During my adolescence, one of the more peculiar inside jokes shared among my peers raised in “the hood,” meaning lower-middle-class, working-class, and poor neighborhoods, occurred after someone was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison. It is at this moment that others relate that he was on his way to ‘college’; apparently, their studies were not aimed at earning a traditional Liberal Arts degree, rather, a B.A. in criminality or possibly an M.S. in the art of armed robbery. All agree that the convicted will return from “college” a slicker confidence man or bolder burglar. For varying reasons, many of my peers chose such an educational path.
Fortunately, many career paths and opportunities, including initiatives to save African-American males offer realistic alternatives to incarceration. The alluded to efforts serve as a constant reminder of the national crisis facing African-American males. Personally, such initiatives facilitated a host of “firsts” for me: my first collegiate visit, my first academic conference, and a similar program — the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) — paved the way for graduate school. Such outreach programs made the mentorship I received from Dr. James N. Upton during my undergraduate tenure and Dr. Paulette Pierce as I pursued my first Master’s degree at THE Ohio State University all the more necessary. The mentorship mentioned above was critical to my academic success as I learned how to “be” inside of collegiate classrooms, academic conferences, workshops, and symposiums.
Consequently, my current station as a tenured professor is a bit surreal. I am now on the other side of the desk and charged with mentoring the next generation of African-Americans, male, as well as female. Unfortunately, I am finding this process, particularly in regards to African-American males, increasingly difficult. Put simply, this latest generation of Black men does not appear to be particularly interested in academics, politics, or intellectual thought. In fact, I have watched as many of my current students have done their best to transform the Historically Black College that I feel so fortunate to teach at into ‘Thug University.’
Now I am certain that many cringes at my equating many of today’s Black male collegians, supposedly that group of individuals that are the best and brightest that we have, to ‘thugs.’ However, my evidence comes from direct interaction with droves of Black males throughout the nation. The stages I lecture upon on a daily basis have provided a clear view of the drastically altered demeanor, preparation, goal structure and behavior of many African-American males. From my perspective, the driving force behind much of their behavior flows directly from a flawed understanding of Black manhood.
As previously mentioned, I participated in several initiatives aimed at saving ‘the endangered black male.’ Such programs operated out of the belief that there was a desperate need to provide “historically marginalized minority populations” access to higher education. According to those fighting on our behalf, the most significant obstacle preventing our inclusion into said higher education institutions was institutional racism; meaning, that institutions of higher learning operated in a manner that first-generation collegians such as myself would never access.
I am confident that those battling for our inclusion during the eighties considered their foe, institutional racism, unconquerable. They never imagined that a decade later a more menacing enemy would arrive; an enemy that makes an adversary such as institutional racism appear juvenile. The latest opponent in the battle to save African-American males is a ‘siren’ that has mesmerized Black men. This enemy is best termed Thug Culture, a lifestyle propagated and delivered to our young people by contemporary rap stars.
For a significant population of Black male collegians, rap icons such as Rick Ross, YG, and Young Jeezy hold more sway over their values, aspirations, and worldview than Du Bois, Baldwin, Hughes, King, X, Newton, or Obama could ever hope to. Mentors of today’s African-American males are in for a rude awakening if they believe that mere exposure to collegiate campuses is sufficient to repel the omnipresent, seemingly omnipotent, influence of today’s rap artists on the values and goal structures of African-American males.
Such an assertion pains me as Rap Music is dear to my heart. In fact, I was politicized by eighties Rap Music: Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Boogie Down Productions Edutainment, Brand Nubian’s One for All, X-Clan’s To The East Blackwards, and Paris’ The Devil Made Me Do It. However, eighties youth culture was politically progressive and served Black interests. Unfortunately, the days of yesteryear are long gone.
Things have turned so sour within some urban enclaves that African-Americans have begun to fear their own. The Notorious B.I.G. stated as much in his tour de force, Things Done Changed “Back in the days, our parents used to take care of us. Look at ‘em now, they even fucking scared of us.”
Why should previous generations of African-Americans not be concerned about this latest expression of manhood considering its proclivity for drug abuse, alcoholism, misogyny, profanity, immorality, and anti-social behavior? All characteristics, I might add, that are foreign to the way that persons of African descent have historically lived.
African-American male collegians who are in the throes of a nihilistic homo-erotic thug culture fail to realize that they are an aberration to Black manhood. Their entire existence contradicts esteemed traditions of honorable, smooth, articulate, educated, well-dressed brothers who occupied leadership positions in their public and private lives. Today, the smooth, suave, and debonair African-American man has been replaced by young people whose lack of style, and trust me style is not achieved by one foolishly purchasing overpriced gaudy European clothing, is rivaled only by their inability to articulate a coherent thought.
Surrounding African-American collegians desperation to be included in ‘thug culture’ is an often ignored query of ‘what is the payoff for relinquishing long-standing African-American cultural traditions for boorish behavior?’ Apparently, the payoff for African-American male collegians is the opportunity to earn ‘street credibility’ among Common Street hoodlums whom they desperately seek to emulate.
If nothing else, I wish that the young men I view from the stage realize that they are the best that our Race has to offer and they are allowing the “streets” to significantly influence their cultural values and goal structures as much sense as a tail wagging a dog. Young collegiate brothers you are supposed to be the head and not the tail in regards to setting the values, priorities, goals, and future direction of our community. Young brothers, you are now center stage, the spotlight is shining on you, and we are eagerly awaiting to see if you will become the next generation of educated “Race men” or will you continue down a path of aberrant behavior that your ancestors would neither recognize nor celebrate.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race, and Culture 2015