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Quit Playin: There is no “Free Time, Playa!”

By Vincent L. Hall

“The days between Christmas and New Year’s day are allowed as holidays; accordingly, we were not required to perform any labor more than to feed and take care of the stock. This time we regarded as our own, by the grace of our masters, and we, therefore, used or abused it nearly as we pleased.”

Frederick Douglass circa 1845
Frederick Douglass circa

It’s the end of the year, and I’m just about at the end of my rope. My children are thriving and a source of great personal pride. I’m fat and ugly but without the need or use of prescription drugs. My pockets are empty, but they always have been. So it was necessary to dig deep into my psyche as 2023 ebbs at its shoreline.

My worries are about the future of Black people…Seriously! We just ain’t gettin’ it! Reading a small segment of the self-written; “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” multiplied my fears. Somehow, we continue to miss the mark of a people who must think critically and operate shrewdly to survive.

On the one hand, I worry about evil men led by America’s first ousted despot, Donald Trump. His wit and cunning have convinced millions that “White Privilege” is a privilege to which they should shamelessly lay claim.

This supercharged brand of racial pride and a sense of tribal self-love is not ggod for America.

The vitriolic spittle of Trump’s (undeclared) “White Nationalist Party” promotes and portends violent outcomes. We cannot afford to forget this nation’s history of racism! Look away, Look away, Dixieland, or you may feel the need to pay them Negroes the reparations Abraham Lincoln promised.

My Hispanic brothers are striving toward the mark; for me, it’s deja vu. Watching them progress politically and economically is like watching a movie where Black folks once had the starring roles.

They see the vision of progress our parents caught in the 1970s thanks to affirmative action and civil rights activism. Mexicans in this community and throughout the nation are rising, and they have the numbers on their side. Don’t hate the players. Hate the game you be playing!

Asians and Middle Easterners are disproportionately invested in our commerce, generally as shopowners. They see the vestiges of the “American Dream” and are not about to let you pilfer or steal it from them. And rightly so, they catch hell from the proverbial “White Man,” too!

They made their breaks and can’t afford or do not condone affirmative action per se. Jamaal or Keisha won’t be serving you authentic General Tso’s Chicken or working the front desk of motels run by our brothers and sisters from India. These groups tend to be family first.

Every race and region of America’s people take life, labor, and liberty as a more significantly regarded franchise than Black people. No one has suffered more or worse than us. Yet, too many of us want life to be an endless series of good times. Even the Bible (Ecclesiastes 7:2) says, “It’s better to go to a funeral than a party.” Think about that!

Teach your children how to mow the lawn, do minor repairs on cars, sew, cook and clean! Teach them to love work and create an independent spirit that gravitates toward sacrifice and self-pride. Life is not one long succession of “Soul Train” lines.

Listen again to Douglass’s description of how “free time” was consumed among enslaved people. “The staid, sober, thinking, and industrious ones of our number would employ themselves in making corn-brooms, mats, horse-collars, and baskets, and another class of us would spend the time in hunting opossums, hares, and coons.

But by far, the larger part engaged in such sports and merriments as playing ball, wrestling, running foot-races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whisky; and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters.

A slave who would work during the holidays was considered by our masters as scarcely deserving them. He was regarded as one who rejected the favor of his master. It was deemed a disgrace not to get drunk at Christmas, and he was regarded as lazy indeed, who had not provided himself with the necessary means, during the year, to get whisky enough to last him through Christmas.”

During this break between Christmas and New Year’s, may-be we should all “reject the favor of the master.” Working late hours and during breaks and vacations brought us from Frederick Douglass to Barack Obama. Think soberly about that in your “free time.” And oh, BTW…Quit Playin’!

Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and award-winning columnist.

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