Interview with Family and Friends
Celebrating Black History Month
The following interview is conducted by Bert Gagnon, Songwriters Network.
Answers are from FAMILY AND FRIENDS, an outstanding musical group from Mississippi specializing in Original R&B, but they have many musical influences.
[ Bert Gagnon] Lets begin with earlier times. Early references to African-Americans were Negro, Black, Afro-Americans (this is from my own memory, so correct me if anything is not correct) and now African-American. Do you believe that these references to your culture had any affect to your cultural identity? If so, how?
Jerelene The way of life of a group of people is its culture. Therefore,
I think that the terms should only be used to identify or give credit to a specific group of people for artistic, historical or educational purposes. It's not the terms themselves that determine who we are; but it's our special way of doing certain things. It's not what we are called, but rather what we've been molded into from our group's living experiences. And your memory left one out, Bert, (colored) which most blacks find as offensive today as the "n" word when used by non-blacks. However, it's still a popular term by older southerners.
Tara Not really; but I really don't identify with being referred to as
African American because my ancestors aren't just from Africa. I prefer being called "black."
[ Bert Gagnon] African-Americans are rich with tradition. Can any of you place your family in Africa and if so in which country in Africa?
Chandra No. Everything I know about our family's beginnings starts with the life in America (USA).
Jerelene Same here! Arkansas, Louisiana and/or Mississippi!
[ Bert Gagnon] Do you believe prejudice and discrimination are continuing in your area and can you give specifics?
Jerelene It's still here. But I was raised to treat people with civility and I raised my children that way. I am helping to teach our grandchildren how to love and respect all life and not be a "respecter of persons." However, it's difficult when restaurants will close their business to keep from serving any minorities. Overt actions of discrimination are slowly diminishing. One has to be discreet. Covert actions will give one a false sense of knowing who's genuine. But our family and our friends are so integrated that we tend to mingle with the people with the right attitudes and hearts.
Tara Yes. I do believe both still exist in South Mississippi and everywhere in the USA. It's unfortunate! I work in retail and many times I see older white ladies switch their purses to the opposite sides when approached by a black male.
Chandra Not to mention elevator episodes; pr people following the black customers around in stores. And I had other races stealing from the store in which I managed all of the time.
[ Bert Gagnon] We all remember Trent Lott's admission that he supported segregation. Do you believe that the government covertly supports segregation?
Chandra I wouldn't say the entire government supports segregation. But I feel the government is not free of individuals who do!
Jerelene I agree. Our government is a cross-section of our cities and states. So whatever exists out here across America is certainly represented in our government. But to openly admit such beliefs would hurt them politically. Trent Lott's situation is proof of that. But I'm sure there are many others.
Tara In some ways, I think the government still supports segregation. Although it appears to mean well by gearing programs towards "special groups," this could be a politically correct, inoffensive, tactful way of achieving segregation of the cultures.
[ Bert Gagnon] Have the American people been enlightened in the "New Millennium" regarding prejudice or do you believe that people still judge other people by the color of their skin?
Jerelene Definitely yes to both questions. Enlightened; but not changed!
Chandra People are people. Still judgmental, period!
Tara Unfortunately, I don't believe the "new millennium" has brought about that much change. It's true that Blacks are given rights and privileges that generations before us were not given, but there's no law to inhibit ignorance. Therefore, I do believe people are judged by the color of their skin by ignorant people.
[ Bert Gagnon] Do you see in our not too distant future that people from different cultures, different looks, different religions can co-exist peacefully?
All As long as we have "racist groups" who teach their children to hate, we won't have a peaceful society. Racist groups exist in all cultures and are still allowed to thrive under the protection of the "free speech amendment" of the Constitution. But we are hopeful and we pray for peaceful co-existence.
[ Bert Gagnon] February is Black History Month. Which African-American do you believe contributed the most to American society? Besides Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
All We all concur that George Washington Carver, who revolutionized the agriculture of the South with his development of products from the peanut, sweet potato and the pecan, was a great contributor. Brilliant Man!
Tara and Chandra "Rosa Parks for her courage!"
Jerelene I choose Marian Anderson because she inspired talented black musicians to get formal training in the arts. I attended one of her last concerts in Austin, Texas while attending college as a music student. She and Leontyne Price were inspirational contributors of the Fine Arts as are so many others. We in our segregated schools when I was growing up learned of many contributing blacks to American society. But until the observance of
Black History Month, such fine people are never mentioned; nor other cultures. Don't get me started on this topic. I get a little testy because I've heard comments like Black Americans have never contributed anything worthwhile to the American Society. It's amazing how much press the negative, criminal acts of a Black American receives compared to a worthwhile achievement. This is why one today knows little about all of the wonderful contributions made by Black Americans or any minority.
[ Bert Gagnon] Any other people you can think of that made major contributions to our society and were not recognized for their contributions?
Jerelene I'm sure there are many who did positive things that had their credit taken away from them. That's why people don't know about all of these fine people. For years, I didn't know about Dr. Charles Richard Drew, the famous surgeon responsible for blood preservation and blood banks. He was a Black American!
[ Bert Gagnon] African-American history is becoming more popular in our schools. Should there be a separate course for this or should educators re-write history books to reflect the contributions that African-Americans made in history and put them in correct chronological order?
Tara I think a separate course would sort of be like "segregation. It would probably be best to integrate the history of our culture and of others just as it occurred. So I'd like to see new books written to reflect this so that history can be told as it really happened.
Jerelene I agree. Integrate the facts with all other history and accurately record the occurrences of every culture and not be faced with this problem again.
[ Bert Gagnon] In reading this interview, you will notice that I intentionally left out words such as "Race." Do you believe words such as "race" have contributed to prejudice for the African-American? After all, does the word "race" come up when we talk about American Indians or Asians? I think that if we replace "Race" with "Culture," African-Americans will be recognized as a culture rather that the difference in skin color. Do you agree or disagree with that idea?
Tara I disagree. I don't think a word will make that big of a change. There's too much history--rather, it's too far drilled within most minds to change that way of thinking.
Jerelene It's racist people who make racial terminology a negative thing. So often, the "race card is played in situations when race is really not the issue. Pure and simple, one may be confronting ignorance, rudeness and /or stupidity. And those things, come in all races of mankind. If words could solve mankind's racial problems, we could just drop all labels and just be men, women, or children; but just think of the confusion. So, if you have to
tell someone who I am by saying, "she's a music loving, Black American woman from Mississippi; then that's what you say because that's who and what I am! If you were simply saying, "I'm inviting my friend, Jerelene, to church on Sunday." Then I would not think it necessary to have to clarify that statement by race. Only, if someone asked. But the term is a part of my identity as has become accepted as such. Too often, we become too sensitive.
Unfortunately, Barbara and Joe Raines were unavailable for this interview. Joe's back in Las Vegas performing with the band, ISIS. Interview participants were Tara, Jerelene and Chandra (Joe's wife). Thanks to Bert Gagnon for this interview opportunity. - FAMILY AND FRIENDS (Family and Friends)
Thanks to Bert Gagnon, founder and co-host of The Songwriters Network, (The Songwriters Network) who contributed this interview in celebration of Black History Month.
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