To Those Who Think It’s Okay

Some rights reserved by JotaCePe/CC

Some rights reserved by JotaCePe/CC

One of my favorite books is The Crisis of the Intellectual Negro by Harold Cruse. I discovered this book while attending a class as a political science major at Florida A&M University. We studied it for an entire semester and the class so inspired me that in 1998 I attended a conference held in Harold Cruse’s honor at the University of Michigan. There, I presented a paper advocating the use of a strategic planning model to address the current status of black America. My panel of three was the only session Cruse sat in on during the whole two day conference, and in response to my writing and that of another writer he spoke directly to us. It wasn’t that my paper was all that profound, but he knew from my writing that I was properly influenced by his ideas.

Cruse’s text illustrates the crisis that black America faced during the first half of the twentieth century. Cruse defined it as a crisis of identity. The stereotype is that black people are unified and that we stick together. That idea probably comes from our strong response to oppression during the civil rights movement of the 1950’s. In any case, what Cruse shows instead is how difficult it is for black Americans to relate to each other and to identify with a particular culture. All you have to do is look at the writings of Cruse, W.E.B. Dubois, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, and E. Franklin Frazier to see the contrast in ideas and the divide even then between the haves and have-nots.

Today, black America is divided over the use of words like nigga, bitch and hoe. Personally, I have a problem putting them on paper, let-alone saying them out loud. Regardless, there are others, mostly of a younger generation that are comfortable with these terms. Most of them were raised in an environment where entertainers made use of these terms on a casual basis. They never attended a school like the original all black Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida or an institution like the respected Florida A&M College. They never had a church pastor like the late Moses General Miles, who even if he thought church member donations were important knew personally every member of his congregation and emphasized character building every day of the week. At institutions like these blacks were exposed to an understanding of past history and current events (this is part of the relevance of an HBCU to be discussed at another time). Students were not outsiders looking in, they were part of the event and they understood how political decisions as well as their own behavior impacted a generation. When it came to their existence they had something to live for beyond the next dollar.

What I have seen over the years is a change in the values and culture of black Americans who are influenced more and more by commercial interests. Take for example the music industry. I am sure that many can recall when Hip Hop was an avenue of expression particularly for the person who didn’t have the resources to create a song in an expensive recording studio. Hip Hop empowered the individual with a means to publicly demand more than crumbs for their share of the American dream. The Civil Rights Act had given middle class black Americans some relief, but still left many in poverty, status quo. Their voices were a continued cry from the wilderness and there wasn’t an interest in exploiting words and phrases that were taboo. As it is today, someone saw an opportunity to exploit the genre and the rest is history. Hip Hop music that berates black women and dance routines that lower the standards for the average black woman has become routine. Over time, a mostly black audience has bought into the lyrics along with the culture portrayed, such things that were once taboo are now common state.

How then am I able to get across to other generations the hurtful nature, the strong disrespect and self-hatred shown by the use of the n-word and terms like bitches and hoes to relate to black people? How do I explain that it is not as much about how other people see us as it is about how we see ourselves? How do I explain the lack of consciousness for certain trends such as in 1910 ninety percent of black households were married couple families and today less than forty percent of black households are so? How do I characterize our own fate when in Florida blacks are 14 percent of the population and 48 percent of persons incarcerated in state prisons? How that I get across that regardless of what we say about the hurtful things others have done to us, what hurt most is what we do to ourselves and even more what we allow others to do to us? How do we identify with all of this?

In my house the use of the n-word, and terms like bitches and hoes, have no place. I can’t tell a wealthy athlete or entertainer that it is inappropriate because in his or her world I am the person, the have-not. Even college athletes tend to think that way. They see me as ignorant and out of step. It is much like the athlete-slash-hero, who proclaims that he is not a role model, yet for all who aspire to be like him he really is a role model. I can only tell my children and grandchildren that such language is not permitted in my house or theirs.

Cruse understood that the crisis of the intellectual Negro was not just social; it has a greater impact. W.E.B. Dubois had an inkling of the impact the Negro intellectual could have on the status of black America as he expressed through his concept of the Talented Tenth. Unfortunately, the empowered today are not necessarily intellectual or in touch with their own identity, but their influence is far reaching. Their commercial value overshadows their truer identity and many no longer identify with their own heritage. Their understanding of history encompasses the last forty years and beyond that is vague. I would even say that I understand them better than they understand me. I smile though, because when I am dead and gone, they will be the ones to have this conversation.

Comments 1

  1. Terry L. Steele Sr.

    Amen brother. As a collective people we have become truly rudderless. Too many of us are self absorbed & filled with self hate. On the bright side it’s good to see natural hair returning to vogue. And there is new construction of several HBCU campuses.

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