I have learned that it is crucial that I choose my battles wisely. Now I admit that this commitment to avoid unnecessary frivolous conflict signals either the arrival of wisdom or is an indicator of a subconscious desire to conserve my mental energies. The latter is the closest that you will ever get me to admit that I am aging.
It is this commitment to choose my battles that recently led me to avoid a relatively petty disagreement with a male student. The alluded to conflict flowed from his belief that the sole purpose of life was money and the more of it that he possessed, the happier he would be. Trust me when I say that this young brother was the personification of what many consider a stereotypical black male in dress, speech pattern, and social inappropriateness. I am confident that you understand what I mean when I say that although this was our initial encounter, I already knew him well.
Maybe I can chalk up my decision to not engage this fellow to wisdom. I can tell you that within thirty seconds of speaking with him, it became apparent that he would never understand that a successful life should never be evaluated by one’s bank account or accruement of cars, clothes, women, and homes. I have learned that flawed value systems such as his are birthed by both an absence of education and dearth of mentorship. I am certain that you agree that such ingredients result in absolute disaster for black males, regardless of their age.
Many of my students who have turned their back on the pursuit of a “life worth living” are surprised to learn that their decision to pursue money over everything else would have been applauded by Southern plantation owners who “owned” their ancestors centuries ago. In fact, there were principally two things that white slave owners feared the moment that chattel slavery ended: (a) financial ruin (b) the obliteration of a Southern culture that served as pillars for both their wealth and political interests. It is evident that Southern plantation owners understood that although monetary resources are crucial to their reign, it was their cultural priorities that dictated the path forward. These “southern gentlemen” were willing to destroy the nation before they even entertained compromising on their cultural beliefs and preferences. Of all of the lessons that one can glean from this period, it is white southerners’ obsession with a cultural formation that served their interests that offer the greatest lesson for African-Americans males at this present moment. Unfortunately, these precious lessons regarding the importance of culture are consistently ignored by those who need to learn from them the most.
Even a cursory examination of American history reveals that Southern plantation owners understood that although monetary resources were crucial to their tyrannical reign, money never superseded the value and importance of what can be best termed cultural priorities. White southerners understood very well that it was their cultural priorities that pointed the path forward. One must never forget that these “southern gentlemen” were willing to destroy the nation before they compromised their cultural framework.
White Southerners’ obsession with holding onto a cultural formation that served their interests offers the greatest lesson for African-Americans males seeking either individual or collective uplift. Unfortunately, these valuable lessons regarding the importance of culture are consistently ignored by a population of black males that need them the most. Failure to honor such realities reduces so many black males useless to their peoples’ historical struggle against white politico-economic oppression.
One of the most poignant social commentaries regarding what happens when there is an absence of black cultural priorities emanates from comedian Chris Rock. We must remember that Rock is the same person who informed the nation that there was “a civil war going on in Black America between black folk and Niggers. And Niggers have got to go.” Chris Rock’s piercing observation delves into one of Black America’s dirtiest pieces of laundry, that being the reality that there is a significant segment of Black America that has willfully embraced, even celebrated a backward set of cultural priorities that encourages what can only be considered a backward lifestyle. The alluded to lifestyle is particularly astounding when one considers that its foremost advocates have attempted to take others to task for not joining them in their wayward perspective. those who champion it have the audacity to issue significant criticism toward those who have pursued financial responsibility, professional success, and educational achievement. Unfortunately, those who pursue the positive goals mentioned above are rendered social pariah by a roguish element of black men.
The alluded to lifestyle is particularly astounding when one considers that its foremost advocates have attempted to take others to task for not joining them in their wayward perspective. Consider for a moment the fact that those discussed above have displayed the audacity to issue significant criticism toward a portion of Black America that has pursued financial responsibility, professional success, and educational achievement. In many ways, it is hilarious that this roguish element of black men has done their best to make the educated in our midst social pariah.
Make no mistake about it; there seems to be a social, intellectual, and cultural poverty that shadows wayward black males. Chris Rock addressed this matter when he charged that “Nothing makes a nigga happier than to not know the answer to your question.” I applaud Rock’s courage to publicly address such matters that are regularly discussed by blacks behind closed doors.
In many ways, the curse of cultural alteration is that change is gradual and indiscernible to the untrained eye. Once the alluded to changes are noticeable, it is often too late to stop them. Although it is impossible to identify a single villain in many African-American males development of non-sensical cultural priorities, however, there is no doubt that this matter exists.
An excellent starting point for explaining this unfortunate development of “ends-justify-the-means” cultural priorities is the impoverished intellectual diet so many black males have become addicted to. It is evident that for many black males, television, movies, rap music, and the foolishness found in American streets have a disproportionate influence on their behavior and worldview. In many ways, such dubious entities have convinced those being discussed of what is and what is not ‘Blackness.’
It is the foolish adoption of a value system that makes the pursuit of material goods the lone goal of life as the most active agent in the “dumbing down” of Black America. There is no room to debate the reality that the individuals who engage in this process eventually find themselves mired in an unceasing world of ignorance that begets a lack of politicization, that begets economic ignorance, that begets poverty, which reinforces their pervasive ignorance.
At the present moment, it appears that this process has manufactured individuals, such as the student mentioned above, whose sole priorities are the pursuit of and consumption of material goods by any means necessary. It is this population that Chris Rock terms “Niggas.” Ironically, such individuals have been so busy pursuing trinkets that they failed to notice that the rest of Black America has taken a vote that agrees with the famed comedian’s point that it is most certainly time for them to go.
James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017