The Game of Life

There is a popular axiom that states, ‘those who fail to plan, plan to fail.’ There is quite possibly no more succinct means of describing the current politico economic state of Black America. Put simply, we have failed to plan; choosing instead to be wholly reactionary to incidents after they have occurred. Within the African-American community, things are in such disarray that many have publicly questioned if the “Black community” still exists, particularly as there does not appear to be any semblance of political collectivism, economic self-sufficiency, or social decorum.

The issues of politico or socioeconomic collectivism among African-Americans is a topic bantered about and discussed in venues that vary from Black Nationalist gatherings to Black barbershops/beauty salons. All seem to agree that in regards to collective movements, the “Black Community”, a term that appears to be more of an oxymoron as the days pass, is in a downward spiral; however, few understand why this has occurred.

More specifically, how did African-American political leaders, business people, intellectuals, educators, clergymen, the populations that William Edward Burghardt Du Bois characterized as the Talented-Tenth allow this to occur? Were the elite too preoccupied with accumulating material possessions? Were they focused upon giving their offspring everything they never had and in the process failed to inform them that the descendants of enslaved people are eternally inextricably linked with each other? It appears that African-American leaders are the only racial/ethnic leadership group that has failed to deliver the point that collectivist economics and political solidarity are crucial to survival. Failure to understand collectivist politics and the utility of economic solidarity places African-Americans in the peculiar predicament that the great Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes expounded upon in his poem, I, Too

I, too, sing America, 

I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

 

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to m,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

 

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed –

 

I, too, am America.

One of the most amazing developments in today’s highly contemptuous battle for survival has been African-Americans inability to understand that survival, let alone prosperity, in the game of life hinges upon collectivism and coalitions; and I predict that until those lessons are learned, we will continue to dine in the kitchen that Hughes alludes to, anxious for others to issue an invitation, purely out of the goodness of their heart, to dine with the rest of the nation. That invite will never come from a place of kindness. Put simply, life is analogous to a board game where various races and special interest groups attempt to increase their holdings [political and economic power] through strategic maneuverings, the ability to coordinate with other players, who are invariably receiving some benefit from an always tenuous alliance, increases a group’s opportunity for success.

Considering this analogy, it appears as if other groups — Alternative Lifestyle [Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer], Women [Wealthy, Middle-Class, Working-Class, Asian, Latina, White, Black], Asian [Chinese, Japanese, Filipino] Latina [Mexican, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Cuban, Dominican] and White [Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Russian, Italian, Polish, German] — are able to make logical moves on the overcrowded game board and forge alliances to advance their unique interests.

Now, it is not that persons of African descent [Nigerian, Jamaican, African-American, Ghanaian, Black Brits, Haitian, Cuban, Brazilian, Caribbean] are not involved in the game, it is that they are the least likely to forge an alliance with other groups, including within their own racial group. Predictably, their attempt to navigate the game of life alone leads to not only frustration, but also the total loss of their political power and total dependence upon others for material survival; they eventually develop a parasitic relationship to a more dominant, not necessarily numerically superior, group.

In due time, some Blacks will make what they consider a logical move to get in the game, a decision that drives home just how uninformed they are in regards to how it is played, they will shun others within their own racial/ethnic group and attempt to join with another group that they have little in common with, thinking that such is an appropriate strategy to extricate themselves out of the cavernous sinkhole they see their race sinking into. Little do they realize, by ignoring their own and forging an alliance with strangers, they have made a Faustian deal that guarantees them nothing more than a few politico economic crumbs that the larger players will offer, but only after their appetite has been satisfied! In their defense, I must add that the primary reason persons of African descent never turn to fellow descendants of Africa to forge coalitions is because they have been taught in classrooms, media, and through experience that, “Niggers don’t know how to handle no business.” It is common to hear vain, boastful Negroes announce that they are the only one’s making significant politico economic moves; we all know that this individual is a fool as he/she erroneously believes that they can singularly take on the world and succeed via some pyramid/get rich quick scheme.

This situation is not new; Marcus Garvey observed over a century ago that throughout his travels in Europe, the Caribbean, South and North America, there were a few constants. Garvey discovered that regardless of where he went, African-Americans were the least educated, the poorest, and in the worst health. The presence of the same situation among populations of persons of African descent on myriad continents screams that such a development is neither a coincidence nor happenstance. Garvey, along with a host of other Black leaders including, but not limited to, The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Albert Cleage, Malcolm X, and Huey P. Newton, repeatedly remarked that the genesis of our oppression emanates from our minds. Meaning, that what we intake into our minds creates our reality. Hence, if one wants to control a person’s reality, they merely need to control what they consume mentally, keep in mind, a major aspect of this process includes the curtailing of certain information from entering into what can be best termed an intellectual diet.

There is ample evidence to support the above observation all around us. It is not coincidental that students who matriculate from Notre Dame are on one accord in regards to the issue of Abortion, just as it is unheard of for modern-day Jews to not support the state of Israel. My point is simply that other groups, [GLBTQ, whites, Asians, Hispanics, Women] those that African-Americans are competing against in the game of life, utilize education as a means of ‘manufacturing consent’ among their group. Such is the favored operations of newly arrived populations to this nation.

How many times have we seen ‘foreigners’ arrive in America under dubious circumstances and within one generation, two generations at the most, they have ‘picked themselves up by their own bootstraps’ and surpassed African-Americans not only in regards to economics, but also in regards to flexing their political muscle. The latter is particularly daunting as these groups are invariably numerically smaller than African-Americans; you must remember that we live in a land that operates under the mantra of ‘one man, one vote’. The path for the aforementioned ‘foreigners’ politico economic improvement never varies; for a period of time they close ranks, mobilize their political and economic resources, the latter is usually achieved by capitalizing upon an economically exploitable Black community, while simultaneously focusing their energies upon hard work and educating their men, women, and children with an eye toward political power, economic self-sufficiency, and a liberating theology. One can not be angry at the alluded to populations for their actions, it is the surest way of improving one’s status in America; the anger should be directed toward those that are repeatedly exploited in the same manner decade-after-decade.

Despite this process occurring right before their eyes, many African-Americans are silly enough to believe in a gospel of individuality. The logic of such Negroes is that if they work diligently enough on an individual basis, success is certain to follow; even a cursory examination of global history reveals the fallacy of such thoughts. I had a professor who once highlighted the fallacy of such thought by remarking, ‘If hard work were all that you needed to succeed in America, Black folk would run this nation because no one has worked harder than us’; hard work and diligent effort, although a part of the equation, is in no way the entire equation.

I must admit that I am amused when Conservative groups such as the Tea Party stand in the midst of their collective group and advise others to seek political power and economic freedom individually, please do not be seduced by the lie of American individualism. It is amazing that those who publicly champion the virtues of individuality are simultaneously mobilizing political resources on a collective basis; do not fret though, they are not totally inconsistent, they intend to enjoy their material gain individually.

This situation begs the question, is there any entity capable of liberating African-Americans politically, socially, and economically. There actually is a group of scholars within the Black Studies Movement, as well as leaders of independent Black organizations such as the Nation of Islam who could forge a plan for our liberation, unfortunately, there is no efficient method of trumping the mistrust sewn in Negro minds. However, it is only the aforementioned entities that we can reasonably expect to use their mental power and resources to study African-Americans for positive, non-exploitative, purposes. Considering the current position of African-Americans, it is foolish for us not to focus our energies upon studying, mobilizing, and then executing a plan to help uplift the race. Failure to do so will most certainly result in a continuation of the dire consequences currently affecting the community.

If you remember nothing else from this blog, please remember that life is like a game, with multiple players possessing the same goal of securing as much political power and economic wherewithal to not only live independently, but also flex those politico economic muscles when need be; a decision that invariably leads those they are in conflict with to behave in a way that is not in their best interests. It will not be until persons of African descent understand that other groups are organized and executing plans aimed at increasing their politico economic strengths. A major ingredient in the collecting of politico economic resources by power brokers is political disorganization and economic inefficiency of other groups. The question facing African-Americans today is the same one that faced them a century ago, how long will they allow the game to operate before they  wise up and begin mobilizing their game pieces and develop a strategic plan to not only decisively enter the game in a meaningful manner, but also recognize that the invitation to participate will never arrive; in fact, the game has been going on for centuries, its just that we did not recognize it.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

One of the most common refrains, really an admonishment, that I remember from my time at Mount Calvary Baptist Church was that “the power of life and death is in the tongue.” This well worn church saying was designed to remind those of us who were learning the tenets of Christianity to be mindful of the language that we bantered about publicly. One was not to curse or represent themselves in a negative manner for the following reason; ‘a little bit of bad will tear down a whole lot of good.’

The popular saying was stretched beyond one’s personal situation, it covered the entire race. As we have repeatedly seen, the actions, or better yet the antics, of one African-American has the ability to mar and malign the image of the entire race. Put simply, the destiny and image of African-Americans are inextricably linked together. Hence, one’s public persona, from your dress to your speech, was a direct reflection of yourself, your family, and the entire race. There was a pride to be found among African-Americans individually and collectively. The alluded to pride was expressed through  our posture, walk, talk, and physical appearance. One abhorred being caught ‘showing one’s color’ regardless of extenuating circumstances.

The above historical realities is one of many reasons why YG’s hit single, “My Nigga“, is not only disturbing on myriad levels, but also particularly damaging to the image and psyche of the entire African-American community, particularly its male population. Although I find it particularly difficult to believe that there is anyone on the planet who has not heard this recording, in the event that there is such an individual, the words follow.

My nigga, my nigga
My nigga, my nigga (My motherfuckin niggas!)
My nigga, my nigga (My nigga, my nigga)
My nigga, my nigga (My motherfuckin niggas!)

My nigga, my nigga (My motherfuckin niggas!)
My nigga, my nigga (My nigga, my nigga)
My nigga, my nigga (My motherfuckin niggas!)
My nigga, my nigga (My motherfuckin niggas!)
My nigga, my nigga (My nigga, my nigga)
My nigga, my nigga?

The word ‘nigga’ is repeated a shocking thirty-one times. Black America’s soul should be troubled by not only the verbal flurry, but also the fact that it has entered the impressionable minds of droves of youth.

As someone who has been addicted to rap music from the first time that I heard Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five’s ‘The Message‘, I thought that it may be time to address YG’s recording, not with a denunciation of it, that is not only easily accomplished, but also predictable, rather I have decided to offer an artistic alternative to a listening audience that desperately seeks close association with the “N-Word”. Unfortunately, many of these individuals believe that YG’s record, and similar recordings, epitomize what rap music is. So, consider this a desperate attempt to fight the blaze of ignorance that YG, Rich Homie Quan, and Jeezy began and Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Meek Mill, fanned with an alternative vision and take upon the N-Word, nigga, and nigger.

Maybe, just maybe, YG, Rich Homie Quan, Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and/or Meek Mill will learn something regarding the power of language and come to understand that their financial wealth is insufficient to hide their intellectual and moral poverty. I am certain that time will impress upon them that no amount of cash is capable of masking such poverty. One of their own, Jay-Z, a self-proclaimed rap God, once issued an admonishment that is particularly applicable here when he related, “you can pay for school, but you can’t buy class.” A lesson that I hope the entire hip-hop community learns before the power of their words leads to more incarceration, death, and destruction of their own.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

A Life Worth Living: The Ballad of Rashard Mendenhall

It would be misleading to refer to professional athletes as being common in any shape, form, or fashion. Their athletic feats alone render them exceptional and unique. However, there tends to be little that is remarkable regarding these modern day Supermen away from their chosen profession. In fact, they often embrace lifestyles that few sane individuals would desire the consequences of. So it is not a surprise that we commonly hear the same sad story regarding African-American male athletes that have haphazardly squander away millions of dollars, produced a tribe of children, failed to have the necessary educational background or courage to publicly comment upon pressing political matters affecting their people. There is nothing notable about that sob story.

In 1993, Charles Barkley, participated in a Nike campaign that pivoted around what would become a familiar refrain among athletes; “I am not a role model.” Barkley was equal parts blunt and serious regarding the fact that neither he nor any of his peers should be considered role models solely because of their athletic prowess; the All-Star forward went so far to highlight the stupidity of such idolatry when he remarked, “A million guys can dunk a basketball in jail; should they be role models?”

Barkley’s Nike sponsored message sparked a significant debate about role models, particularly within the Black community. Today, the image of worthy African-American role models amongst professional athletes is so rare that the nation hardly noticed when Minnesota based Republican Representative Pat Garofalo remarked, “Let’s be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in street crime.” The primary reason that such a racially-tinged statement failed to cause an uproar from a reactionary African-American community is because many of them view athletes with similar disdain.

The image of African-American males has been so tarnished that the aforementioned generalizations are commonly applied to all African-American males, regardless of their educational attainments, careers, or personal situations. Such caricatures are so pervasive, that a figure such as Rashard Mendenhall is considered an aberration within both the sports world and the African-American community. If only I could persuade Nike to revive and slightly alter their ‘I am not a role model’ campaign for the benefit of young African-American males and make Rashard Mendenhall the star; in my estimation, he is what our young boys seeking an athletic career should be aspiring to be.

Mendenhall, a much celeberated athlete from Niles West High School,  not only graduated early, but also continued his studies at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) prior to being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. What makes Mr. Mendenhall so newsworthy at this moment is that at the ripe age of 26, he has decided to walk away from professional football in a manner that reminds one of the Cleveland Browns’ Jim Brown’s exit from the National Football League at the apex of his career; Brown went on to have a prodigious life as a political activist. Unlike his peers, Mendenhall has not only cultivated his mind, but also realized that life is about so much more than athletic contests that droves of Americans obsess over.

I am certain that the vast majority of Americans can identify with Mendenhall’s reasons for leaving football when he states,”Imagine having a job where you’re always on duty, and can never fully relax…” The now retired running back also related frustrations with “having to fight through waves and currents of praise and criticism, but mostly hate. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been called a ‘dumb n—–.'” Mendenhall has quite simply had enough of the demands that others have placed upon his life, not to mention the toll that being a professional football player places upon an individuals physical and mental health. Despite repeated charges to the contrary from sports columnists and fans, Mendenhall is not crazy for leaving money on the table, rather he should be applauded for knowing when enough is enough and having some semblance of balance in his life.

From my perspective, it is imperative that African-American males are taught by their community that athletics are a fine activity, however, it should never become your identity. One of the greatest lessons that our young men fail to learn is the need for balance in one’s life. It is fine to be a great athlete, however, we make a serious error when we allow athletics to become our singular reason for living.

As for what the twenty-six year old Mendenhall will do with his life now that he has hung-up his cleats, I will let this impressive young man’s words speak for themselves. “As for the question of what will I do now, with an entire life in front of me?” he wrote. “I say to that, I will LIVE! I plan to live in a way that I never have before, and that is freely, able to fully be me, without the expectation of representing any league, club, shield or city. I do have a plan going forward, but I will admit that I do not know how things will totally shape out. That is the beauty of it! I look forward to chasing my desires and passions without restriction, and to sharing them with anyone who wants to come along with me! And I’ll start with writing!”

I pray that droves of African-American male youth will not only read Mendenhall’s writings, but also learn from his life; both of those things could prove to be instrumental to those that are coming behind him. Rashard, congratulations on your retirement and remember, that we are eagerly awaiting to read the next chapters of your life.  Best of Luck.

 

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop

In 1990, KRS-ONE (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone), of Boogie Down Productions fame, offered a major theoretical building block to hip-hop culture by titling his most recent album Edutainment. Although the album was spectacular in its own right, the true genius of referring to Rap Music as Edutainment — meaning Education and Entertainment — has grown more profound with Hip-Hop Culture’s growth, if not necessarily its maturation, over the twenty-plus years since that particular recording debuted.

The insinuation that rap music is actually Edutainment is not only profoundly powerful, but also keenly insightful. Those who understand the art of emceeing can attest to the fact that lyricism is at its best when it is both entertaining and educating listeners. There is no more efficient means of shaping the worldview, hopes, dreams, and priorities of the listening audience. Make no mistake about it, a young African-American male or female holding a mic holds the potential to be exponentially more influential over their listening audience than a teacher, coach, politician, and oftentimes a parent. A cursory glance around the globe verifies that it is no stretch to term Hip-Hop Culture the cultural equivalent of a nuclear bomb.

The B-Boy is found in Moscow, graffiti adorns buildings in Amsterdam, Brazilian women dance in hip-hop videos, white girls drape themselves over black rappers, even Happy Feet, the lovable penguin of cinematic fame, dances to infectious rap beats. Those who speak only English need a linguist to listen to the BET cipher as emcees have sprouted from the soil of every continent, and even Percy Miller, of No Limit Records fame, molds the minds of our children via his wildly successful Yo! Gabba Gabba show. It is a gross understatement to maintain that Hip-Hop culture has arrived, truth is the culture has been the main course in the global cultural diet for over three decades.

Hip-Hop culture’s migration to a centrist position in the global cultural diet has rendered it indispensable to successive generations of youth. It is this increased visibility and influence of Hip-Hop culture that has heightened the importance of KRS-ONE’s Edutainment construct for the following reasons:

  1. Hip-Hop culture has become an ambassador that not only introduces persons around the globe to African-American culture, but also, in the minds of consumers, projects that population’s values, morals, hopes, and dreams.
  2. Rap Music is certainly entertaining via infectious beats and mesmerizing lyrics as well as serving as an “educational” tool for populations, regardless of their racial identity or ethnicity, who have no real connection to urban Black America; including African-American youth raised in suburban America.

Therein lies the danger of a negative message and image. While African-Americans who have been raised in urban America, recognize the tomfoolery that many rap artists are undertaking, those who are absent of such cultural intelligence — awareness, familiarity, and norms — naively ingratiate what amounts to absurd verging on caricatures as authentic representation of black life, culture, traditions, and norms. In time, as with all stories told and retold those images that were originally created either in the simplified minds of artists or some record executives dry-erase board are considered an apt representation of African-Americans. Ironically, this unfortunate method of manufacturing consent regarding authentic African-American culture forces future artists who are naturally desirous of fame and fortune to fit themselves into the aforementioned buffonery. Leaving one to deduce that quite possibly it is time to alter KRS-ONE’s construct to a more apt title Mis-Edutainment, because the images that I see being portrayed do little other than betray the African-American community and destroy their image around the globe.

 

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

Committed to investigating, examining, and representing the African-American male, men, and manhood by offering commentary regarding the status of Black Men and Black Manhood as it relates to African-American Manhood, Race, Class, Politics, and Culture from an educated and authentic African-American perspective aimed at improving the plight of African-American men and African-American Manhood in regards to Politics, Culture, Education, and Social Matters.

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