Once again, the Postmodern Negro needs to get out of my head or I’m going to start charging rent. I had been thinking all week about ghetto values and their implication when I read his blog about an article by Anthony Bradley on “Ghetto Cracker: The Hip Hop ‘Sell Out’.”
You see, I love black people, but sometimes our behavior hurts my heart.
Bradley makes the argument that this “cracker mentality” most often portrayed in hip-hop videos is something that we brought up with us from the south. This “cracker ethos” includes an aversion to work, proclivity for violence, contentment with little to no education, sexual promiscuity, short-term thinking, drunkenness, an anti-entrepreneurial spirit, reckless pursuit of excitement, and wild music and dance. Rednecks had touchy pride, what you might call today a “bling-bling” vanity, a boastfully dramatized sense of self, and little self-control.
Okay, such criticisms might go down a lot easier if the conservative voices didn’t sound so morally superior. Maybe it’s the lack of love or the accusatory tone that sets me/us off. (Farrakhan can make many of the same pronouncements, but because he’s not sitting in judgment or acting like he’s above or outside the community, he has an ear). Plus, to my ear, it sounds like he’s blaming the “ghetto mentality” on Southern blacks. But that line of argument will take me way off point.
I have long believed that we have more of a class problem in this country than a race one. Ghetto folks and “white trash” folks have more in common than they think; and a middle class white guy will have more in common with a middle class black guy than “poor white trash”. They both live in conditions with limited opportunity, limited education and extreme poverty. And too often, a survival by any means necessary (take what you need), don’t pursue education mentality pervades both groups.
Ghetto life is a reality, a cauldron of pain, anger, poverty, and injustice. Our culture too often reflects the self-hatred that comes from living a nihilistic existence. It’s bad enough that the “real hip hop” brand of blackness is marketed to death to our youth, with the “bling-bling” mentality fomenting a sense of entitlement through our music and culture. Then to have to live next to liquor stores billboards for Kools (or are we supposed to be smoking Newports now, I missed a memo), and check cashing places that prey on poverty as much as any lottery, it all gets a little much.
But I still can’t get behind “ghetto” being the definition of us.
It’s okay to want to leave it behind. I have no inner, deep-seated need to prove my hardness by wanting to stay. Maybe I’m soft. Maybe I’m tired of ducking bullets on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve (and I’m far from living anywhere close to a Boyz ‘N the Hood-styled ghetto). Broken English and drooping pants or whatever bit of latest prison fashion has embedded itself as de rigeur within the sensibilities of our community. It sickens me that prison life seems to be more venerated than college life, that speaking too clearly and pursuing education is somehow “acting white.”
I don’t want this to be reduced to some “blacker than thou” argument that only ends up pitting the educated against the uneducated, the middle class bourgeoises against the poor. However, I can’t stand how quick we can be to toss around epithets like “sell out” or “house Negro” or “Oreo” whenever someone breaks with our accepted group think, be it via philosophy, idea, or political agenda.
What does it mean for a black person to “sell out”? Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Tiger Woods and many more, are often branded as “sell outs” or accused of “acting white” because they speak understandable English, pursue learning and have racially integrated lives. What is overlooked, however, is that much of the hip-hop and rap world represents a different form of “acting white” and “selling out.” That is, hip hop culture can be traced to the urbanization of the southern “redneck,” or to use the more socially offensive term, “cracker” culture of the past.
Bradley sais something that I really liked. The idea of that which is seen as “selling out” is actually “buying in”: buying into a worldview that promotes dignity, work, marriage, family, and healthy community.
I grew up in mostly white environments (school programs that in their infinite wisdom decided that only one black male at a time was to be considered an “advanced” student; living in a “good” neighborhood and attending the closest church). This led to an insecurity about being “black” and what it meant to be black. Once I was on my own, I had to get to a point where I was comfortable with my “blackness”, but I had to figure out what that meant. The first step was to no longer let other people, black or white, define what being black meant for me, or worse, judging my blackness through their eyes. I was born black, I will die – no matter what the world’s interpretation. We need to allow room for all kinds of black folk. Authentic blackness is about personal responsibility, pride, and a sense of history and community. If that makes me a sell out, then you can bite my sell out black ass.