Black White Man

My mother is black, and my father is white. I walk among you.

Archive for the ‘Street’

“Keeping it Real” from the perspective of someone who grew up outside the ‘hood.

An interesting article at ESPN about the quest for street cred, in particular as a retrospective on 2007. From T.I. to Vick, this article explores how affluent Black Men are destroying themselves in this quest to retain their own ideas of Blackness.

This is something I’ve struggled with a lot over my life, and in particular since launching this blog. I wasn’t raised in the ‘hood. I was born in the ‘hood, and my earliest memories are from there, but most of my formative years were spent either in wealthy white communities, in truly impoverished areas around the world (Haiti, Seirra Leone, the Navajo reservation). I don’t think that this makes me any less of an African-American. But it does mean that any attempt on my part to rep the hood would be completely inappropriate. If I’m really going to keep it real, I have to be real to my experience, which is more about private school than public, more Hootie and the Blowfish than Snoop Dogg, more Jeffersons than Sanford and Son.

That being said, I have family in Watts, family on welfare, family doing life for trumped up federal murder charges. I’m not completely unfamiliar with how the other half lives. I understand all too well that it’s hard, and that people who didn’t grow up in it are often too quick to make value judgements without trying to understand. I’m not about to go so far as Bill Cosby et al, and blame the Black Man entirely for the predicament he finds himself in.

What I will say, from my perspective as in insider/outsider, is that the way that _rich celebrities_ often carry themselves is totally out of control. It’s one thing to be struggle: to be facing low incomes and hard choices, to be a product of failing schools, to be caught up in the gang culture that permeates most of our metropolis’. It’s one thing to be young and poor. It’s something completely different to be a wealthy and famous celebrity.

Now, I definitely think that young, suddenly wealthy people are going to be prone to foolishness. And I don’t think that Black Men have a patent on this by a long shot. You’ve got Richard Pryor, but you’ve also got Willie Nelson. You’ve got T.I. and Vick, but you’ve also got Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. And there are plenty of popular, rich, Black celebrities that stay out of trouble. So, I don’t think that the issue here is really the celebrities in and of themselves. I think the problem is the way our community approaches these scandals. Rather than denouncing or ridiculing these Black Men, we all too often glorify them. Because they’re “keeping it real”. But what is “real” for a young Black man struggling in one of our urban high schools is a very very different animal than what is “real” for a young celebrity. And I think that the T.I.s and Vicks of the world have to face up to the same kind of analysis that we dish out (probably too harshly) to their white counterparts. They are young, spoilt, and out of control; they need help, rehab, and often criminal punishment. They are not a reflection of “us,” but a perversion, a kind of unflattering caricature — and when _we_ embrace it as our own, we’re doing just as much damage as the shuck-and-jive artists did to our collective image back in the day.