When I look back on the sixties it seems like it took place on another planet. There was so much to be proud of during that period. We didn’t have much in terms of material things, but we had pride, a love of self, and a sense of optimism that sustained us quite well.
During that time I was sure that the Black man had finally come into his own—it seemed that we’d finally pulled it all together, and got it right. Black on Black crime was frowned upon, we loved who we were, we respected our women—and more importantly, our women respected themselves. Everyday was a day to celebrate the beauty of our rich, Black culture, and that’s exactly what we did.
It was a time when the genuine pride of self-definition held court throughout the Black community. We weren’t getting rich by any stretch of the imagination, but even that played a useful function in our lives—it taught us to base our respect for one another on one’s character, talent, and intellect. Sure there were people even then who had bling, but they were more a curiosity than anything else. The ones we respected were those who had something genuine to bring to the table—”what” you were didn’t mean a thing—it was “who” you were that mattered.
I’ll never forget how empowering it felt to move away from that grinnin’, shufflin’, accommodatin’ image that had previously been placed on us. Finally we were defining ourselves, and the world watch intently as we began to embrace our true character. They watched, as we watched with a vicarious thrill as Mohammad Ali asserted our collective manhood in the ring. They also watched as Malcolm and Martin instructed us in the lessons of character and intellect, and as Miles, Trane, Marvin, and Areatha taught us to bring the world to its knees with the beauty of our artistic genius.
I was certain we were on a roll that nothing could stop, but ironically, it was our failure to prepare for the unexpected that brought it all to an abrupt end. If it wasn’t so tragic it would almost be funny, but believe it or not, what brought it all crashing down was the very thing we’d been fighting so hard obtain—integration.
What we failed to realize was that integration didn’t come without a price. Along with it would come all of those temptations that corrupted the soul—and, unbeknownst to us, it also came with a ticking time bomb, a Trojan virus still shackled to our psyche, a legacy from the days when we were still shackled to a post.
While segregation was a horrible practice, it had the effect of forcing the Black community to be self-sufficient. Thus, once we knocked down the barriers that prevented Blacks from obtaining jobs in White corporations and moving into the White community, that opened the doors for the best and the brightest in the Black community to chase the “American dream”. That’s when the virus kicked in, because, unfortunately, to many of our shackled minds, the American dream meant, to get as far away from other Black people as possible.
While the confluence of desegregation and Affirmative Action allowed many to “escape” the Black community, every Black person didn’t have that option. As mentioned above, these social policies only helped those who needed the help least. Those who needed the most help weren’t helped at all—in fact, they were left worse off than before. By making it easier for the best and the brightest to leave the community, the very people that the community needed most, it not only left the Black community without role models, but also without those people who created the jobs and maintained the social infrastructure within the community. So the community was left in far worse shape than it was under segregation.
And what made a bad situation even worse was the mindset that we kept as a legacy from slavery—the need to segregate ourselves from our own. If you put most other cultural groups in this same situation, they’d utilize their new freedom as an opportunity to interact with the outside community for business purposes, but they would remain within their own neighborhoods. But as pointed out earlier, many Blacks equate success with getting as far away from other Black people as they can get. Many of us don’t feel that we’ve “arrived” until we arrive at a location where there are no other Black people for as far as the eye can see. So many not only left the community, they wouldn’t even come back to do business—they setup businesses in their new White communities instead.
Then to compound the tragedy, shortly thereafter, President Reagan flooded the Black community with drugs in order to fund his illegal war in Nicaragua during the eighties. That hit the Black community during a time when there were no jobs, and no positive Black role models. When these easily acquired addictive drugs were added to the mix, it essentially wiped out an entire generation of, would-be, competent Black parents.
As a result, in 2008 we’re left with a generation of young Black people who are remote from their own culture due to the generational void of the eighties. We now have a generation that’s been cut off from their roots—they haven’t been taught what it means to be Black, many think that education is a “White thing”, and they haven’t been schooled in either the Black musical or literary tradition. They’ve been raised by BET, and nurtured by Robert Johnson’s culturally deprecating pursuit of the dollar. As a direct result of such conditioning, they are easily manipulated by malevolent interests into portraying Black people in anyway these malevolent interests see fit.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that these young people have developed, and embraced, a form of artistic expression that is self-deprecating, and culturally destructive. It’s being perpetuated by interests in this society willing to pay huge sums of money to promoted any Black man with a following who’s willing to say, “I’m a gangster, I love drugs, I want to kill my brother, and the very queen of my culture is a slut.” But it’s not the art form that’s the problem, the problem is the message the art form is being used to convey.
This situation needs to be addressed—and in a hurry, because as I speak, yet another generation is being infected by this psychological virus. We are casually ignoring a situation that is destructive to the Black family unit, and all but guarantees the corruption of millions of young people—and what concerns me almost as much, is the very real possibility that it’s politically motivated.
Eric L. Wattree
Eric L. Wattree, Sr. n can be reached at email@example.com.