After you have lived enough life, you will learn that experience, and personal observation is powerful entities as they affect following thoughts and observations in a sneaky way. If one is not careful, personal experience will be the only thing informing how you view people. The only problem with such an occurrence is that your experience is in a word, limited. Put simply, if you are not careful your limited exposure will color your views in a most unreasonable fashion.
Now I am confident that you are wondering what I am talking about; such a question is understandable as I would be asking the same thing if I were you. And I realize that it is a bit difficult for you ‘to pick up, what I am trying to put down.’ However, I guess that what I am alluding to is that I felt a major conflict approaching between Floyd and me; a conflict that was most certainly going to boil over during our scheduled meeting at Hank’s Ice Cream.
The source of our disagreement, Floyd had somehow, someway, began questioning the utility of education for African-Americans. I considered this latest line of thinking that Floyd hinted at during previous discussions particularly disturbing, especially for a man of his age.
I must tell you that I hated having any disagreement with Floyd, especially when we were planning to meet in a public space; anyone who knows Floyd will tell you that he has no problem pitching a tent and behaving as if he is the featured presentation in a three-ring circus. There was no doubt in my mind that if provoked, Floyd was going to behave as if he were an absolute fool.
When asked about their favorite ice cream, most Texans will begin to tell you about Blue Bell Ice Cream. And I must be honest with you, when I first arrived in Houston, I thought that Blue Bell Ice Cream was heaven sent, that is until I tasted Hank’s Ice Cream. There is no reasonable comparison between the two. Put simply, Hank’s Ice Cream puts Blue Bell to shame.
I soon learned that not only was Hank’s Ice Cream a superior product but also it was an African-American owned business started by a very industrious man named Hank Wiggins in 1985. Hank, a graduate of Prairie View A & M University, hailed from Caldwell, Texas, and met financial success in Houston, Texas, by opening up what old-timers would call a jitney shop, today we call it a Taxi Cab service.
Apparently, Hank made ice cream for his family for years and always expressed a desire to open an ice cream shop to his wife, Okemah. It was a mid-eighties economic downturn that provided Hank an opportunity to realize his dream of opening an ice cream shop.
For me, Hank’s Ice Cream shop possesses everything that I desired in business: quality product, Black-owned, and reasonably priced. What was there not to like?
After watching the clock in my office, it was with utmost glee and exuberance that I left the office at approximately 11:30 and headed toward Main Street. Hank’s Ice Cream shop, located at 9291 Main Street, was this week’s meet-up location with Floyd at high-noon for yet another battle.
Upon arrival at Hank’s Ice Cream shop, I entered a venue that I always wished could serve as the standard template of hospitality and service for every African-American business. The notable welcoming environment that one finds at Hank’s Ice Cream Shop is not only comforting but also one of the greatest tips of the hat to its creator who has since transitioned to be with the ancestors. It does not take one long to glean an understanding that the employees of Hank’s are several generations of the owner’s remaining family members.
It did not take long before I had not only secured a towering vanilla ice cream cone that took me back to my childhood years. I found a seat in the corner of the establishment and began ravenously consuming it as if nothing else mattered. There was no work splayed before me, as is the usual case, Hank’s Vanilla Ice Cream demanded and received, my singular attention.
My singular focus caused me not to notice Floyd when he entered the establishment. Before beginning what I already sensed would be a round of extreme foolishness, even Floyd was compelled to secure some of Hank’s delicious ice cream before taking a seat.
In a few moments, Floyd, dressed in neatly creased khaki’s, an electric blue button down shirt, and his signature shiny shoes, plopped down across from me and began to lick his towering ice cream cone of Butter Pecan. As is his usual pattern, Floyd started in on me very quickly, but not before flashing that damn ‘Foolish Grin.’
“You see that right there. That’s how I know that you ain’t got no style. With all of these flavors, you picked ‘plain Jane’ Vanilla. I tell you, no style at all. None at all.”
Although I was enjoying my ‘plain Jane’ ice cream, I knew that I needed to respond to Floyd’s jab or run the risk of him considering my non-response as a sign of weakness. Prior experiences with Floyd had convinced me that if he were nothing else, he was an intellectual bully who eagerly pounced upon those unwilling to engage him. I responded with a short quip of,
“Nah Floyd, you looking at this thing all wrong. Before there was any such thing as Butter Pecan, there stood Vanilla. Before Chocolate, there stood Vanilla. Sometimes you need to pay homage to your foundations.”
After hearing my response, Floyd’s only response was a playful, “Oh, Nigga please.”
Both Floyd and I knew that the conversation we stood on the precipice of having was a long-overdue and controversial one that had stood like a sore spot between us. From my perspective, there was no point in dancing around the matter; during such moments I always preferred to jump directly to the heart of the matter. However, for strategic reasons, I needed for Floyd to broach the topic.
In a blatant attempt to bait him into the apparent discord that had grown between us regarding of all things, education, or more directly the utility or transformative nature of education for African-American males. I feigned ignorance and asked Floyd,
“So why did you want to meet? What’s up?”
Predictably, Floyd anticipated my move and slid me a copy of African-American News & Issues opened to a recent editorial that I wrote with a particularly harsh tone aimed at addressing a pernicious issue currently affecting African-American males. Although he has repeatedly used this tactic, I honestly did not foresee Floyd using my words against me regarding this matter.
REFLECTIONS ON AFRICAN-AMERICAN MALES NEW MILLENNIUM EDUCATIONAL PRIORITIES
One of the more peculiar inside jokes shared among those raised in “the hood,” meaning lower-middle-class, working-class, and poor neighborhoods occur when someone has been arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison. It is at this moment that others affectionately relate that he/she is on his way to ‘college’; albeit, not to pursue a traditional Liberal Arts degree, rather, a B.A. in criminality or possibly an M.S. in the robbery of black folk. All agree that the convicted will return from “college” a slicker confidence man or bolder burglar. 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 actions 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. 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 institutions of higher learning into an entity best termed ‘Thug University.’
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 this transformation is 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 individuals such as me, a first-generation collegian, would never gain 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 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 enough 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 significantly altered my mind. However, the youth culture of my generation was not only politically progressive but also created by African-Americans to serve 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 historical manifestations of 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 have 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 niggardly 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’re allowing the “streets” to influence their cultural values significantly and goal structures make 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. Hence, you are now center stage, the spotlight is shining on you, and we are eagerly awaiting to see if you will assume your rightful position as the next generation of educated “Race men” or will you prove cowardly and continue down a path of aberrant behavior that none of those who came before you would either recognize or celebrate.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
Although I did not necessarily have to read the editorial, hell, I wrote it. I most certainly knew its contents. To appease, Floyd, I reviewed the words that I had pinned during a particularly frustrating moment in my life; frustrations that flowed from the seeming inability of many African-American males decision to not ‘turn the corner’ toward success.
“Now what is your problem with me questioning if education is of any use to these fools?”
I initially attempted to explain to Floyd that he was focusing on the most unfortunate and damning aspects of what I wrote.
“Nah Captain, I am focused squarely upon what you wrote. Those are your words. Even you question if education is wasted on them.”
“Well, there are times, trying times I might add that leads one to question exactly what level of impact education is having upon some African-American males. I simply think that we have not done the best job of balancing educational pursuits and maintaining our cultural identity.”
“Cultural identity? What cultural identity? Oh, you mean what these fool call ‘keepin’ it real?’”
I hated it when Floyd mocked my position in such a manner. However, there was nothing that I could do about it at this particular moment; he created a significant, nearly impossible to overcome, advantage when he used my writings against me.
“Bruh, let’s face facts. The vast majority of these fools out here in these streets are more interested in pretending to be some gangster or pimp. It appears that the only difference between the street thug and the college student is where they are doing their dirt. That’s the ONLY difference between the two.”
“C’mon Floyd, there is no way that you believe that. We have many African-American males in college who are not only brilliant, but also reaching landings that neither you nor I will ever approach. All that I was saying in the editorial was that they should not allow the streets to unduly influence them toward ignoring the fabulous opportunities before them.”
“You know I hate it when you try and hide behind your words and don’t say what it is that you mean. Quit talking about the streets and call it what it is. You mean this damned Hip-Hop Culture. Because that is where they are getting this foolishness.”
As much as I wanted to disagree with Floyd, I knew that he was correct in this matter. Hip-Hop Culture was a major obstacle facing this latest generation of African-Americans as it seemingly touched every facet of their lives from their appearance and speech to their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Such influence would not be such a major issue if African-Americans still controlled what I frequently term the Nuclear Bomb of popular culture; however, the harsh reality is that we do not control either the images or the messages that are continuously shared with our children on a twenty-four-hour basis.
“It might be time for you to face the fact that these rappers have more influence upon Black men than even you do. Hell, it is not a stretch to say that they have more influence than their teachers and professors, and maybe, just maybe, they might have more influence than even their parents. It’s sad, but true.”
Floyd’s observation stung for one simple reason, he was absolutely correct. Unfortunately, African-Americans affinity for Rap Music which began for the vast majority of our people with either the release of the Sugar Hill Gang’s ‘Rappers Delight’ or Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five’s ‘The Message’ did not cease when the culture was taken over by white record executives and companies.
“Now Floyd you know that the vast majority of the things that these kids, and yes they are still kids, are out here doing is due to them following trends and fads.”
Apparently, I had said something to set Floyd off because his face communicated an obvious disdain and disappointment, if not anger.
“Kids? Kids? You think that these fools out here are kids? Well you keep hanging in the city and you will more than likely get a chance to see how kid-like these Niggas are. Man, they are committing violent robberies at the ages of thirteen and fourteen. Nah, they haven’t been kids for a very long time.”
“And whose fault is that Floyd?”
“Damn it, man, can’t you understand that it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. All that matters is that it is. And trust me when I say this, it ain’t going nowhere neither. This foolishness is here to stay.”
“It starts in the home and just grows worse and worse. That’s why I am telling you that education is largely wasted upon Black males. They not only can’t hear the teacher, they ain’t trying to hear the teacher.”
Although I never wanted to concede defeat in a debate to anyone, most of all to Floyd, I realized that there was an element of truth in his argument. Someway, somehow, somewhere along the line many African-American males, I refuse to say all, had lost their way and began devaluing educational pursuits and replaced what can be best termed traditional values with gangster fantasies that had their genesis in some white A & R record executives office.
Sensing that I didn’t have a logical response to his assertions, Floyd smiled with that ‘Foolish Grin’ like a Great White Shark circling some much-desired prey. Moving his hands as if he were conducting a symphony orchestra, Floyd stated
“And the truth prevails yet again.”
I shook my head at his foolish behavior and prepared to rise from my seat. Just as I stood, Floyd began to speak.
“Man, I know that you ain’t trying to leave without getting some of this ice cream to go.”
Floyd was correct in his observation; I always got a couple of pints of Hank’s to go.
“Sooooooo, I thought you might want to get me some as well.”
Although blessing Floyd in such a way was not at the forefront of my mind, I shot him an angry look and made my way back to the counter. When I made it to the counter, I heard Floyd shout out,
“And get me something with some flavor. Butter Pecan, Chocolate, Mint; not that bland stuff that you like.”
I could only shake my head at Floyd.
After purchasing both of us a few pints of ice cream, I handed Floyd his portion as we headed for the door. To my amazement, Floyd was walking toward my vehicle with me. Although I was uncertain what this meant, it became clear when Floyd shared,
“Now I know that you are going to give me a ride home. Otherwise my ‘Hank’s’ will be done melted by the time I get there and you know that would be a shame.”
He had gotten me once again! My only recourse was to shake my head before I unlocked his door.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017.