Today the world laid Whitney Houston to rest, and for some it was none to soon but as I accidentally found myself sucked into reading tweets about the service and later actually watching it on TV, I realized there was something larger at play. Despite the strides over the years for Black Americans to integrate into the overall American experience, there are some areas of our lives that are still very segregated, how we worship and how we deal with death. To be honest, I never really thought about these differences until my mother in law (who was white) passed away many years ago and obviously I attended the service. I was immediately struck by how very different the service was from what I had seen previously at memorials and funeral services. I will sum it simply as short and somber.
By comparison, the funerals I had attended for family members in my family at times could be seen as raucous affairs. They also were long, oh so very long. The shortest funeral I have ever attended for a family member oddly enough was my mother’s, which was shaped by my parents eclectic mix of beliefs starting with the fact my mom was cremated. Yet it still had enough traditionally Black aspects that it would in fact be recognized by many Black Americans as a Black service.
Yet in reading the tweets of people during Houston’s service, especially from white folks and Black folks who did not grow up in the traditional Black church, it’s clear we still don’t fully share parts of the Black experience even during Black history month. Truth is there are many in my generation and others who have left the traditional Black church, like many institutions that at one time had great value, today’s Black church is but a shadow of it’s former self. Yet at one point in time for Black Americans especially those of us who descend from slavery, it was all we had. The Black church was our home, it nourished us body and soul and gave us the strength to carry on. It’s no coincidence that many who were part of the Civil Rights movement hailed from the Black church.
I often used to wonder why the hell we used to get so damn happy in church, until hearing my father’s reminiscences about growing up in Arkansas as the child of sharecroppers. Let’s just say if I had been alive then, I’d probably get happy too in church. For those long denied their humanity, the ceremony of death was a joyous occasion, fairy tale or not it gave people comfort to believe that when someone died they were in a better place. A place free of the brutality that was meted out on a daily basis, so for those left behind a celebration was only fitting. To this day, you still see signs of that in many traditional Black funerals, songs, non-Black colored clothing, a way to celebrate Sister or Brother So and So’s homegoing. To quote one of my tweeps Clutch Magazine “ how fitting that her funeral–a FULL expression of Black culture–is happening during Black History Month?”
Indeed, it is fitting. Every year we trot out discussions of Martin, Rosa, Malcolm and others but to see the Black church on display is indeed fitting. If we are truly to move ahead as a society, understanding and knowledge is key. As for Sister Whitney, whatever her faults in this life, it is clear that she was loved and not just by people who did not know her and only adored her voice. I think we should all be so lucky if when we check off this rock, so many will come out to remember us. If nothing else that struck me in viewing this service was that she was loved but at the same time, no one glossed over the fact that she was a human who struggled. I can’t think of a better send off.