Why are we flocking to the movies and spending our hard-earned money to support “American Gangster?” And why did Denzel Washington, a brother that has brought so much pride to our community, even agree to make such a movie? We could ask the same question about “Training Day” as well. Both of those movies, along with much of the fare that’s regurgitated over BET, are not only primers for dysfunction among Black youth, but they also serve as lucrative commercials being broadcasted throughout the world advertising the gross stupidity of Black people. Then after we’ve received all of that negative publicity-publicity that would cost a corporation billions of dollars to purchase—we don’t understand why we can’t get any respect, and why the police stop us whenever they see us anywhere near “civilized people.”
It’s hard to understand how a brother of Denzel’s character could even be involved in a project that reflects so badly on the Black community. But after giving it careful thought, I think I’ve come up with an answer: Most Black people, including Denzel, have become so accepting of this kind of character assassination that it has become routine, so he probably never even gave it a second thought.
That is the very reason I had a problem with the campaign against use of the n-word. The Black community has been so brainwashed over the past 40 years that we’ve developed a mindset that is hyper-sensitive to the superficial, while the status quo is left carefully unmolested (the source of that brainwashing is grist for another time-at book length). While we’re being distracted, and jumping up and down over the n-word, people are being paid zillions of dollars to produce commercials in the form of movies being broadcasted around the world that say, “Look at how these ni**as live”-and we’re supporting it! Come on, people, wake up!
While I generally defer to the sensibilities of brothers and sisters who have an aversion to the “n-word”, it’s not a happy concession (“N-word”—I feel silly even writing such a foolish euphemism). As a writer, words are simply tools to me, and every tool has its purpose. Like a mechanic, I select whatever tool is necessary to best express the concept I’m trying to get across, so I feel like I’m being robbed of a valuable tool of my trade-and for what? From my point of view, the word “ni**a” represents any person, of any race, who takes pride in his stupidity. So as I see it, as long as we allow ourselves to get all worked up over a word, while at the same time, we all but ignore our kids killing kids in the street, grown men turning twelve year olds into whores, and half the community flocking to the movies, and PAYING, to watch commercials about our stupidity, the word “ni**a”, in my opinion, is being prolifically under-utilized.
The best way to avoid being called a ni**er is to rise above the definition. You don’t hear anyone calling Barack Obama, Colin Powell, or the late Johnnie Cochran a ni**a. There’s a reason for that. You see, any racist who would call any of these brothers a ni**a is then faced with the task of demonstrating that he’s superior to these so-called ni**as, and very few people can meet that standard. If some racist pointed to Obama and told his son, “You see that guy over there-he’s a ni**a.” His son would probably look at Obama, then look at his dad, and say, “Daddy, I think I want to be a ni**a when I grow up.”
So we need to shake off our brainwashing, and start focusing on the substantive issues in our community, because our behavior indicates that our most tenacious shackle is attached to our minds. We in the Black community need to ask ourselves a series of very simple questions, and answer them honestly. We need to ask ourselves, do we truly want to elevate our community out of its current condition, or not? Do we want to bring an end to the epidemic of kids killing kids on the street, or not? Do we want our community to become known for producing excellence, or not? If we’re satisfied with producing misery, dysfunction, and crime, then fine-we’re doing an excellent job of that. But if it’s truly important to us to produce doctors, lawyers, scientists, and scholars, we’ve got to recognize that our current behavior indicates that we’re either lying to ourselves, or living in a deep state of denial.
What we’re doing to our children is comparable to holding a sirloin stake up before a starving man, then telling him to just say no. How can we expect our young people, many of whom have known nothing but deprivation all of their lives, to make the necessary sacrifices to become scholars, while we flock to the movies in droves to applaud a guy who literally soaked himself in riches by way of crime? Why should our young people waste their time in the pursuit excellence, when they can fake it with the flamboyance of wealth derived from criminal activity? After all, their mothers, who they sincerely want to impress, can’t seem to tell the difference, and their fathers would be walking on air, because they’re wearing their caps sideways themselves.
So our community is sending out a grossly inconsistent message. On the one hand, we become insulted when we get on an elevator and ladies pull their purses close, yet we wholeheartedly support our community being portrayed as a cesspool of crime to people all around the world; and while we say that we’re Black and we’re proud, instead of addressing those issues that allow people to call us ni**as, we’d rather take the shortcut of trying to abolish the word-which makes us look even more ridiculous, since the more we say we hate it, the more useful to the word becomes. And finally, with our starstruck attitude towards crime, criminals, and criminal behavior, how can we tell our young people to “just say no” to a fantasy that we can’t resist ourselves? So we need to sit down and get our priorities together-and fast.
I want to end this tirade by pointing out that while I mentioned Denzel, it is not my intent to drop all of this in his lap. The brother has always been, and I’m sure he always will be, one of the bright spots in the Black community. But I hope in his future endeavors he’ll recognize that he’s got too much clout and believability to do movies like “Training Day” and “American Gangster” without having a negative impact on our community. He should do movies that lift up the community and inspire our young people to excellence like “Great Debaters,” the other movie he did this year. In that movie he challenges young Black people to “Do what you’ve got to do, so you can do what you want to do.” That’s the message that young people need to hear. But it’ll be interesting to see which one of the two movies will do best in the Black community. Unfortunately, my money is on “American Gangster”-and that’s a damn shame.
Eric L. Wattree
Eric L. Wattree, Sr. n can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.