Monday, February 1

Make Yours a Happy Home and the Lazy American Negro

There are people who've heard Make Yours a Happy Home from the 1974 movie Claudine one time and gotten healed of whatever ails them. I don't know whether it's the most uplifting pop song ever recorded but there's just something about it. 

Maybe it's the can-do attitude in Curtis Mayfield's lyrics and joy in Gladys Knight's voice, the reminder that the capacity for happiness is a determination, something that's worked for, not given. Maybe it's the musical arrangement. Or maybe it's all three and something else called for want of a better word art. 

Ironically Claudine is such a depressing film on so many levels I hesitated to link to the Wikipedia article about it. But there's one thing people in this era can learn from the plot: the Lazy American Negro was always a myth. Even at the height of the welfare system many American descendants of African slaves worked full time, often at more than one job, and collected welfare. 

But that meant they had to lie to The Man, and it was the constant lying, the constant law-breaking, the double life, the completely untrue narrative they wove about themselves to keep collecting that welfare check, which corroded self-image and character.

Why, then, did so many of them live that way? Acquisitiveness, which is not quite the same as greed. It was the pack-rat mentality. The Man was giving away free money and all you had to do to get some was lie. But the lying became a way of life, the way things were, a system that allowed millions of black males to procreate without responsibility to their offspring because The Man was always there with a check when you didn't make child support payments. 
Claudine refuses to treat the protagonists as victims or blame Whitey, so I doubt the film could be made today; it's just too unvarnished a treatment of a way of life that did no one any good and skyrocketed alcohol and drug dependence in America's black inner cities.  

Yet none of that circumscribes the story of Claudine, any more than war circumscribes the human condition. An awful lot of us, black, white, rich, poor, have lived screwed-up lives, we've come from screwed-up families, and if there's a stupid way to do something we've done it that way. 

So then what? Fall down on the road and wait to be run over? Best we can do is keep going, keep trying, and learn that if happiness can be given and taken away by others it was never happiness in the first place. That is the takeaway message of Claudine and Make Yours a Happy Home.         
Anyhow, thank you Curtis, thank you Gladys Knight & the Pips, thank you Buddah Records.


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