I slept for far too long last night. So long that I woke up still feeling lethargic as if the entire day had escaped my grasp and I would have to wait until tomorrow to do something productive. I lay in my bed feeling like stagnation is my only option, like why should I even try, like my efforts won’t make any kind of difference in the world. I woke up feeling like no amount of education that I could ever receive would stop any white authority figure from killing me in the street or prevent any group of neighborhood goons from robbing my house or stop my loved ones from losing their minds.
I could get a PhD and be a professor at the most prestigious university in the world yet somehow, someway I would be reminded everyday that I was brought to this country to be a slave and nothing more. To be dependent and illiterate, to never own anything, and to always be humble. Lauryn Hill once said, “I look at my environment and I wonder where the fire went” and she spoke the absolute truth.
Every time I walk down Macarthur Boulevard or Bancroft or E14th in East Oakland I wonder what happened. Why can’t we have a thriving black business district like Mexican-Americans, Asians, and Whites? Why do we allow Arabs to sell drugs legally (alcohol which they do not consume) from every corner in my community while young black men get arrested for selling drugs in front of the same stores? Why do we create music that places strippers on a pedestal while simultaneously devaluing educated businesswomen who work for paychecks and not dollar bills? Why don’t we have our own police force comprised of people who are actually from our community and look like us instead of a bunch of white boys who grew up in places like Castro Valley and Napa and have no idea what its like to grow up in the hood? And finally why is the objective of successful blacks always to leave the hood as opposed to making the hood better? When experts speak of the phenomenon of brain drought they often discuss it in reference to developing countries like Pakistan and India when they ought to be looking at how this phenomenon has manifested itself domestically. The American ghetto has been the birthplace of the most creative, brilliant, and transformative minds that this world has ever known yet with each individual success there is a departure, which leaves the same void that ultimately, keeps the black ghetto from becoming a respectable fully contained black community. Our most capable compatriots would rather work for the white man than work for themselves. We have digested so much hatred for so long that we no longer question what white society is feeding us. So we spend our whole lives trying to be validated by our oppressor and of course we fail. We move out into the suburbs in an effort to be accepted by whites and of course we are rejected. We go to their schools and sacrifice knowledge-of-self for academic success only to spend the rest of our adult lives confused about who we truly are.
What happened to the revolution? We are currently in the midst of a movement that is screaming Black Lives Matter to white people in an age where we don’t value our own lives. We don’t know that we come from greatness. We don’t know that we were the original people. We don’t know that our women are the most envied in the entire world. At what point do we put ourselves first? At what point do we keep our resources in our community?
To be a Black-American in the 21st century is such a bizarre experience. The summer before last I found myself in Paris approaching the Eiffel Tower when I saw a young black man with a Wiz Khalifa shirt on. The day before that I had seen a young Parisian man driving down the street with a Compton hat on. It tripped me out when I realized the impact that my people have on global culture. I thought about the dichotomy of on the one hand having the entire world wanting to be just like you while on the other hand being a member of a culture that continues to be robbed of its self-esteem and made to feel inferior to every other culture. And so many of us die not knowing that so many people the world over would die to be us.
We have been asleep for too long. Our luminaries have left us in the dark and we have somehow learned to make being blind fashionable. But we still need vision. We need to see that how other people see us is not nearly as important as how we see ourselves. We need to see that we can make our own community better but first we need to see that it’s worth it. We need to see the humanity in one another. We need to see the beauty in ourselves. We need to wake up, get out of bed, and unlearn all of this hate.
Great essay, YB.