Pride: An African-American student had to mount his own search for the truth about himself and his people.


February 02, 1997|By RODNEY M. GLASGOW JR.

IN THE BEGINNING God created Adam from the dust. How was I created? In 1660, Charles II was named king of England. What was I doing? In 1993, "The Bell Curve" supported the theory that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites. Where do I fall on that curve?

The questions, who, what, where, when, why, how, lead my life. As a black man, as a Gilman student, I can tell you what was happening in Europe in 1660, but I haven't the slightest clue what my own people were doing in Africa at the time. As an educated minority student, I struggled to get past the stereotype that I was one of the select few who had made it. For so many years, I was a person without a past, without an understandable religion, and without any concrete ideas about who I really was. I was just there.

Yes, my name is Rodney Maurice Glasgow Jr. born at Sinai Hospital on March 5, 1979, and so forth. That is my history. But where was I in 1879, 1779, 1679, 179? The paragraph in the history textbooks says that I was living in a hut in the wilds of Africa when the Europeans transported me for enslavement in their American territories. For decades I was a slave, and life was tough, until Martin Luther King made a speech that corrected everything. That's how I got to be where I am today. Not only is that bland, but it's offensive.

I have searched in textbook after textbook, looking for black people, my people, myself, in the important eras of American and European history. I found little bits of myself only in footnotes and supplementary sections. I wondered why American and European histories were required courses while black history was an optional quarter-credit course. Was I really just a footnote in history? Is the story of Africans from creation to the present really just an aside to mainstream American history? No! And my anger at this notion led me to find myself in history, led me on a six-year journey into primitive origins.

In the textbooks, I was depicted as a savage running around without any civilized characteristics, no better than the animals. But I slowly realized that someone was trying to hide something from me. They were trying to pull the wool over my eyes with this hidden theme of savagery running throughout their telling of my history. I didn't understand it: They plunder my land, enslave my ancestors, rape my foremothers and whip my forefathers, had us playing step and fetch it in their kitchens and picking cotton in their fields for no pay and no respect, but I'm the savage? Uh-uh. I looked for the real me.

I read about Mary McLeod Bethune, a black educator and presidential adviser to Franklin Roosevelt. I listened to the innovative music of Scott Joplin, a black composer in the early 1900s. George Washington Carver, the black scientist who capitalized on the production of peanuts and soybeans, amazed me. I saw my real history from Africa to America embodied in the person of Kunta Kinte in Alex Haley's "Roots." As these people came alive again, so did I. I had found a past I could be proud of.

God is colorblind

I was on the road to becoming a full person, but my journey into primitive origins was not yet over.

For when I looked into the Bible, I couldn't find myself. I remember when I was much younger, I had a coloring book of the Old Testament. My mother had brought it home for me, and given me a box of crayons. She knew I loved to color. I opened the book to the colorless page of Adam and Eve in the garden. Now I didn't know what color they were supposed to be, and I was a little perfectionist, so I wanted to get it right. I looked at the cover of the book, and sure enough there were Adam and Eve, blond hair, blue eyes and peach skin. On impulse I copied these colors.

Years later that image came back to haunt me. In every picture I had seen, the first couple was white, every image of Jesus was white. At age 16, I struggled with this idea. If humans were created in God's image, and they were white, if Jesus was the son of God, and he was white, would that make God white? As a black person, I could not accept that. I could not accept the idea that God, the ultimate creator, did not look like me. Was I a lesser creation because I wasn't made in God's image? That's what some people would like me to believe so that I would think them superior, so that I would stay in my place.

For months it was really hard for me to develop my concept of God. Then I read Alice Walker's novel, "The Color Purple." In it, Celie and Shug discuss candidly their views about God. Celie tells Shug that her God was white with a gray beard, and Shug laughs. She tells Celie that that man is not God, just the white manifestation of the divine force.

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