Let me get this straight. We have a Chinese furniture company labeling one of its sofas "[N-Word] Brown." We have a Chinese sculptor being awarded the rights to carve the proposed $100 million Martin Luther King Memorial. And while Master Lei Yixin is carving the MLK stone, his Chinese brethren will continue carving out a large piece of Africa by developing the land, purchasing the oil and selling Africans everything they want and need. What's wrong with this picture? To most Black folks in America, it seems the answer is obvious: Nothing.
The sofa issue could be mitigated by the possibility that in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, from where the sofa was shipped, the N-Word could be just an effort on their part to emulate a colloquial U.S. expression. The Chinese are capitalists; they want the money. I can't believe they would intentionally do something to alienate what might be the largest consumer group in the world in terms of disposable income. I don't know; they may have thought the N-Word was a term of endearment; some Black folks do.
Nonetheless, the "N-Word Brown" sofa fiasco will have a brief shelf life and will soon fade into the annals of "shock news" stories. Purchases from China will go on and we will be back to business as usual in a month or so. Whatever the case, I can give the Chinese furniture label a free ghetto pass this time. Now if the color of the MLK memorial is done in lush tones of N-Word Brown, I will definitely have a problem.
Nice segue. Let's talk about this MLK memorial. I don't know if you saw the article written by one of the country's most renowned artists, Gilbert Young. The article, titled, "A Chinese Martin Luther King?!" (www.kingisours.com) expresses Young's outrage at the lack of a Black designer (The Roma Group, www.roma.com, was selected for that) and a Black sculptor to complete the project (Lei Yixin was elected for that $10 million honor).
As a result, Gilbert Young says, "So let's see, that leaves the digging and hauling, which in some folks' eyes may be appropriate because this nation was built on the backs of Blacks. I, for one, am not willing to bob my head and grin over the fact that some Black subcontractor will be employed to move the dirt. Nor am I willing to allow my children's children to visit a memorial that will not reflect African American art and culture and artistry."
Black people are always busy trying to be "inclusive" with our projects while, at the same time, we are being "excluded" from projects controlled by others. I don't know what's up with those in charge of the MLK Memorial, but I gotta go with Gilbert Young on this one. He questioned the travesty of justice in having the "national treasure of China," Lei Yixin, sculpt the center piece of the most important African American monument, in recognition of the most important African American movement in the history of the United States — a movement that never could have taken place in China. Maybe they should put the memorial in China, especially since some of the quotes to be inscribed on it speak directly to the oppression in that country.
I must be missing something here, because it just does not make sense. I thought of something Booker T. said, "Beneath everything lies economics." Could this be about the money? Of course, it could.
Another nice segue. China boasts the world's second-largest cache of foreign exchange behind only Japan; and it is on pace to see its reserves soon climb past $1 trillion. China virtually controls the U.S. and has made significant economic headway in Africa, especially during the past 25 years. Consider the trade deficit with China, the rise of the Euro and the fall of the dollar, the manipulation of the Yuan by the Chinese, the escalating oil consumption by China, and the sheer power ensconced in China's 1.3 billion consumers. They tell me even the stone for the MLK Memorial will be imported from China!
Since China loves Black folks, according to Yang Zhou, a hotel manager in Sierra Leone, who said, "Africa is a good environment for Chinese investment, because it's not too competitive." And when you consider the economic impact of doing deals with China, the dots get connected.
But let's get back to Black folks. If we want to make a Chinese connection, then let's do it, but let's do it with some leverage. To simply channel profits to them at the expense of Black artists, designers — all in the name of inclusion and the flimsy rationale of Dr. King being "international" in his reach and in his message — will not give us the leverage we need to build our own Chinese connection, one that will benefit our children prior to benefiting everyone else's.
When I saw Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson crying alligator tears at the groundbreaking of the MLK Memorial I thought it was in remembrance of MLK and what he did for us. Maybe I was wrong; could their tears have been in response to most of the funds being collected for the memorial going to China rather than to Black folks?
As usual, Black folks get to participate in the emotional side of things, putting shovels in the ground, making speeches, and crying, while other folks stay in the background waiting for the money to start rolling out. We get excited about the sizzle, and they dine sumptuously on the steak. Please, stop the madness and Bring Back Black! (www.bringbackblack.org).
James Clingman is director of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati.