In 2014, an article by Dr. Boyce Watkins, outlined 5 reasons why he felt “black” men haven’t advanced over the last 40 years. Watkins states, “We are fragmented, distracted, materialistic, and ultimately weak. We are not men…. we are just a bunch of ‘niggaz in Paris.’ (Watkins, 2014)” That is indeed one way to look at it. Though he acknowledges the existence of multi-millionaires like Jay-Z, he notes that Jigga’s disrespect of Harry Belafonte negates some of that advancement. “There is also a counter narrative in which black men are left behind and being beaten into the ground by a society that hates them. Even worse is that we’ve been taught to hate ourselves, thus making us complicit in our own oppression. (Watkins, 2014)” That point becomes even clearer in light of the senseless homicide of Eric Garner by NY police officer Daniel Pantaleo and his accomplices. However, that idea of advancement is from an outside-looking-in perspective, and may be more indicative of the notion that we are “complicit in our own oppression”.
As someone also predestined to wear the inexorably linked, institutional oppression attached to the social identity of “black” man, I understand that point of view. On the one hand, the identity of “black” man will always hold a stigma that opens it up to years of well-crafted bigotry and fear. Being “black” is not an ideology that all of its members hold in common, though. It is a social identity marker, a set of circumstances, or state of political positioning that inevitably and necessarily places it at the bottom of the American food chain, totem pole etc. If there is a top there has to be a bottom. If there is a winner there has to be a loser. Every criminal prosecution needs a criminal. Since the inception of America, “black” men, beyond most others, have been the physical fall-guy slated for oppression by the mainstream system. Still, the mental state of that oppression is quite different.
Physically, “black” men may have not accumulated wealth in the last forty years equal to that of those whose ancestors profited off the bondage of “black” men. Physically, “black” men are stereotyped negatively, incarcerated disproportionately, and harassed more frequently than others. However, as a racial group in America, psychologically and physically “black” men have proven themselves to be some of the most resilient, resourceful and influential men in the World.
President Barack Obama. Even though America has not acknowledged its institutionalized sources of racial bigotry and oppression, Barack Obama did surpass all the negative portrayals of “black” men to win two landslide victories for the office of President of the United States. Regardless of whether or not you like his performance or consider him a “Real Black Man”, he has repositioned the image of “black” men to include “The most powerful man in the World.” The realization that there would ever be a “black” president was unheard of 10 years ago, let alone 40 years ago. That is even pessimistically, some type of progress.
Entrepreneurs. “From 2002 to 2007, the number of black-owned businesses increased by 60.5 percent to 1.9 million, more than triple the national rate of 18.0 percent (census.gov)”, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners. Over the same period, receipts generated by black-owned businesses increased 55.1 percent to $137.5 billion (census.gov)”. “Black-owned businesses continued to be one of the fastest growing segments of our economy, showing rapid growth in both the number of businesses and total sales during this time period,” – Census Bureau Deputy Director Thomas Mesenbourg. These statistics clearly prove that taking a risk to become an entrepreneur is exactly what the so-called “black” man has been concentrating on even going back to the 1990’s. As Dr. Watkins rightly states, “The only path to economic freedom is to consistently preach the idea of black business development and entrepreneurship. (Watkins, 2014)”
Science. Not only are “black” men prominent, well-compensated athletes and entertainers, the most intellectually-eloquent and well-respected proponent of hard theoretical science is Neil Degrasse Tyson, a “black” man raised in the Bronx. Over the last 15 years, he has become the go to astrophysicist and lecturer on matters concerning the universe and the planet in popular media. His demeanor and passion for relating a story or concept is unapologeticly more expressive than other scientists of his caliber and ultimately more effective to new audiences. Alone he has probably inspired more future “black” scientists than 50% of the public educational institutions in the United States. While some choose to see “black’ men as, “uneducated athletic goons, (Watkins, 2014)” others may see Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Lonnie Johnson, former research scientist who became a millionaire in 1982 with his invention of the ‘Super Soaker’ water gun.
Hip Hop by far, was the best thing pioneered by “black” men over the last 40 years. In 1971, the income generated by Hip Hop was minimal. Now in 2014, Hip Hop commands a multi-billion dollar economy that is able to sustain Jay-Z’s $550 million, Sean Combs $700 million, Dr. Dre’s $550 million, Bryan “Baby” Williams $160 million and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson $140 million, easily without anyone else getting a dime. That is a $2.1 billion dollar net worth from just 5 Hiphoppas (Forbes, 2014). Hip Hop, more importantly, created a way out of the most oppressed areas in America without having to gain an overpriced certificate of completion at a University. Hip Hop has also become one of the fastest growing cultures around the Earth, with its influence touching almost every corner of the modern World. In less than 40 years, Hip Hop went from a small sub-cultural genre of like-minded, mostly “black”, inner-city dwellers in NYC, to an international society of millions of individuals of all ethnicities and national affiliations. The Golden Era of the 1980’s and 90’s also produced a cultural consciousness that called for a stop to meaningless violence and inspired a movement toward entrepreneurialism that we see today. It was not the schools, or the church or the politicians who inspired this entrepreneurialism. It was Hip Hop, a culture pioneered mostly by so-called “black” men. Hip Hop has even been able to redefine the word ‘nigga’ in to a term of endearment in many circles, a feat no one else in the “black” community even attempted. Regardless if you agree with it or nah, the word has become less offensive to more people than it did 40 years ago. That is a definition of progress; changing a mind state.
Most crime is conducted in business attire. Despite being the most hunted and unjustly incarcerated group under the most extensive prison industrial complex in the World, “black” men are still not the most likely to commit major crimes or suffer mentally enough to commit the most suicides . “Black” men are also not the most likely perpetrators of the most heinous crimes like cannibalism and child rape. Those distinctions are all left for the “white” man. In fact, in just four years during the Civil War, so-called “white” men killed over 600,000 of each other; more than all the gang members have ever killed since there have been “black” gangs in America. So, even though people believe “black on black” violence to be so extreme, “black” men in America never, for one day, declared a “Civil War” on each other. That shameful distinction is left for the so-called “white” man in America.
The key thought to take away from the Watkins article is that, “until we change our mindset, we’ll be doing a study just like this one in another 40 years. (Watkins, 2014)” Referring to Watkins essay on how “black” men haven’t advanced, this statement shows how the mindset of oppression can prevent one from seeing their own progress when viewing it through the eyes of the oppressor. Until that frame of reference is changed, you won’t ever see advancement. It is only when you judge yourself on your own criteria that you will be free from the definitions that were developed for you before you were born.
Being “black” is not a choice. It is something dictated from the outside. It describes a set of societal circumstances, a political position and a mindset of oppression. But there is a difference in being “black” and believing your “black”.
In 2014, when former child star, Raven Simone declared that she didn’t want to be considered “black” or “gay” she was quickly chastised for not knowing her place. She was admonished, from what I observed, only by other “black” people who denied her the right to exist as anything other than what they think they see because of her skin tone. When a person has mixed heritage, some people remain defiant that they can only acknowledge their “blackness”. This is actually a symptom of the psychological oppression “whites” suffer from and its interesting to see it shift to “non-whites”. Traditionally, it has been “whites” who suffer from greater levels of psychological oppression as evidenced by the suicide rate among other things. That topic is for another discussion however.
Hopefully soon I will be able to coherently address the modern-day flat Earth theory of race, in depth, also at a later time. For now, I’ll end my thoughts here… Although I may be subject to physical oppression at times as a “black” men, I consider myself to be free to prosper and choose my own fate. I may be “black” physically, but my mindset is Hip Hop, and today that has way more value than it did in 1971 on many levels and I’m proud of it. KRSONE used to tell people that if they believed the World was going to end in 2012 because other people read it in a book, “you should read a different book.” Likewise, if someone tells you that you cannot advance, get a second opinion.