This freeze frame is from a video that most of you (hopefully) for “All Falls Down”, a single from Kanye West’s classic debut, The College Dropout.
To preface my blog posting, I will give some of the lyrics.
Man I promise, I’m so self conscious,
That’s why you always see me with at least one of my watches,
Rollies and Pasha’s done drove me crazy,
I can’t even pronounce nothing, pass that versace!
Then I spent 400 bucks on this,
Just to be like nigga you ain’t up on this!
Let me explain to you what he means, and how this relates specifically to black men. This really isn’t intended to be race specific, but being that hip hop is as mainstream as mainstream gets, and that black men are the main vessels for this music, and that…well…I (K.) happen to be black, I felt the need to take a little time and expound on this.
Normally, African American male and self-consciousness don’t belong together. You’ve seen millions of images of young black males with guns, suits in courtrooms, rapping, playing basketball. We are also the lawyers in those courtrooms, executive producers on the albums, coaching or owning teams, among other positive things. These images illicit various states and emotions, such as happiness and rage, ignorance and approval. We are loved and hated, emulated, and stolen from. But there is something that a lot of it stems from, but is never discussed: Insecurity. This word, and the lack of avenues or want to handle it, I think, is one of the single most devastating problems plaguing the black community. I know it sounds strange, but it’s real….stay with me.
First, you have to understand how it’s born, and for that, we need to start where a lot of issues for African Americans start: slavery, and the conclusion of it.
During slavery, the African males, for all intents and purposes, stripped down of almost all dignity. The families were seperated, a lot of times, upon arrival, in order to begin to break down the family structure they came with. Women were raped in front of the men. Males were beaten in front of the men and children. They pitted the old guard against the young, the dark against the light skinned. They broke the females, to create mixed race children, and to create distrust among them.
That is a very small example of things done. But what I’m pulling from this is that from our beginnings in America, African Americans have had to deal with a multitude of dilemmas, all requiring the utmost strength and resolve in our to overcome the weaknesses the slave master either preyed on, or created with their sick sociological and genetic projects.
Fast forward to the end of slavery. This is marked as a monumental day in the history of blacks in America, however, for all of the positive things, there are almost as many negatives that fell out of it. I will focus on but one of the issues: the lack of the cohesive family structure, and the issues that can arise out of it. Even to right now, the effects slavery had on the black family unit is apparent, specifically the roles of the males. Because of the levels of dignity stripped in various ways, through time, insecurity has been masked in different ways. Women were built to be strong and caring, for the child raising and care taking (not that they aren’t already, but in a different context – again stay with me.) However, the men were built for strength in work, and not necessarily strength in mind. It should also be said that the white men made sure the slaves had religion – but this is for yet another blog posting.
As you go through generations of black American history, you will notice that for the most part, we have relatively few strong nuclear unions. Ask most black males who raised them, they will respond with what I respond with – my mother. She is the strongest person I know – but it’s a fact that I’ve realized a lot more as the years go by: men raise men. Women can do wonders, and for the most part, I’ve turned out to be a good citizen, a contributor to society, tax payer (kinda), among other things. But there is something lacking. For me, I was raised a certain way, and I was born with a particular brain and temperament, in a set of fortunate circumstances. I’ve seen some shit, but it wasn’t like I was raised in, or into, it. Me and my brothers lived in good conditions for the most part, away from the crime and strife found in the urban center of America, where most African Americans reside, or are around.
But there is a lack of strength of a different kind – one that that black males are always looking for that most males of other races in America have. And it’s the strength in the bond between the father and son. It’s being able to get on that two wheel BMX, and looking back…and seeing your father, an incarnation of your future self, guiding you, and giving you the love, the nurture, the discipline, and encouragement that is needed to become strong men….and not just floundering over grown children.
The lives of these underdeveloped men, myself included, tend to have a “results may vary” tag on each and every one of them. Some of us go into the streets, some into college. You never really know, because there are a lot more critical junctures in the lives of black children than there are in the lives of the children of other races in America, execpt probably Hispanic kids, which for other reasons, have similar plights – but I’m not qualified to explain that, so I will leave that on the self. Without the men in our lives, there is no real way to tell if we will become rocket scientists or crackheads. It comes down to getting, or making the right circumstances, where there wouldn’t seem to be one, sometimes even a little chance mixed in there.
Black men feel…at a loss of something, but it has to be filled one way or another. Some of us go to college and try to learn ourways out of it, get out of the bad neighborhoods, as if it will fix the issue. Some of us sell the green and white in effort to find some money and power, or just to raise kids.
And I can’t even go to the grocery store
Without some ones thats clean and a shirt with a team
It seems we living the American dream
But the people highest up got the lowest self esteem
The prettiest people do the ugliest things
For the road to riches and diamond rings
But you look at the black male, and what are we aesthetically known for – the style aspect, the black male as the trendsetter. We are looked at, not with depth, but only surface level, and with good reason and sense: it’s what black males tend to use to cover up that ‘loss.’ To corporate America – our various style represent billions in revenues. It’s translated over such as array of things, that a lot of things that we pioneered aren’t really recognized as such. Most of the cool kids of today, that shop at Undefeated and Commonwealth, and other streetwear places, don’t understand that the style of the black male heavily influences everything they wear, the entire essence of streetwear. But it’s only shirt deep. It’s only as deep as the soles of your Air Maxs, from the socks to the concrete.
But we think it’s something. The collective insecurity of the black male is covered in New Era, Nike, Ralph Lauren, LRG, etc. And the cost of looking like you are better than you feel, is enormous. The lengths we will go to look fly are ridiculous. Some sell crack; some take jobs overseas. We are always looking for the newest, hottest shit to have. We need it, so you can say, so we can tell each other, that those shoes are fly – “where did you get those?” You illicit the envy, the hate, that comes from the insecurity in all of us. If we don’t have, or can’t get it, we will use you as a come up, or do dumb shit to get what you have, even if you’ve moved on to some next level shit.
This is why Kanye’s song is/was a necessary song. It’s as complete as rundown as you can get on the status factor that is huge for black men, and women.
We shine because they hate us, floss cause they degrade us
We trying to buy back our 40 acres
And for that paper, look how low we a’stoop
Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coop/coupe
…which is the killer in all of it. At the end of the day, that is what it’s about. Unless, we learn to deal with our insecurities, and black men understand that it’s necessary for them to be there for their young men (and women), it will be a continuous and vicious cycle. We need to find our true self-worth, something that can’t be bought at foot locker. You can’t buy strength in character at the Gucci store.
I post this for awareness of all races, not because I want you to suddenly feel sorry for us (we don’t need or want your bitch ass sympathy), but because I want you to understand what the deal is, instead of judging us for our appearances. There is depth there, some intelligence, some real strength, but sometimes a lot of us just don’t know how to reach and channel it in the right ways.
We are works in progress, learning as we go. Well….at least I am. I’m learning how to deal and move forward.
“………..now tell me, how do these Y-3’s look on my feet. You know I paid three bills for these mutherfu*****? What you know about that? Bought them after I got his book pitting elitist and participatory democracy in Brazil, and how it translates to American politics…….”
(this post is not edited, because..it’s a blog, get over it)