Like a Rock
Do you remember those Chevrolet truck ads with the country guy singing, “Like a Rock/ I was strong as I could be/ Like a Rock/Nothin’ ever got to me”. I always liked that song mainly because I was fascinated by trucks as a boy and it seemed like a tough guy song.
This weekend I was in Bowling Green, KY at the National Corvette Museum for business and amongst the glistening Corvettes, there were speakers playing, “Like a Rock.” I chuckled, mainly because this whole weekend I felt like I was in the soul of America. And I liked it?
Black is Beautiful
So on Thursday, my colleague and I drove down to KY and when we went straight to the National Corvette Museum to set up the tent for our clinic that was to be held Friday and Saturday. Near our tent, there were two guys making sure people had the proper credentials to get in and one of them, Bill, came over to help us set up. Bill is wearing a red Corvette T-shirt, tight blue jeans, and a matching red baseball cap. After we finished setting up, Bill started talking to me about his Corvette and in a strong country accent, he said, “It’s Black on Black. Black is Beautiful.” Immediately, I went into race-conscious mode but I turned off the switch because it was actually funny; a white guy telling a Black guy that Black is beautiful but actually referring to something totally different.
I was working with guys from the entire Corvette team and just about every Corvette owner that came to our tent was all white. And anyone who has known me long enough knows that I often speak negatively (mostly joking though) of Southern culture and how much White folk down there are generally backwards with respect to race relations.
As a result, I was a little nervous about how well I would be accepted. But we had a blast!!! You know the type of laugh you have when you are trying to be polite when someone is trying to be funny and the other laugh when you have to control yourself because you know you make funny noises if you laugh too hard? I experienced the latter. And if you have ever been to England and you are Black, you can attest to the feeling that people there have transcended race and treat you with a respect that you seldom see here in the States. That is how I felt down in Kentucky. Now I know that not all White Southerners are welcoming of Blacks and all that, but the guys I worked with were hard-working folks that loved the product they produced. To be sure, maybe they would not have been so cordial had we met under different circumstances, but why shouldn’t I just take the situation for what it was? Right now, I am in a place where I am in between transcending race and being a slave to race. I got a hint of transcendence as I enjoyed the comfort and freedom to talk to these White guys saying things like, “Yo, that’s what’s up, or that’s fierce”, among others, without having to explain myself.
As my colleague and I drove around KY, I noticed a lot of young people 18-30 in mixed groups of Blacks and Whites. And there was an ease they had that you rarely see up North. I developed a theory that because so few people live down there to begin with, you really don’t have a choice to but to integrate.
I went to a majority-White private elementary school but I wasn’t forced to integrate because everyone in my neighborhood was Black. But what if I didn’t have that Black safety net to come home to? How different would I be today? I’m not sure but as I prepared for the KY trip you have me, Mr. City Boy, thinking I might have to break out some Cornel West or Randall Robinson to potentially educate these country boys when race was the farthest thing from my mind. It was liberating and uncomfortably pleasant.
America as home
I broke bread and chopped it up with All-American country boys all weekend and I never thought I would do that, yet alone have a good time. This got me thinking about what it means to be Black in America. Unfortunately, a lot of us could spend days discussing all the things that are wrong about America, but what is right about it? In other words, what do you like about America? My question is not meant to compare the good against the bad but to truly understand what is good and why you think that way.
I don’t know how to answer that question right now but if I had to start somewhere, I would start with the guys from the Corvette Plant. And I included the lyrics to the song, Like a Rock, by Bob Seger to point out that this All-American song also illustrates the struggle Blacks have made for justice and equailty. Because if anyone had to be strong like a rock, it was us.
Stay up fam,