As I reflect on To Be Young, Gifted and Black I’ve decided to write you a letter. Your writing has inspired me to get back to the simpler things that our society and culture must have forgotten about. I think that the human race concerns me too, as it should, concern most young Black Americans. The things in which concerned you about the state of Black people may have only intensified for us with time. The education system has failed a lot of us and we don’t even realize it. Even the idea that writing a letter to someone, really writing in our own handwriting, is strange to most people now. And while I still suspect that most African American writers are heavily involved in the liberation of Black minds, many Black artists today only contribute to the degradation of Black culture. Be hopeful though, the culture is shifting.
I found so much of myself in your work! I want “young, gifted, and black” to be a state of being–one that all Black youth can see themselves in, because they are. I found myself scribbling in the margins of my book, noting things and ideas to remember and words to define later. I had to watch A Raisin In The Sun again. I had a much better understanding of it now, while reading this and studying about you. Its relevance to today is partly sad and partly revolutionary. Both pieces, A Raisin In The Sun and To Be Young, Gifted and Black, should be taught and discussed with every young person. I need more people to see the fearlessness that Black youth of your day had for revolutionary causes. It is appropriate and necessary for Black youth to resist oppression in every single thing we do in this society. I am afraid that too many of us have given up or simply don’t care enough for freedom. I’ll keep fighting though, and writing.
You discussed many things in your book that I feel more Black people should at least think about. The problem of today, I see, is that people are not thinking. Not critically not analytically. “I don’t attack people who are religious at all, as you can tell from the play; I rather admire this human quality to make our own crutches as long as we need them. The only thing I am saying is that once we can walk, you know–then drop them.” The problem of the Black man in America is very much a human problem, as you have stated, as Malcolm X has stated, as James Baldwin has stated. Black folks really do unknowingly think of themselves as less than human, less than deserving and most will attest that the only way to change their circumstance is by being saved. Religion is, in fact, still a crutch that seems to unconsciously keep Black folks in an inferior state of being. Many of us just simply refuse to drop our crutches.
Furthermore, as Black intellectuals and artists were, as you said, not interested in the idea of the “Exceptional Negro” in your day, many people today aim to be The Most Exceptional Negro possible and would probably do anything to have tea at the White House. “What we are interested in is making perfectly clear that between Negro Intelligentsia, the Negro middle class, and the Negro this-and-that- we are one people. And that as far as we are concerned, we are represented by the Negroes in the streets of Birmingham!” Oh how I wish to hear this spoken from the black bourgeoisie of today! The so-called Black elite has not dared to consider the Black youth in Ferguson (or even us in Chicago) as of the same people as them! This is a direct reflection of how money and class has created a huge divide among Black people whereas someone’s connection to wealth excludes them from being Black, no less relating to the masses of Black people. I long for us to be one, again.
I know that I have been young, gifted, and black my entire life but what is frightening in that for me is the gifted part. At which point should I consider myself an intellectual? At which point do I call myself a writer? I’m thinking now is as good a time as any as the youngers are desperately in need of influences like you–like me: a Black intellectual, writer, and revolutionary.
From you, I’ve learned to measure people right. I’ve learned to be patient when people are unable to see my truth within the small eye of a needle. I’ve learned that “though it be a thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic—to be young, gifted and black.” As I know I will never be able to thank you enough for truly being that, at best, I will complete your thoughts.