In Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, A Soldier’s Story, set during the outbreak of World War II, one finds a character named C.J. who is in the words of ‘Sarge’ a happy go lucky “homey kind of nigga.” C.J., a comedic and musical figure, is the type of Negro that white folk love to have around. We all know someone like C.J., the type that has never met a stranger and seeks to ingratiate himself to all, even to the point of embarrassment.
The aforementioned ‘Sarge’, possessed a raging and ever expanding hatred for C.J. because he brought racist whites stereotypes about African-Americans to life. At one point in the play, ‘Sarge’ reveals to C.J. that “the race can no longer afford you. The Day of the Geechee is over.”
Sarge’s assertion that individuals such as C.J. are a liability that the Race could no longer afford if it wanted to topple prejudice, discrimination, and racism is a sentiment that many African-Americans are echoing at this very moment toward many of their own.
Considering that African-Americans are not monolithic it is reasonable to expect multiple definitions of what Black is and how one displays their Blackness. In light of the fact that African-American citizens hailing from diverse loci that have significantly influenced their priorities, beliefs, and goals, attempts to define “what Black is” has routinely resulted in failure. When asked about this matter, Historian Anthony Quinn related the following. “Although I am certain that this is in no way a reasonable answer to your question, however, Blackness is everything that you could imagine and quite a few things that will make you cringe. In saying that, I must emphasize that there are many things ascribed to Black folk and Blackness that have no basis in our history.” When pressed to name a few of those things, Quinn posited, “Ghetto behavior such as sagging pants, cursing in public, fighting in public places, uncivilized behavior in general that these people have the audacity to capture on video and post it on-line; things that most civilized people consider niggardly.”
The alluded to diversity in thought, political perspective, and individual value systems has birthed a fundamental disagreement within Black America regarding “Blackness”. Comedian Chris Rock likened the myriad battles regarding Blackness occurring within Black America to a “Civil War” with well-defined adversaries.
During the 1940s, established well-to-do African-Americans considered ‘the Geechie’ to be their foremost intra-racial adversary as his buffoonish behavior served as a perpetual threat of reversing much of their progress on the racial frontier. Such feelings have not receded from Black America. Chris Rock’s observation during a stand-up routine that “there is a ‘civil war’ occurring between Black folk and Niggers. And Niggers have got to go” holds much weight with many African-Americans such as Brooklyn-based parole officer Tiffany Thomas. Thomas relates that she has constantly seen the conflict between middle-class progressive minded African-Americans and the population that Rock terms ‘Niggas’. According to Thomas, “there is absolutely no way that these two populations will ever be able to peacefully coexist with one another. I can tell you from personal experience that me and my husband have worked like dogs to purchase our home on what we thought was a great neighborhood. And for the most part it is; except for the niggers who seemingly have made it their life’s mission to disturb what should be peace and tranquility by smoking weed in front of peoples home’s that they do not even know, sitting on their stoops, throwing trash everywhere, and causing disturbances all night, every night.”
Although droves of Black folk laughed at Chris Rock’s biting social commentary, the truth is that he was slyly exposing what could very well be Black-America’s dirtiest piece of laundry; that being, some Blacks inability to extricate themselves from a multi-faceted poverty that extends beyond economic matters into political, social, educational, cultural, and moral areas. Things have gotten so bad that when provided a choice, many African-Americans have chosen to not live in a predominantly Black area. Documentary filmmaker John Calhoun remarked that “the poverty one finds in African-American neighborhoods is so often injurious to not only one’s physical safety, but also the soul. Although I understand that African-American children need to know their roots and history, they are most certainly not going to learn it by merely living in a black neighborhood that could very well break them.”
It makes sense that that the frustrations flowing from a multi-generational curse of the ‘have nots’ would be most intense among poor African-Americans, however, middle-class Blacks angst regarding multi-generational poverty is quite possibly stronger than its primary victims. Most frustrating to educated African-Americans is the perception that impoverished Blacks are unashamed of their multiple inadequacies and actually revel, promote, and champion their status as a badge of honor before a disapproving public. According to collegian Alex Goodwin, “one does not need to look very far to find people who revel in their ignorance. I am on a college campus and witness it every single day, in fact, several times a day. Many of my classmates honestly believe that there is no greater expression of Blackness than to avoiding studying and working towards a professional career, behaving disrespectfully toward professors, spend all of their time socializing with others, and please don’t get me started on marijuana usage.”
Chris Rock’s routine about a ‘Civil War’ between Black folk and ‘Niggas’ honed in on one particular area when he remarked, “Nothing makes a ‘Nigga’ happier than to not know the answer to your question.” Experience has taught me that Rock’s statement, albeit it unfortunate and saddening is nevertheless true for many of my people. Unfortunately, it appears that many of the people championing what could be best termed a neo-Blackness proudly carry their educational and cultural inadequacies. One Houston based educator, speaking on the condition of anonymity related the following. “While I was teaching within a poor inner-city district, it became clear to me that many of my African-American students had little, if any, interest in education. They seemed to only have two reasons for attending school, socializing or serving as a supreme disruption to the learning of others. Although I was heartbroken, I ultimately decided to resign from my position a few weeks into the school year. My new position, in a non-inner city school, that also has a sizable population of African-American students has been the exact opposite experience. My African-American students are not only interested in the subject matter, but also go beyond in-class learning and assignments in their pursuit of knowledge.”
This hostility toward education betrays the historical reality that recently emancipated African-American emerged from slavery logically linking their status as this nation’s ‘have nots’ to a lack of education; a situation that they diligently worked to correct. Efforts to secure an education became an obsession for the majority of African-Americans from emancipation through the segregation era. According to African-American leaders such as Malcolm X, who warned their contemporaries regarding the wisdom of integrating with a hostile white population, the value that African-American children placed upon education declined the moment that integration began. The historical record indicates that the post-Brown v. Board of Education period was the beginning of a steep decline in Black male educators and a relevant curriculum designed to equip African-American children with the type of quality education that they would need to navigate a hostile American economic landscape.
Although it is difficult to identify a single villain in a process that has created a climate where huge-swaths of African-American youth routinely repudiate academics with an irrational intensity that now tends to equate academic success with ‘acting white’. The adoption of an “ends-justify-the-means” economic philosophy is a particularly poignant explanation. Put simply, so many African-Americans have adopted an economic perspective that justifies any, and everything, as long as it is profitable that we have lost many of the core values of morality and decency that ensured our grounding.
A message of unfettered consumerism is continually piped into African-American homes via ‘Reality TV’ shows. Apparently such stimuli is particularly influential as many within our community instantaneously integrate many of the things that they have witnessed on such shows into their personal behavior patterns. If I did not know any better, I would swear that the alluded to anti-social behavior is a legitimate representation of whom we are as a people.
A value system that glorifies materialism is the pivot that myriad African-American problems flow from. It is this preoccupation with the accumulation of ‘things’ that has facilitated the denigration of academic pursuits and raw intelligence within Black America. There is little doubt that for those who have adopted materialism as a way of life, hard times will eventually follow as they will eventually wallow in an economic poverty that begets a lack of politicization, that begets, economic ignorance, that begets poverty, which starts the devilish process of securing money ‘by any means necessary’ all over again. Such realities manufacture individuals willing to exchange their dignity for material goods and money. It is this population of people that Chris Rock terms ‘Niggas’.
Although there is no ‘politically correct’ way of saying this, the life mission of the majority of educated, politically conscious, and socially adjusted African-Americans has become the extermination of the multiple illiteracies — political, cultural, social, economic, and historical — that serve as the foundation for ‘Niggas’. The only reasonable path toward the achievement of such a lofty goal has to be the development and application of a relevant education that not only informs those mired in any of the aforementioned illiteracies of a way to escape their plight.
James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016