Don’t Step N Fetch That!!
Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry was one of the first black actors to break into Hollywood with a character known to many as Stepin Fetchit. Mr. Perry, at the height of his success, was the first black actor to make a million dollars during the 1930’s through the 50’s as a Vaudeville comedian. This type of comedic acting was often done by white folks dressing up in blackface, depicting black people as less than intelligent buffoons. By adopting the Vaudeville style of acting, Mr. Perry and other participating blacks were at the forefront of reinforcing negative stereotypes directed toward black people, such as being a dumb shiftless negro. Stepin Fetchit became less popular in the 50’s when black folks became dissatisfied and even wholly mortified by this representation of them. Thus, Mr. Perry’s career came to a halting end.
The less than humorous comedy act of Stepin Fetchit was a pronounced puppet show. The act of black people and black culture being pimped out in broad day-light is no dead or dying scheme. We see today the various dividing lines of political standings, in a freer than not country where we are capable of casting votes for our representations. Yet, we have accepted political abuse as gross and readily as “GO STEP AND FETCH THAT, BOY.” A sort of Stockholm syndrome has plagued our communities where we have found comfort in a party that has vowed endlessly to avenge and defend us only to follow through with the diligence of a deadbeat father.
I grew up during the 1970’s and 80’s in the suburbs of Chicago in a blue-collar working-class community. My grandparents, like many other black folks in the 40’s and 50’s, made their way up to the Midwest from the deep south for a better life. They were hard working people that had grit, great values and morals. They laid down roots by purchasing a home, raising their kids and attending the local church. They were simple people with soft hearts and weathered hands. I have memories of snapping string beans with my grandma on the back porch towards the end of a work day. We would put those beans in plastic Ziplock bags and throw them in a deep freezer to eat later on in the year. My grandparents never spoke very directly on matters of politics but their practices and views weighed on the conservative side. They were God fearing people that believed in right and wrong, they were believers in sustaining independence not dependence for themselves and our family at large. In 1968, when my mother became pregnant with me, at the age of 15, there was an established welfare system in place. A very different America than the ones my grandparents were brought up in. As I grew up, I witnessed first-hand, the evidence of how the welfare system decimated the black family. My fatherless upbringing was a cliché in the neighborhood that I was raised in. A neighborhood where total dependence on “the system” was the way of the land.
Now, when you take a step back to analyze Mr. Perry’s rock and a hard place you may see that truly he was caught between two worlds. In one world he was to be accepted/agreeable in a demeaned way by the very powers that be, aka white folks in America. Mr. Perry could have stayed black and proud, unwilling to be assumed and demeaned by any group of people, no matter their power. That later position could have left him just as internally defeated as the first one. So, what’s the colossal difference that could lead a man of inherent dignity to participate in such a debased act? Well, keeping with his black integrity wasn’t going to pay his bills the way selling out would. And so, for money he plucked the strings to a demoralizing melody that continues to be sung in the streets today. Only today, it may look like government assistance to the black family.
In the mid 80’s a small group of concerned adults came up with the idea to put together a series of talent shows to help curb the violence in the streets. This gave young people something else to put their time and energy to and I was one of those kids. I discovered that I had a talent that needed to be cultivated. While practicing dance routines and writing rap lyrics with my friends in preparation for the talent shows to come, I had no time to stir up trouble for myself. In 1986 I told my mom that I wanted to do music for a living and that I felt like if I didn’t go after it, I might end up dying on a cold block in Chicago. My mom recognized that this might be my way out so she scraped up enough money for a one-way ticket to Los Angeles, CA giving me the opportunity to pursue my dreams. I was barely 18 but passionate about my craft as a rapper. When I hit the streets of L.A. I wasted no time connecting with people that were just as passionate about their music as I was. The hard work finally paid off and I signed with a L.A. based label in 1988. I then went on to sign with another label in 1993 but by this time I was a bit jaded by the whole recording industry. I felt like I always had to jump through hoops and over hurdles like a trained poodle and I became discouraged. I never wanted to stop rapping I just wanted to do it on my own terms. I became a Christian in November of 93 and this change in my life was the push I needed to pursue a slightly different avenue that I still travel on today. My wife and I have gone on to record many albums together and our passion to share truth through music has afforded us the opportunity to travel all over the world.
During the 90’s I began to ask myself why I believed what I believed about social issues such as equality, human rights, the sanctity of life, racial tensions and of course why we exist on this planet. As my wife and I started to have our own kids, my faith in God increased and at the same time I couldn’t help but get more interested in politics. However, my only frame of reference to these topics came from what I grew up with and there wasn’t a lot to draw from. The only thing I knew for certain is that we voted for Democrats no matter what. Over time it felt mechanical to vote without considering the issues as if I had a hidden directive embedded into my psychology. The more I matured the more I felt a war raging on the inside of me. A rewrite of my core values was underfoot but my black sensitivities were in conflict with this new freethinking. I realized that on some level I feared what others would think of me if I voiced my right leaning views out loud. In the black community there tends to be an assumption that our melanin makes us exactly the same. I just wanted to be honest about my feelings on the polarizing topics of our day since black folks are not monolithic, as some would like us to be. We vary in things that we like and dislike as much as we vary in skin tones and shades. I came to the conclusion that how I thought about issues made me no less black than the other man.
Nowadays I choose to support what I agree with and I’m ok with partnering with those that usually oppose what I believe in if we can find a common area of agreement. Being truly pragmatic is better than being full of piss and vinegar! We don’t have to play the Stepin Fetchit role to please an audience whose only participation requires minimal clapping. We don’t have to give in to the pressures of voting for a specific party rather than a specific person’s/beliefs/policy that has proven time and time again to take us for granted. We don’t have to cow down and behave when we don’t agree.
WE don’t have to go and fetch that…