“It is a war of identity; it is a war of loyalty; it is a war of image.”
“You so white.”
These words have plagued my “kind” and I for generation after generation. There is a civil war among black people that goes on year after year without the slightest hint of halting. It’s never addressed fully head on, despite the myriad of attempts done by politicians, activists, and the like to stiffen it. This war is what fuels the three words in quotations above (note that four words or a contraction would have made this sentence grammatically correct). It is a war of identity; it is a war of loyalty; it is a war of image.
You see, there are black people who want to make something of their lives. They plow over the barriers that threaten to oppress them, breaking stereotypes left and right, becoming the trailblazers that we know even to today. They unleash themselves from the chains of their inhibitions and strive for their goals, no matter high colossal or small in size, making their dents in the history of this planet for years to come. They become part of the essence of our textbooks, our national heroes and heroines, and are the inspiration for countless innovative institutions. Even if they don’t make an internationally recognized difference, they are the respected members of society, making a difference in at least one person’s life.
And then there are the ones with the ghetto mentality.
There’s nothing worse than walking down the hallways of a crowded high school (already late for class by five minutes plus or minus), only to be slowed even further by a barricade of black girls screaming at each other, cursing and threatening to rip out the others weave. The word “hoe” is thrown in systematically, and it takes the principle or dean of discipline to calmly ameliorate the situation, or even use force if necessary.
Better yet, walking to class on the other side of campus is sometimes quite a feat given the number of gang-bangers eying anyone who gives them even the merest undesirable gaze. Many of these young men have guns or or off campus (not for hunting understandably), drugs, stolen vehicles, and some even have children of their own. Some serve time in prison, are subject to profiling, and die premature and otherwise avoidable deaths.
Given these two extremes, one could possible wonder why the latter of these two doesn’t simply follow the lead of the former, thus annihilating, or at least diminishing, the universal negative image altogether. After all, it is more efficient to learn from the mistakes of others due to the fact that life is too short to have to experience them all on your own, right? This would have been a mystery had the answer not be in clear view. The question is why.
A Paradoxical Twist
A long, long time ago, around fifty-three years ago, was a well known historical event called “The Little Rock Nine.” These were black students who received ridicule, harassment, and pain from the white protesters and students who wanted to preserve the segregation system at Central High School, Little Rock Arkansas. These students were not subject to this experience in response to a crime, or hatred upon their part; they simply wanted something cherished by those who have rare access to it, but neglected by those who have it in abundance: education. When they woke up in the morning, they were willing to fight to the end to get what they deserved, the power to break the negative system.
Among these fighters was the first to graduate: Ernest Green. He, along with the other members of the Little Rock Nine, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. A film by Disney called The Ernest Green Story shows his struggles as he studied and exercised self control in spite of the pressure and insults hurled. Elizabeth Eckford, one of the most notable and recognized in the photo below, was the target of uncounted racist insults, yet still battled on to get the education she wanted:
During this time, black people (at least a significant amount) cared about their futures. Over time something happened. So where was the twist? How did we go from the photo above, to this?
Here are some of the largest and main factors:
The Inferiority Complex
Look around you.
In all advertisements, the depiction of beauty is rather European-based. Black models have hair nearly identical to the white models, practically starve themselves like the white models, and have breast implants, like many white models. Most black female musicians also conform to this look. It’s irrational though, because there are certain parts of the anatomy of black and white people that are different.
The sexual preferences of men tend to differ by race, and in result, there are certain controversial elements that often spark. White females have a whole different look to black females, and when black females go the extra mile to twist themselves into something that they are not, it’s a simple way of saying “white girls are prettier, and so I will do everything I can to make myself look white.” These insecurities are very present, believe it or not.
And so the age of the puffy Afros, thick platform high heels, and hoop earrings is slowly dying, while a new identity has spawned. This is particularly geared towards the black women; there’s even a whole industry of products promising a lighter complexion, longer, more relaxed hair, etc.
As I put more profound thought into this, I remembered a scene in Barack Obama’s book Dreams From My Father where he speaks with a woman named Ruby. Ruby had put on blue contact lenses and when Barack noticed, he said, “What did you do to your eyes?” In response, she simply laughs, explains that it’s artificial, and he promptly asks him if he likes them.
His awkward response: “Your eyes looked just fine the way they were.”
He later then explained the situation to a black friend of his and in a blunt retort she said, “What are you surprised about? That black people still hate themselves?”
And there it was.
The mental rut of ghetto mentality. I then realized that it wasn’t just our girls who thought less of themselves, it was practically the whole race. It’s a problem with ideology, the ideology that there is no hope for rising up the financial ladder, that any person who dares to dream large is conforming to the ways of the “white man.” I kid you not. There are opinions spread that all that’s going to happen is that an intelligent, ambitious black person will be turned down for that dream job at the law firm, would be the laughing stock at the brokerage firm, and would simply fail. And so people with this mentality have created a category for all who prove their pitiful theory wrong: “Oreo,” or “black on the outside, but white on the inside.” There is no unit of measurement to sum up the stupidity of this mindset.
But it’s still there. It’s still there because words are still said, and the idea is still spread.
The black media is a very prominent piece in the whole “Oreo” vs. “Black” game. It’s also the touchiest of all of the issues, because it’s one of the largest markers of black identity. Young black children often hope to be singers, rappers, or athletes, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there usually isn’t any margin for different dreams. As a matter of fact, our current President Obama had this to say during the NAACP’s 100th Anniversary dinner:
“They might think they’ve got a pretty good jump shot or a pretty good flow, but our kids can’t all aspire to be the next LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be president of the United States.”
I can’t agree any more with the president; no one could have said it any better. The media (and by media, I mean black entertainment) doesn’t promote positive traits as much as it does negative traits. Simply read the lyrics to the average rap song.
If our music and entertainment condones immorality, is it a surprise that we are the same? Our music, especially rap and hip-hop, give that raw, party-lifestyle image that is universally recognized, and the young black children immediately pounce on it, ready to copy.
In class, I realize that the majority of my peers who are into the hip-hop lifestyle, regardless of their race, are least interested in intellectual and educational matters. Instead, they are interested in what the see on the T.V.: sex, drugs, gang violence. Their form of language is dotted by curse words, and nearly mirror what is seen on television. This would go on to explain why black teens rank the lowest academically and in SATs. If all of our role models don’t care about anything except “bumping this sh*t hard in L.A.,” then is it a surprise that black people are the way they are? Absolutely not.
Wait pains me worse is that what black children and teens fail to realize is that most rappers are merely businessmen. Very good businessmen. So good that many businessmen with MBAs often cite rappers as influence to make money.
To read more about this phenomenon, read marketing specialist Mike Volpe’s words on this topic here, and here. David Kiley of popular magazine BusinessWeek wrote an article about the large deals and smart business moves from many of the major rappers of today. You can read this article here: http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/may2005/nf20050516_5797_db016.htm
So what happens is that big name rappers such as 50-Cent work exuberantly to make money in any way they can, including rapping about having money. Little do the kids know that their icons are actually preying off of their lack of independent thought, to make the very thing that most rap songs are about: money. Ironic, isn’t it?
So what am I trying to say? That black music is inferior to white music? That rap is evil? I do not think so. Not all black music praises promiscuous sex and drug use; songs like Golden, by Jill Scott prove that wrong. And also, white people, quite frankly, have a whole other set of problems to deal with in their teens, from suggestive suicidal themes in “screamo,” to destructive themes in metal.
It’s just that white students still score highest in standardized tests, and rank highest in high-paying jobs. Despite these disheartening stats, black students still choose to maintain the status quo. Therefore, if you are black and think differently, you are labeled “white” and alienated immediately. Is there something wrong with a black person who enjoys rock? After all, it descended from the music of Negro slaves, right? How about a black techno-geek? A significantly large amount of the DJs who invented techno/house music where black. Or metal/neoclassical? Tony MacAlpine, one of the most influential master heavy-metal guitar shredders, is black.
What I am saying is: who are they to define what is “black” and what isn’t? Hmmm, I’m still thinking; one day I’ll crack this conundrum.
If the media is a touchy issue, this might be the touchiest of them all considering the fact that I’m still a teenager and not a parent. Parents will be angry, and as for their children (my peers)…I don’t even want to imagine it.
Many black intellectuals I have met have told me that their parents push them when it comes to their education. They are restricted from many activities that are not academic, and one may even go as far as to say that the majority of these kids have either authoritarian parents. However, when I ask the same of the average black, hip-hop consumed teens, the answers are usually rather vague.
So what conclusion can I make? None, really. I don’t have any exact statistics to validate my opinion. I’m sure that one could whip out the dispiriting statistics of absentee black fathers, or the number of black teenage parents, but what about the parents of our generation? Can’t those parents affect the way their children view life? My imagination tells me that those parents were victims of the above inferiority complex, and that the parents of the people that label well-meaning black intellectuals as “Oreos” probably did not enforce the importance of education, ambition, and restraining from crime. It seems as though anyone who cherishes these traits is betraying their identity and is a white person in a black person’s body…
Oh, the stupidity. 😦
There’s no silver bullet to kill these issues. In fact, there have been so many political and financial attempts to kill that mentality that the all the money wasted could probably help destroy the problems in Haïti for a year. There has to be an end to the words, “Wow! You’re so smart! Most black young men your age don’t do half this well!”
Why should a teacher be impressed that I’m “doing so well for a black man”?
The change lies in improvements in parenting, media change, and destroying the inferiority complex. That way, an educated black person wouldn’t be recognized as an educated black man with the soul of a white person, but instead will be recognized as an educated person. Period.
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