What has become of us?

August 15, 2011

Early yesterday morning I had the opportunity to listen to Mr. David Starkey, a white British historian, speak of black culture invading London to the extent that “The whites have become black.” Starkey further elucidated that the rampant materialism and embracing of a gangster code of ethics during the recent riots in that city was due, at least in part, to the proliferation of hip-hop music.

It was a very intriguing point of view that I hadn’t heard before. I’m not here to disagree with Mr. Starkey because at present I believe it would be counter-productive. After all I don’t think he was trying to be racist, overly simplistic, or malicious. All he was doing was speaking his mind based upon the bleak images of black people that he has been exposed to via the internet, television, and radio.

I’m aware that a man of his academic stature should have done more thorough research before he spoke so ill-advisedly to the entire planet, but the point I’m trying to make is that most people don’t. The vast majority of people in the world make assessments based only on what is presented to them, and when one considers how black folks are portrayed in the media this reality becomes extremely problematic.

In addition to this issue there are also a couple of local bay area rappers who just so happen to be white females (I won’t say their names) that have caused major controversy over their refusal to stop using the word nigga in their rhymes. They claim that they were raised around black people all of their lives and that’s how they talk. Although I believe they’re trying really hard to be disagreeable for the sake of record sales, the truth of the matter is it’s a lot bigger than that.

For almost this whole day I’ve been sickened by the thought of what has become of our race. At some juncture in time we became walking, breathing sources of entertainment instead of human-beings. We lost our dignity during the middle-passage and along with so many thousands of bodies thrown into the sea, we never got that back.

It bothers me to know that blackness is manufactured, marketed, and consumed by the masses. Which means that we seem to have very little control over what we actually are. Anyone can listen to the right records, dress in the right fashions, and use the right slang, and be transformed into a black person. Because we all know that being black is cool, being black is fly, and being black is so desirable—until the police need someone to victimize that is. Police brutality always separates the real black people from the imposters. Contrary to what David Starkey said no white person wants to be black like Oscar Grant or Mark Duggan. Please believe that while being black is fun it’s definitely not worth dying for.

Yet so many people have died in order for us to live. There have been so many Medgar Evers’, Patrice Lumumbas’, Bobby Huttons’, and Malcolm X’s. There have been so many hardworking, humble, righteous social servants that have been murdered for representing black people in a positive way in the past 50 years alone that I can’t even count them. So why is it that these people have not come to define what it means to be black? Why is it that in times of woe everyone seems to forget what these individuals stood for? It’s strange how these brilliant people are always depicted as anomalies as opposed to general representations of black resilience and self-determination. I wonder how that came to be? I would like to know if that’s our own fault as black people for not teaching our young properly, or is it part of a grand plan to systematically oppress us? Or maybe it’s both.

-YB

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8 thoughts on “What has become of us?

  1. Great post, very well said. I’m surprised you hadn’t heard starkey’s point of view before- it’s a pretty big thing over here in Europe. You can find the same thinking running through most countries, especially england and france.

    Personally, I find it very disheartening when I hear black males in positions of respect and power (rappers, mostly) say something to the effect of “I’m not a role model”…just because they say it, doesn’t make it so. I wish they would wise up and realise the truth of their situation and make the best of it.

    • Exactly, it’s such a are occurrence that you hear a rapper take some responsibility. It’s getting really out of control.

      • Getting? It done got.

        Very complex problem: psychological, intellectual, spiritual, financial. And harder to see how implementation can happen. There’s a line about black solidarity in a Walter Mosley novel (Easy Rawlins) that always felt like prophecy to me: “I can remember when there was only one side to be on.” The perhaps artificial induced unity that existed immediately after post Jim Crow seems to have fractured with the decline of work, deindustrialization, major shifts in family life and breakdown of community (not just for us, cf. Bowling Alone)

  2. Greetings.

    I am a freelance journalist and I have just read your post. I am currently in the process of gathering information relating to this very genre.
    If you could get back to me with possible sources, or even to arrange an interview it would be very much appreciated.

    Kind Regards

  3. Agreed.

    It is painful to see how Blacks are (mis)represented in the media. Especially since we control so little of it, economically or creatively. (Essence owned by Time Warner AOL/Think Like A Man written by two non African Americans.) And the media’s effects are profound. It’s not just how they shape others’ views of us. Although there is nothing quite as revealing as travelling overseas and encountering folks who have only seen blacks in videos and movies. More important is how the media shape our self images. The media’s influence is crucial in explaining the achievement gap even among middle class African American students.

    But I think we have to see our situation in a broader context. The excesses of materialism are at the core of what Occupy Wall Street was all about. And lest we forget, the gangsta/pimp mentality not only didn’t originate with us, we’re not even its most ardent practitioners, c.f. Wells Fargo, AIG, Enron, JP Morgan Chase.

    I believe that Starkey attributes to race much, much broader forces: economic decline, coarser, less civil society, weakening social ties, etc. It’s up to us to undue this scapegoating. It helps nothing and serves no one.Most of us know that. Others will have to be persuaded.

    • Excuse me. Did you say that Think Like A Man wasn’t written by Steve Harvey?

      • Sorry, didn’t mean to create confusion. The book was written by Steve Harvey. The screenplay. which in several significant ways departs from the book,was written by David Newman and Keith Merryman.

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