One of the readers of last week's column, "Why are Black People Killing Themselves?," wrote me a very heartfelt response suggesting that I was being a little hard on Black people. Michele (with one 'L', as she likes to remind everyone), a 36-year-old Black single mom, a Staff Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, and founder/creator of poeticworks.com, wrote the following:
"We are a community of thriving thinkers! We accept responsibility for our actions and focus on community based projects, to ensure that posterity has something when it's their time to take the thrown. We love excelling in life, and independently and intuitively find ways to give instead of take, take, take. We promote and instill pride in our community each day when we walk down the street and give a gracious nod to the passerby. We are beautiful, but this is not to be taken as conceit, because we also realize that we are only one small speck in a beautiful world. This is what I see in our community."
I fully agree with most of what Michele said, regarding MOST of our people. But we also have a dark and self-hating side that needs very much to be addressed. A prime example of which is reflected in a video that's making the rounds on the Internet, where Jamie Foxx goes out of his way to embarrass the struggling Black comedian, Doug Williams, during a televised roast for NFL player, Emmitt Smith (Jamie Foxx Ruins A Not Funny Comedian).
Next to the picture of the rotting remains of an infant wrapped in a baby blanket in Iraq, that video is one of the most blatant examples of arrogant inhumanity I have ever seen-not because of any special talent that Foxx displayed in carrying it off, but because of his blatant disregard for his fellow man. In fact, I found it so unconscionable that I will never again support any project that either Jamie Foxx or Monique is connected with.
As master of ceremonies, right off the bat Foxx introduced the brother as "A person who doesn't know anything about Emmitt Smith, and you don't know who the F**k he is. Give it up for Doug Williams." After that rousing introduction, Doug tried to make the best of the situation by admitting that he wasn't a part of the clique, that he was the "brokest" person there, and he was only there to try get a deal.
Then in spite of the way he was introduced, he began to win over the crowd, by telling jokes about some of the celebrities in attendance. But Foxx couldn't allow that happen, so he began to interrupt the brother's routine as "YOUR CONSCIENCE." Every time the Williams would say a word, or begin to tell a joke, Foxx would break in, saying things like, "We're here for Emmitt Smith-do you have any jokes for him tonight?" and "I'm your conscience. Man, it sure is getting hot in here. Am I fu**king up? Maybe I should just say something nice about Emmitt and wrap it up." Now, instead of the celebrities laughing at his jokes, Williams becomes the joke–and in the background you can Monique telling Jamie, "Get 'em, Dawg."
But here are the remarks that got me, and I thought were most telling regarding these so-called celebritys' frame of mind. At one point Foxx said, "I wish I were in a movie with Jamie. Maybe I should tell them how Black people have to struggle. Yeah, that'll get 'em on my side." And all the while, the Black celebrities in the room are falling out laughing.
I remember thinking, they're not just laughing at Williams, they're laughing at the struggles of poor Black people in general. While watching the gross arrogance of the situation, you couldn't help being reminded of the times during the Roman Empire when the aristocrats would take pleasure in watching the Christians being fed to the lions.
You had one poor, Black man up there-feeling nervous and out of place–who probably had to spend the entire day getting up all of the courage he could muster just to attend this affair, then you have all of these Black, so-called "stars" pulling out all the stops to drag him down, and laughing at his audacity of thinking he could pull himself up. I remember thinking, that could have been me, or my brother, or son. It was just unforgivable.
I was also reminded of a time, when we really had pride in the Black community, how something like that never could have happened. If Jamie Foxx had pulled something like that in the sixties, his career would have instantly come to a screeching end, because it would have been seen for what it was–the ignorant behavior of an arrogant brat, with no sense of community, who's fame had gone to what passes for his head.
So again, while I agree with much of what Michele said about the importance of always reminding the community of its beauty, it is also important to face reality, and aggressively address that which is ugly about ourselves.
Efficient thought requires that we first, see life as it is, and only then, as we would have it. So while we should definitely teach our children that they are beautiful, we must also instruct them what they need to do enhance that beauty. If my kid is out dealing drugs and verbally abusing his girlfriend, neither he, nor the community benefits from my telling him his behavior is beautiful, and he's just a victim of society.
I don't care how badly society has treated you, what you do with your life, and how you treat others, is your decision and not society's. Yet, we have too many people in our community who are willing to give our young people a pass by telling them that they're beautiful, and their bad behavior is society's fault. That message is killing us as a people.
We should motivate our children by assuring them–through the way that I treat them, not just with words–that they are beautiful and exceptional people. Then we should help them to develop their skills and talents to reinforce that belief, because it's hard to have pride when you can't do anything. We should also make them aware of the fact that there is a segment of the population that don't perceive them as the beautiful and talented people that we know them to be, then instruct them in how to deal with the possible adversity attendant that situation.
When my son was a youngster, I pointed out to him that he shouldn't be surprised if at some point in his life if a racist pointed at him and told his son, "See that guy over there–he's a ni**er." I advised him that getting mad and acting a fool was just going to prove the man's point. I taught him that the best, and only way, to protect himself from such an occurrence was to look, and carry himself in such a way that the little boy would look at him, then look back and assess his dad, and say, "Daddy, I want to be a ni**er when I grow up. That's the way you overcome adversity.
So the bottom line is, talk is cheap. While we can repeat millions of times that we're Black and we're proud, it won't mean a thing until we can root out the kind of ignorance that Jamie Foxx and friends displayed above–and the world will knows it. Because in the final analysis, we're not judged by what we say–we're judged by what we do.
And beyond the judgement of other people, if you have a persistent headache and refuse to address the issue by insisting that you're Black, beautiful, and in excellent health, eventually you could die of a brain tumor. Because, while positive messaging is a wonderful thing, some things in life require aggressive action, to be rooted out.
Eric L. Wattree, wattree.blogspot.com