Peace, Rosa

So anyone vaguely aware of the world around them would have heard that Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks died Monday. Enough superlatives have been lavished on her courage and conviction in providing the spark for MLK's campaign of non-violent civil disobedience.

That's all well, but I cannot help that the main thing that comes to my mind when I contemplate Rosa Parks is that she is also a symbol of how some remaining members of that movement insist on fawning appreciation of their legacy. Getting lectured by the Jesse Jacksons and Bill Cosbys of the world is annoying enough even for those who, like me, freely admit their gratitude towards the Civil Rights movement, but a particularly galling stroke was Mrs. Parks's lawsuit against OutKast for their hit song "Rosa Parks". Watch out for the hook:

Ah ha, hush that fuss
Everybody move to the back of the bus
Do you wanna bump and slump with us
We the type of people make the club get crunk

So the hook was a little irreverent, but besides the title, there was very little in the song connecting to the Parks story. Maybe that was the crime: any song referencing a Civil Rights hero must be a somber appreciation of their struggle (see "A Song for Assata"). Does it really serve the memory of the Civil Rights movement to be so incredibly petty?

But wait. There's a twist, of course. It seems it's likely that Mrs. Parks wasn't really behind the lawsuit, but rather attorneys and hangers-on who saw the supposed affront to her name as an opportunity to cash in. Some of her family have mnade comments distancing themselves from the lawsuit. I prefer to believe that Mrs. Parks indeed had nothing to do with the suit, but that still leaves the interesting phenomenon of the disconnect between the generations on this matter.

I think one group of young Black Americans today either are happy to enjoy what their forbears fought so hard for in the 60s and get on with their lives and careers. Another group faces many of the hardships caused by inequities in education and other social services, and find it hard to dwell on the achievements of the 60s considering their present day realities. Popular Black culture reflects both attitudes. When Cedric the Entertainer's character in Barbershop said "All Rosa Parks did was sit her ass down!", like it or not, he was voicing the same irreverent attitude of many young Black Americans. It's not so much that anyone really resent Rosa Parks or any of the other figures skewered in the same scene, but that people tend to laugh perversely when they witness the goring of sacred cows, and in the communities targeted by that movie, there are no sacred cows quite like Civil Rights heros. And of course the hierophant class reacted exactly on cue when Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton promptly launched a noisy boycott of the movie.

Rosa Parks did much more than just sit down where she was not supposed to, and I don't expect this fact will ever truly be forgotten. Her status as a hero is established rather than undermined by the fact that the youth enjoy spraying graffiti on her pedestal, especially when those who are most ostentatiously serious about her person carry the smell of monetary and political self-interest. For my part, the only thing I've got to say with my Krylon is "Peace, Rosa, and thanks".

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia