Friday, July 10, 2009

Out of the Ghetto: It's Late at Night, I'm Thinking

This is not my Old School Friday post for July 10, 2009. My OSF post is at this link.

What I'm doing here at the end of my thoughts is posting a song by the late, great Isaac Hayes that has been on my mind lately after seeing and writing about an unseemly display on BET Awards 09,, rappers performing a sexually explicit song while dancing with underage African-American girls. The network has apologized for part of that performance, but it's an apology that many concerned black viewers, including me, see as a day late and a dollar short.

I've been thinking about richness of spirit versus a paucity of spirit, in particular our tendency to fear damaging someone's self-esteem so much that we sacrifice the entire community's quality of life to mediocrity or worse. We have embraced the self-esteem "gospel" to the point that we don't require as much of our people that we once did, in many ways crippling our children so that they take any form of criticism as an attack on their very essence.

But then what do some of our children think their essence is, certainly not the honor of African kings and queens?

I've been contemplating how we've embraced the word "ghetto" in the same way some have supposedly reclaimed the word "nigger." Other minorities who were also forced into ghettos have not decided to glorify the worst aspects of ghetto life and declare it their culture. Have we gone into such a muscular mode of overprotection of the black psyche that we cannot endure even constructive criticism intended to quash the most abominable types of behavior? Will we claim degrading forms of self-expression as "blackness," solidifying the culture of the great excuse in the name of "supporting our people"?

We seem to have fallen into a stupor in which we rarely separate wheat from chaff. Everything in the ghetto is not good for us. Everything from the ghetto should not glorified.

I'm still thinking about this, the idea of taking what has been used against us, such as being forced to live in one section of town under debilitating poverty with limited options, and attempting to turn that circumstance into an asset. On the surface it makes sense to do this. It's a creative and courageous coping mechanism. But isn't it also something that should be only a temporary pacifier?

When do we get to the point of tossing the pacifier down and saying we've sucked it enough? When do we see that what we're really doing is living down to the standard an oppressive system has dictated to us, jigging to foolishness like the unenlightened minstrel? When do will be mature enough in freedom to withstand the kind of community introspection that heals us and restores greatness in all things?

Yes, I get that we should not allow white culture to define us, but why do some of us insists on identifying excellence in art, in academics, in literature, and now it seems in music as well as being white? Why do we keep tolerating a mindset in which we let the majority claim excellence while we claim the crumbs of unskilled craft and ignorance and call it good enough?

No, we all don't do this, and yes, as a people we've many laudable successes in a short period of time under inequitable circumstances, but why do many of us continue to make excuses for people who can do better but cling to the notion that they really don't need to try? Is it helpful to hand out excuses when you believe in someone's ability, or have we unwittingly bought the idea that some of our own people can do no better creatively or academically?

I'm just thinking here. I haven't formed my thoughts fully and need to do some research connected to Stockholm Syndrome's impact on people of color perhaps and theories of reclamation. However, I feel some of us who were once in the ghetto, some of us who've never been in the ghetto, and some of us who are still in the ghetto are being bamboozled to protect unacceptable behavior because we don't want to hurt anybody's feelings and so project to the mainstream the lowest level of what some defensively but erroneously call "black" culture. We're afraid to set a standard of excellence, and you know what that's about, fear of failure.

What we're hearing in some of our song lyrics, what we're seeing on our streets, what we must lament in some of our schools as exceptionally poor performance is not "black" culture and should not be couched in such terms ever. It's the devolution of culture infected by poverty within confined spaces. It's the corruption of a lost culture in which growth was stunted as we were locked out of rightful heritage and then mainstream opportunities.

And yet I've seen young people afraid to venture out and explore the very opportunities that people died to give them. They hide behind the notion that poor performance is just what they do and who they are. Who is to blame for this, the people farthest from them or the closest who say they love them?

Please understand that I write this looking at a city stricken with some of the worst kinds of crimes seen in years, much of it is in our communities, committed by young people who get offended if you suggest they could do better and take a different path. It's as though being a hoodlum and being from "the hood" mean one in the same to them.

When do we put our foot down and correct our errors and evaluate the mythology with which we burden ourselves?

Oh, well. Here's Isaac Hayes's "Out of the Ghetto."

Music Playlist at

1 comment:

msladydeborah said...

I am going to respond to this post after I do some thinking on what to say.

My initial feeling is this.

I am not sure what a Black identity is in this century. Because the definition has become a mixture of too many ideas that I cannot embrace within myself.

So give me a few hours and I will get back with a response.