he an incredible singer but a profound wordsmith as well.
In 2008, Robinson laid down a “def jam” poem that couldn’t be more appropriate today when so much of the black community — in sports stadiums and beyond — is being spurred to protest the American flag. Robinson’s poem is funny, raw and profound.
Every black NFL player protesting today should be forced to watch this video (and some white ones too).
Blacks are taught that they must show resilience in the face of “deadly oppression”, or, as prominent writer Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it, under a government that “throughout most of its history, had oppressed black people.”
Yet, despite these claims of black oppression, Smokey Robinson states proudly states “I love being Black. I love being called Black. I love being an American.”
Mr. Robinson argues forcefully in his poem blacks like him should reflect their pride in their national heritage by opting for the name “Black American”:
I’m already who I was meant to be I’m a Black American, born and raised.
And brother James Brown wrote a wonderful phrase, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud! Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud!”
Cause I’m proud to be Black and I ain’t never lived in Africa, and ’cause my Great-Great Granddaddy on my Daddy’s side did, don’t mean I want to go back.
The terms “black” and “African-American” are meaningless in Smokey Robinson’s view:
So, if we gonna go back, let’s go all the way back, and if Adam was Black and Eve was Black, then that kind of makes it a natural fact that everybody in America is an African American.
Everybody in Europe is an African European; everybody in the Orient is an African Asian and so on and so on, that is, if the origin of man is what we’re gonna go on.
And if one drop of Black blood makes you Black like they say, then everybody’s Black anyway.
So quit trying to change my identity.
Mr. Robinson adds:
Now, by and by, we were called Negroes, and after while, that name has vanished.
Anyway, Negro is just how you say ‘black’ in Spanish.
Then, we were called colored, but s***, everybody’s one color or another, and I think it’s a shame that we hold that against each other.
According to Mr. Robinson, many of the changes in how blacks refer to themselves are based in a lack of ethnic pride. This deficiency caused some to see “Black” as an insult, which led some to embrace “African-American” because it “sounded a little more exotic.”
“African-American” is fine for those from countries like Kenya, Smokey Robinson argues, but “not the brother who’s family has lived in the country for generations, occupying space in all the locations New York, Miami, L.A., Detroit, Chicago… Even if he’s wearing a dashiki and sporting an afro.”
As some readers who notice my handle at the bottom of this page will see, not only am I a proud Black American myself, I am a member of a political group which calls itself “African American Conservatives” as well. So I am obviously not fully in agreement with Smokey Robinson on this point.
There is nothing wrong with “black” or “Black American” obviously. I use both terms myself.
However, my view is that the term “African-American” conveys a pride in my ethnic heritage not to be found by merely self-referencing myself by the color of my skin.
Much like the magnificent Ronald Reagan once said “I’m certainly proud to be part of that great Irish American tradition,” I am certainly proud to be part of the great African American tradition.
My afro-wearing days are sadly long gone, however. That was decided by Mother Nature and Father Time, not by me.
But I think I still have a dashiki somewhere in the back of my closet.