One of the more peculiar inside jokes shared among those raised in “the hood” is that when someone is sentenced to prison, this individual is on his way to ‘college’; meaning he is away from the community receiving an education in criminality and bound to return with an advanced criminal skill set. President Barack Hussein Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ is an initiative aimed at preventing such college visits.
The African-American community has known long before President Barack Hussein Obama arrived on the national political scene that there was a crisis concerning Black boys. I know that these initiatives have been around for at least thirty-years as I was previously a participant in such programs. Considering that Malcolm X’s admonishment that a person is merely the sum of their life experiences, I attribute a portion of my current success to such initiatives.
My participation with outreach programs specifically aimed at uplifting African-American males provided me with my first opportunity to visit a collegiate campus, attend/participate in an academic conference, and receive mentorship at both the undergraduate and graduate levels by unbelievable faculty members at THE Ohio State University, my alma mater.
With hindsight I can attest with extreme clarity that it was the latter occurrence, the opportunity to be mentored that has proven most beneficial in regards to my future endeavors. It was during mentorship sessions that I learned how to “be” inside of a collegiate classroom, an academic conference, a workshop, and a symposium; just as importantly, I had lessons my parents had taught me reiterated behind closed doors that I had done absolutely nothing to earn the opportunities being placed in front of me, it was an extended line of my elders who had facilitated this moment, and since I had not created these opportunities, I had absolutely no right to behave in a manner that would cause these opportunities to cease. Put simply, we, meaning a larger community, have worked tirelessly for you to even be allowed to compete in the collegiate arena, don’t you dare get out there and embarrass us at any moment, at any time, or for any reason.
Such experiences and mentorship makes my current status as a tenured professor of African-American studies surreal. I am on the other side of the desk and charged with the responsibility to keep the tradition from whence I emerged alive and well.
Although I, and many of my colleagues, concentrate upon keeping the traditions going; the truth is that the process of mentoring today’s African-American male collegian is markedly different from anything I could have imagined. Ironically, I have had an up-close view of the dynamic decade long process that facilitated collegiate campuses transformation from institutions of higher learning to what can be best termed “Thug University” for a significant portion of African-American males.
From the stage that I lecture on, I can attest that the past decade has been a period of dynamic change in regards to the African-American male persona on collegiate campuses, a shift that has been greatly prodded by Hip-Hop Culture. Put simply, much of the ignorance infecting so many African-American male collegians is an outgrowth of Hip-Hop Culture, Rap Music and Videos in particular.
As previously discussed, I participated in several initiatives aimed at saving ‘the endangered black male’. The logic behind such initiatives was that there needed to be some mechanism that provided “historically marginalized minority populations” access to higher education institutions. The most significant obstacle preventing our inclusion was an entity referred to as institutional racism; meaning, that the entire system operated in a manner that individuals such as myself, regardless of our best efforts, would never gain access. To their credit, policy makers and government officials took decisive action by allocating funds for African-American male initiative programs that worked to combat occurrences of institutional racism.
I am certain that those battling for our inclusion during the eighties considered their battle with institutional racism a Herculean effort, little did they know, a few decades later there would be a far more enchanting enemy that would make earlier battles with institutional racism look like taking candy from a baby.
The latest frontier in the battle to save African-American males must be fought against a much slicker enemy, one that the vast majority of African-American males admire, embrace, and seek intimate knowledge, that enemy is Hip-Hop Culture.
Despite the plethora of outreach programs being created to influence/guide African-American males down a productive path, the truth is that for a significant population of our males, rap icons such as Rick Ross, YG, and Young Jeezy hold more sway over their values and worldview than any initiative could ever hope to. Now this is by no means suggesting that such initiatives need to be ceased, as many participants, such as myself, will maximize the opportunity, however, the administrators of such initiatives are in for a rude awakening if they believe that exposure to collegiate campuses or professional mentors is sufficient to stem the omnipresent, seemingly omnipotent, influence of today’s rap artists on this latest generation of African-American males.
The above assertion is particularly disconcerting for someone who to this day holds Rap Music near and dear to my heart. I was literally incubated by Hip-Hop culture and its musical wing, Rap Music; entities that paved the way for first my politicization and my pursuit of a career of the mind.
Outside of my parents voluminous influence, my mind was molded by 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. As I reconstruct my past, it is clear that the youth culture I was steeped in was not only politically progressive, but also created by young African-Americans to serve the interests of young African-Americans. Unfortunately, the days of yesteryear are long gone.
If the saying that a tree is best known by the fruit it bears is true, one needs to look no further than the current state of young African-American males to discern that Hip-Hop culture is doing untold damage by curtailing their worldview and opportunities.
As stated 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.” The antics/attitude/actions of African-American males have made many of their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles scared of them. Why should previous generations not be afraid of these recent manifestations of African-American manhood with its proclivity for drug abuse, alcoholism, misogyny, profanity, sagging pants and anti-social behavior? All foreign characteristics to how the majority of our people have lived throughout the annals of time.
Unbeknownst to the young men who are attempting to serve two masters, one being the altar of collegiate studies and the other the altar of ‘keepin it real’ Hip-Hop Culture, they have signed up for an impossible task; in fact, it will the latter of the two that will always win out as it invariably taps into the carnal nature of mankind. The young men currently in the throes of a nihilistic homo-erotic thug culture fail to realize that they are an aberration to the way that educated African-American men have lived for centuries. The alluded to individuals entire existence contradicts storied traditions of honorable, smooth, articulate, educated, well dressed brothers who were in leadership positions in both their public and private lives. The smooth suave and debonair African-American man has been replaced with young men whose lack of style, and trust me a measure of style is not conveyed by adorning one’s body with overpriced gaudy European clothing that was not created with you in mind, is rivaled only by their inability to verbally express themselves.
The proverbial elephant in the room regarding African-American collegians desperation to be included in this type of lifestyle is an often ignored query of ‘what is the payoff for relinquishing long-standing African-American cultural traditions in favor of adopting behavior that would shame a nation of uncultured savages?’ Apparently the impetus behind the actions and mindset of so many African-American male collegians is a pursuit of ‘street credibility’ among those that they consider, or desperately desire to be like, uneducated criminal-minded thugs and hoodlums.
It is my fervent hope and prayer that African-American collegians quickly conclude that there is no salvation for them to be found in the streets of America, let alone any feelings of admiration to be hewn from a segment of society, criminal-minded African-American males, that loathes their existence. If nothing else, I wish that the young men sitting in my classes realized that they are the best and brightest that our race has to offer and their allowing those who have less education than they do to direct their cultural values and goals makes 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 for our community. So take your rightful places as the trend-setters and leaders within our community. Only you can reverse this tide of cultural dysfunction and flawed political priorities.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017
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Author, Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Historical Narrative of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
Author, ‘Foolish’ Floyd: The Life & Times of an African-American Contrarian
Author, O’Bruni: An African-American Odyssey Home?