My Umi says…
Shine your light on the world
Shine your light for the world to see. –Mos Def, “My Umi Says”
Most connoisseurs of real hip-hop will recognize that song and for those that are unfamiliar with it, it is on the Black on Both sides album and it is required listening. I just rented Dave Chappelle’s Block Party DVD and though I enjoy every artist on that DVD, Mos Def’s performance really hit a nerve on several levels that I want to share with you.
Unlike on the album, Mos Def says during his performance, “Sometimes, I just want to be Dante, but my Umi says…” When he said that, I was reminded of all the times I have said and heard other people say, “I’m just trying to do me.” Often times, we say this in order to explain and/or justify to people that we need to indulge ourselves. Of course, there is nothing wrong with recharging our batteries, but what would happen if every time we said, “I’m just trying to do me,” we said, “I’m just trying to do God’s will.”
But let’s keep it real, shall we? “You doing you,” doesn’t really become a big deal until you get tired. Tired of work, tired of life, tired of giving, whatever it is, a constant state of being tired might be indicative of a larger problem. When we are tired, our fleshly impulses rise to the surface unless we look to the hills from which cometh our help. In Isaiah 40:29 the Bible says, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”
So when we are tired, why would we try to give ourselves a tune up when the Creator knows every hair that is on your head? In other words, you can’t do you if you don’t know you. And God knows us through and through, so it would make sense we would go to him when we are weary in well doing.
So let’s just realize that when we say, “I’m just trying to do me,” it is really our flesh talking. But even when you say flesh, some people automatically think of these larger than life vices, but what about the middle? I define the middle as all the things you do on a regular basis that you don’t consider bad but doesn’t necessarily glorify God. This is the real battleground. For example I myself like jazz music and I am listening to it right now. So when I say, “I need to do me,” it will more often than not involve jazz music. But when it is time for me to get in the Word or pray, the jazz has to go because before I know it, jazz music could become an idol in my life that prevents me from entering into the Holy of Holies. Replace my jazz example with knitting or lifting weights because whatever it is, I am convinced that we have been fooled into thinking better of ourselves on account of letting all of these seemingly harmless activities become the center of our lives without our even knowing or admitting so. Therefore, I encourage all of us to really pay attention to what we say and how we may inadvertently lull ourselves to complacency.
My Abi says shine your light on the world
Shine your light for the world to see.
I have been thinking about what it means to make your light shine. So I guess a good place to start to would be to examine what is meant by light. My first inkling is to correlate God with light but I would need to find evidence for this in the Word. And what do you know? In I John 1:5 the Bible says, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” And in 2 Corinthians 4:4, the Bible states, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
The other part of the equation involves how we actually shine our light. For the longest time, when I would hear of shining your light on the world, I would think of Psalty and the Singing Songbook (do you remember Psalty?) and other figures that permeated my Sunday School/Children’s Church experience. But as I got older, the only place I felt comfortable enough to let my light shine was in church and after getting complacent in the things of God, it started to dim there as well. So here I am walking around thinking I am letting my light shine by doing “good” things and being nice to people when I was missing the big picture.
In fact, it is only when I allow God unfettered access to different departments of my life, that I am able to let me light shine. And when that happens, people notice the God in you and will want to know how you maintain a glow that radiates love, compassion, and a desire to be significant and not successful.
And where do we get tripped up? I think we limit our ability to witness when we are at work or any situation where God comes up in conversation and the most common question is, “So you do you consider yourself religious or spiritual?” And of course, 9 out 10 people will say they are spiritual, and then it is on to the next topic. But what would happen, if you didn’t minimize your faith into being spiritual when just yesterday you were lifting Holy hands, asking God to help you be a witness to your co-workers? What would happen if you asked someone what they meant by being spiritual? What would happen if you shared with others how God changed your life once you made the decision to live a righteous life?
I am scared of the possibilities because just like we wait on friendships, we also wait on the opportune time to witness or otherwise share our faith. Stop waiting! Now am I saying that you should go to work in your Sunday suit and a Bible in your hand? No, but what I am saying is that you don’t have to share your whole doctrine of Christianity in one setting. Work it in conversation and don’t be timid. In the word it says, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33) Mull on that a little bit.
“I want black people to be free, to be free, to be free
All my people to be free, to be free, to be free”
Lastly, I want to touch on the part of the song where Mos Def repeatedly declares he wants his people to be free. Free from what? And what does freedom mean, really? If you do have freedom, are there different levels of it or is like an a la carte’ menu, able to mixed and matched accordingly? Thankfully, Garlin took on the mighty task of tackling the sticky issue of whether or not freedom is truly indivisible. And I agree with him that it is indeed divisible. But when we say, “I want my people to be free,” this now brings into the debate the following question: what is an acceptable level of freedom? In other words, what is the tipping point at which I transition from not free to free or from not having freedom to having freedom?
I think too often times we as Black folk get too caught up in trying to define the goals and vision for the race, especially as it relates to freedom. My suggestion is that whatever you think Black people need to be freed from, make efforts to break that obstacle, get educated on that obstacle, pray for its demise, and make this effort tangible and personal. I know I was kind of all over the place with this post, but I hope you stayed with me and will make your voice heard.
Stay up fam,
Steve is travelling and interviewing, so as a result there is no new Weekly Dream for this week. We appreciate the thoughts and support of The Weekly Dream and of the SuperSpade, and ask that you’d take this time to review all of Steve’s words of wisdom imparted to all of us through his weekly enlightenments. They will return next week.
One Love. One II.
What’s up Superspade family, this post represents Part II of my series concerning Loneliness, Black Men, and Friendships. Today we are going to address the paranoia that concerns Black male friendships and the suspicion of homosexuality. It is time to talk about the elephant in the room.
This post is specifically dedicated to my nephew, whose relentless curiosity and dedication to living a Godly lifestyle never ceases to amaze me. Keep the faith little homie,
Love, Uncle Brandon.
To kick off our discussion, I turn to Lady B, whose comment on the first post sets the stage perfectly,
“If you want to see something dear just watch little boys playing and sharing together in kindergarten and first grade – then something happens and they are taught that they are not suppose to be close or love other boys unless they are gay this is not right.”
Young kids, Black boys in particular, are being robbed of their innocence earlier and earlier. For example, when I grew up in Detroit, my best friends became my “play” cousins. For those of you that have never heard of this term, a “play” cousin is someone who is a close friend so much that you can depend on them like you would a member of your family. In the Black community, a play cousin carries with it a measurable amount of significance. Now can you remember the last time you heard Black men or Black folks for that matter, talk about play cousins or some similar moniker? I certainly can’t remember and I think similar traditions that Black men used to engage in represent a downward shift in the innocence that used to define healthy Black male friendships.
Now fast forward to current debate about brothers on the down low. Thanks to JL King, brothers all over the country are having their sexuality questioned overtly or implicitly. To be clear, I believe that the health and emotional fall out from brothers being on the down low is indeed a legitimate problem in the Black community. However, maybe we should rethink our efforts to encourage brothers to be honest about their sexual activities. I say this because I think we have made it so that many heterosexual Black men, in attempts to avoid suspicion, have withdrawn from their Black male friendships and overcompensated in their female relationships.
So now we find ourselves with Black men with a jaded sense of innocence combined with a barrage of suspicions surrounding their sexuality. These two factors I believe work together to destroy sound friendships between Black men.
Some of the effects of the down-low paranoia have caused Black men to engage in the following behavior to various degrees;
1) We for the most part feel comfortable hanging out with the guys, but a certain stigma surrounds hanging out with just one of our friends.
2) Our sexuality has become more of a central part of what we define as masculinity. As a result, some men to overcompensate their love and appreciation of women almost to the extent of becoming womanizers in order to prove they are not homosexuals.
3) There is a more marked shift between having boys and having friends. Focusing more on having boys enables men to do guy things while keeping enough emotional distance from each other to maintain deniability.
4) We have come to rely on our female friends to be our male friend fill-ins.
5) We don’t use each other as sounding boards before the jinks goes down. This is because we rarely ever tell our male friends anything of substance unless our plans or mistakes have been obliterated.
6) Unless we have something specific to talk about, we don’t call just to touch base and see what is going on in each other’s life for fear of looking like we are keeping too many tabs on our male friends.
7) We don’t feel comfortable sharing emotions with our male friends because if we even do that to begin with, we typically focus these conversations towards our female friends. We rarely tell our male friends that we appreciate them being there for us when they helped us through that tough situation. Or God forbid, we wouldn’t be caught dead telling our male friends that we love them (look up agape and phileo in the Greek language).
Of course, this list could go on and on, but I want you to add to this list based on your own observations and/or experiences. Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone could reasonably argue that the down low paranoia has not affected the quality of Black male friendships. As such, it behooves us to continue to address brothers leading double sexual lives (this includes cheating with other women too!) but at the same time, we have to create and protect spaces for Black men to share in meaningful dialogues. But when we cast a shadow of doubt over Black male friendships, we end up endangering these spaces and create more problems than we solve.
So let me leave you with these questions,
For the men, have you allowed other people’s suspicions affect the way you interact with other men in the light of the community concern about brothers on the down low?
How do you think the down low paranoia has affected the quality of Black male friendships?
How can we address this issue without endangering healthy Black male friendships?
Looking forward to your responses as we call out the elephant in the room,
Stay up fam,
“WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!”
-We Wear The Mask, Paul Lawrence Dunbar
“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways…”
As children, there is tremendous pressure to mute our uniqueness and to blend in seamless. Early on we learn that to be different or to not fit in is a bad thing. Growing up, if you did not have the new Jordans, a Starter jacket and Guess jeans, you were considered a nerd. You would think we would grow out of this habit, but peer pressure and people pleasing are at an all-time high.
In the adult world, if you did not go to the right schools, participate in the right organizations or “network” with the right people, it could have a tremendous impact, in dollars and cents, on your life. Look at television, music and videos-they are so obsessed with keeping up with fads and trends, that it is hard for anything of substance to break through.
More disturbingly, if you look at society’s current preoccupation with Hip-hop, you see numerous individuals professing to be “thugs,” and gangsters and numerous women professing they want to be with thugs. This often puts great pressure on young men, who base so much of their self-image on the acceptance of their peers and the opposite sex. However, I have yet to see anyone define what a thug is. This preoccupation cuts across racial and social economic lines. So you have young people, my generation and younger, aspiring to be something that has not been satisfactorily defined. What is the result? Increased ignorance and a greater prison population. But I will address society’s preoccupation with the “Thug Life” in a latter article.
This is a dramatic example of how rampant People pleasing (living and basing actions on the approval of third parties who probably do not matter) is and how detrimental it can be. It is so insidious because it is rooted in the very human need for love, acceptance and respect. However, without a sure foundation, it can be perverted into indecisiveness and instability. The real result is a severe identity crisis.
Look at politicians. The worse ones live and die by the approval rating. I think back to the story of Samuel and Saul. God told Samuel to tell Saul to go and wage war on another nation and destroy everything. Saul went to battle, but because he was afraid of the people, he took the spoils of war. At that point, God rejected Saul as King of Israel because he feared the people more than he feared God.
It takes strength and courage to be the individual you were created to be, when all our lives we are pushed to downplay our uniqueness, whether it be in the workplace, at school or in the dating/social arena. We are not going to find acceptance and love everywhere we go. Everyone is not going to like us, although we would like them to. In my opinion, it is far more important to have the respect of others than to have their approval.
Approval is such a conditional, artificial and fickle thing. As soon as you move out of your little box, your name is dirt. But you would be surprised by the number of people who fight to stay trapped into that little box and die in it, out of fear of losing that approval and validation. This is often the case with superstars. They use the approval of the crowd to fill some void in their lives. They need the admiration, but when their time in the sun is over, a number of them fade into obscurity, turn to drugs, alcohol or other destructive behavior. Why? Because the void still remains.
People pleasing will only take you so far and the cost is a precious one. It often calls for the compromise of your principles, morals and values. Also the subordination of your opinions and personality. After all, you do not even know who the real you is anymore. You become the mask.
It is far better to be true to yourself. And stick to what you know is right. You will not win every popularity contest, but you will have piece of mind. As Jesus said, “What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and loses his soul.”
As I have said, I seek the approval of very few-the people whom my actions affect most directly and whom I know have my best interest at heart. Third parties do not really carry much weight with me. While it is seductive to be cool, and to fit in, I know it can only last so long. We were made to be individuals, not carbon copies. This is the first step to true leadership and the path to greatness.
Love yourself. Trust yourself. Take off the mask.
Truth and Peace,
Steven M DeVougas
Question of the Week: In what situation have you worn the Mask?