Being a Black Man in America is like having a felony record…
I think CNN did a better job tonight. They showed the challenges both sides face. They showed the average black man and his struggle. Although I think they still did not focus on answers, and it was more of the same as yesterday, this was more powerful and effective. Here are my quick hit thoughts…
For a long time, I thought that race was just a euphemism for the class issues we face, which I still believe to some extent. However, race has morphed into an animal all it’s own. As one of my friends stated while watching this, “whether you rich or poor, you are still a n–ga.” That really struck a chord with me, because for all the struggle and progress, trials and tribulations we face, it is still in the back of your mind.
Another thing that struck me, is the variety we have in our immediate families. One family had a lawyer, a barber and a college student in the same house. And one still found a way to get arrested and put on probation, when his brother was a DA. That is how quick the tables turn for a black man, no matter where you from. I think this is something that you will only find in the households of people of color.
Inevitably, my thoughts began to wonder to the “Black Flight” phenomenon. I began to wonder if other “blacks” or “the ills of the ghetto” (dunh-dunh-dunh) chased middle class blacks away. If people are shooting around my house, and I have a family, I would probably move. It is an unnecessary distraction. I work too hard to provide for my family to put them in harm’s way in order to “keep it real.”
In fact, I would always ask my father and grandmother why they never moved when they could. I worried for their safety some times, because the summers in Milwaukee are WILD. It was not until later that I saw that it was important for the people in the neighborhood to see my father going to work, in a suit, every morning. People looked up to him and remembered how he worked to get to where he was.
Now people look at me the same way, because I am a black professional, still involved in the community. Often, people look at me and say, “you don’t act like a lawyer.” I do not know whether to take this as a compliment or not, but I digress.
When you leave the inner-city, it is hard to make sure your children keep their sense of “identity”-whatever that means nowadays-to have the “black experience” and “know how to relate to black people.” And this is the struggle, going back to help people in a place where either your parents or yourself escaped and doing what is best for you and yours.
Most of the people on this segment said that the only role models they saw were the pimps, prostitutes and “D-boys.” If you are in an environment of ignorance, then how are you to know any better. You will be a product of your environment, nine times out of ten, unless someone plants that seed of progress in you or it is in you to dream and seek better for yourself.
This is where the “Talented Tenth” is severely criticized…they never came back and shared what they have learned. Since I live and grew up in one of the most segregated, blue-collar cities in America, I knew I would always be here and come back. Community involvement was always a big thing in my house. When I got “put on, ” I would try to find jobs for cats I knew and encourage that cats I come across. Most of them did not have a suit, which I thought was crazy. How are you going to be a grown man and not know how to tie a tie? Most of the time, they just do not know better. So you cannot judge or be condescending to those you are trying to help, which we do sometimes do. Just because we do not understand it, does not mean it is bad. For example, I do not understand why people put gold teeth in their mouths for non-orthodontic reasons, but hey, to each his own. As Andre 3000 said, “Everybody with dreds aint for the cause, everybody with gold aint for the fall.” But they have to know, tattoos covering your body and a wife beater does not scream “employable.” This does not go for everyone, but I have seen it, so I know it is out there.
As a part of the fortunate few, the Unicorns of the black community, we must find ways not only to invest our money, but also our time and find ways to communicate the lessons we have learned the hard way. We can do more, we can always do more…
To paraphrase Jay-Z on “Black Republicans”, “Can’t turn my back on the hood…cuz’ I’ll prolly end up back in the hood.” You never know when life may deal you or your progeny a bad hand. Hawthorne said the fortunes of families are always rising and falling in America, so pay it forward. Go back to the inner city and start with the youth, where they are young and impressionable. I urge you to go back, if you have left, teach and guide, but also be open to learn.
However, it goes both ways. People in the community must be receptive of our help. Real talk, we have trust issues in the black community, not only of white people, but of each other. I have friends who have had their reputations jeopardized because they put themselves on the line to help someone out. And that does not feel good. It makes people second guess your judgment and competence. As we say in the legal profession, “No good deed goes unpunished.” If you need help, make sure the person offering does not regret it.
I will address the Fatherhood/Relationship segment in a separate post. That is the only way I can do it justice.
The part of the program that was near and dear to my heart was the “Blacks in Corporate America” segment. Because we occupy so few of the professional jobs, we often must go home to people who do not share the same background. So we are careful not to act “seditty.” Growing up, people always teased me because I was smart or used “big words.” I hated my peers growing up. Many of my peers at Michigan, from the inner-city shared the same experience.
Today, I am thankful for that experience, it made me tough. Most importantly, it taught me to love and live with people who did not understand me. But in the corporate world, you always worry if a perceived slight or off-comment is racially motivated. I witnessed my father suffer unfair treatment as a black professional, to the point where I never wanted to work for anyone, I always wanted my own business so I would not have to deal with “The Man.” I remember my mother telling me “don’t expect to stay at a job longer than three years: the first year they love you, the second they tolerate you, the third they won’t be able to stand you.” When I graduated from college, and took on my first real job, I remember my father telling me “when you get your paycheck on friday, all bets are off…Monday just marks the beginning of a new contract between you and your employer.”
I just know I learned early that the only way to combat the systematic unemployment that disproportionately affects all black men, was to acquire skills that would allow me to stand on my own and to perform at such a high level, I would become a “Superspade.” Another thing I know is that if you are “weak” in mind and body, you will not make it. Because being a black man in Corporate America means either living with an acute sense of paranoia or simply not giving a damn.
Lastly, hip-hop gets a bad rap, like rock and roll. Hip-hop started out as an art form, reflecting what is going on in the black community. Art imitated life. Now, rap is a hustle. It is what some cat is doing to support his family and putting food on his table. But as so often is the case in America, you can only win if someone else loses. A divide and fall strategy. Also, art and hustle rarely comingle in the same circles.
Furthermore, the stuff rappers talk about still happens, but the other side is often lost on people. It is not the whole truth. Everyone rapping is not a drug king pin. They are selling cats a dream, they selling crack music…a false high. Hip-hop now does not reflect my life right now, so I view it as entertainment. These images are caricatures and hyperboles of one segment of the black diaspora, and should be taken as such. Blacks, whites, the mainstream media take note: Music should be treated for what it is, an art form, not a lifestyle. Art should imitate life.
Simply and plain, the good part of this was that it told our story better, somewhat. It was still a characterization, and borderline stereotypical, of the black experience, which is not as cut and dry as they made it appear. The black experience is more diverse and complicated than that.
Also, they did their analysis in a historical and sociological vacuum. But hopefully, the ignorant, disparaging remarks and misunderstandings regarding the black community will calm down (I’m talking to you Fox News)-but I doubt it.
The show did not offer one single solution, and maybe that was not the point. Maybe the purpose of this program was to challenge people’s preconceived notions and one liners regarding Black America-one of the many “Other Americas.” However the fact still remains, you only get better when you solve your problems. Are solving problems easy? No. Must the work be done? Yes.
These last two days can be summed up like this: Being black in America is an endlessly frustrating experience. And since the breaks are few and far between for us, we should be more empathetic to others, but also being that much more prepared for opportunity when it knocks. The Jews in America learned this the hard way, and although their situation does not mirror our own exactly, it is the closest thing that comes to mind historically.
A better question is: what does it mean to be black or what is blackness in America today? This is something I think that we have not worked hard enough to define for ourselves and have been contented to allow others to label us and tell us where our place is in the world. Self-definition is one of the greatest gifts God gave us. What is a black man? What is a black woman? What is the black community? One thing is for sure, being black today does not mean the same thing it did when our parents were growing up, and I do not know if this is a thought the younger generation thinks about.
I apologize if I am not as focused as I was on the last post, but I am writing this in real time.
Shout out to Spike Lee for saying “coonery,” “buffoonery,” and “shucking and jiving” on CNN and in the same sentence. Triple Word score to you Mr. Lee.
Mr. Philips from the Cosby Show came off like a Tom…
Truth and Peace,
Steven M DeVougas