I'm Black and I'm Proud
by Stephen Earley Jordan, II
"As far as fitting in[to] black America is concerned, it appears that the black poor (or those who are not poor but choose to live the Ghetto Fabulousness lifestyle) have the final word on who and what is "really" black and therefore, who is an insider and who is an outsider."--Donald Taylor (TimBookTu contributor)
It is important to recognize that a focus be placed upon whether we as a people are black and proud. And, more importantly, there is an ardent need to discover the elite who decides whether one is black enough or proud enough to be incorporated in this old-school-turned-modern (and fashionable) concept.
My mother and I (though different generations apart) have paralleled lives. She, one of seven children from Yonkers, NY grew up with both parents; a home (was there a picket fence too? I don't recall her mentioning it), and attended a mostly-white school system. Mother was all too conscious of the world around her, her afro-centrism was at its height at an early age--she lived the "I'm black and I'm proud" era; she lived through the days when the metal afro-picks (with the clenched-fist handle) were used and soon considered a weapon; and she understood that the place in which she lived was a racially divided neighborhood. Yonkers, today, when I stroll through the streets (perhaps I go to the wrong hood), seem to be predominantly black. However, during her time--it was divided--as is most of New York by race and religion. She lived in a home --true-- but her neighbors were white. Where were all the blacks? Well, sadly, they were in the projects of Yonkers with DMX and Mary J, starting a camaraderie with gangs and blunts, who would end up being "'bout it 'bout it" in no short time at all. My mother's family chose not to live a Ghetto Fabulous lifestyle; most people of that generation knew that there was nothing truly fabulous about Ghetto Fabulous. It was merely an emulation, wishful thinking.
In her article "Beyond Ghetto Fabulous" in the July 4-10, 2003 issue of LA Weekly, Vaginal Davis explains that she, "...remember[s] when ghetto fabulous wasn't so fabulous." She continues to discuss how this lifestyle consisted of poverty, under-education and living without the basic needs--food, clothing and shelter. Sarcastically, she says, "Ah, the glamour of growing up way below the poverty line on welfare, food stamps, and Section 8 and AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children)." The article continues to argue how Ghetto Fabulousness is not a new concept, it's basically the idea of people living outside of their means--to the extreme (expensive (perhaps gaudy) jewelry, multiple vehicles, homes, and/or flashy clothing); many black folks seemed to want to take the rich white culture to the extreme, and represent a new culture for blacks that allowed them to be, not sophisticated, but ghetto fabulous. Sadly, this ghetto fabulousness is more of an attitude--also a determining factor of whether who is "black enough" to fit into the black community. Otherwise you're considered "too" white--because of your personal lifestyle, because you live in a white neighborhood, because you went to college (not on a sports scholarship either), and because you have a damn good job.
This is not a result of obtaining a status of being a celebrity, or the glimmer of their claim-to-fame money or bling-bling, but because DMX and Mary J., the queen of ghetto-ism, grew up in a disadvantaged city, the hood, the projects, the low-income, single-parent apartments with struggles they've become the tokens for black Americans. However, let's put the ball into my mother's hands. If she were to go to the same hood, folks, my folks, my beautiful people would look at her, laughingly--half-serious--and with a roll-of-the-eyes, a sucking of the teeth, not pay her any heed, and see her as nothing more than part of the supposed bourgeoisie, and more importantly she would be an outcast, though she talked the talk that they talked, and even trod in their shoes with calloused feet--and in short, worked hard to be in her current position. Pathetically, I question--how can we be black and proud when we're discriminating against our own people?
I wasn't one of seven children like my mother, but one of two--the youngest. However, the similarity I share with her is that I was raised in a predominantly white town. My family was the only blacks in the entire county, to be honest. Our family was accepted into the community with no problem. As an adult, reflecting on the entire situation, I wonder if this acceptance was because we didn't fill all the stereotypes. My sister wasn't wearing a weave, she had her own hair; I wasn't playing basketball, nor showed any interests in it. We didn't have name-brand clothes, or the latest Air Jordan sneakers, our parents refused to pay a hundred bucks for shoes. And, later in life, we realized that just because something is "in style" and a "name brand" doesn't mean it's the best quality or that fits our personal tastes. My parents, both, worked hard; they weren't on the street corner hustling for a buck. I'm not saying that any of these opposite roles I mentioned above is what my people do; rather it's how the nation has portrayed us as seen from the black-sploitation films such as Friday, or Boys in the Hood.
However when my family drove 15 minutes, the big houses and the acres of land to which we were accustomed, disappeared only to reappear and morph into shanty houses and bodegas. We were in the "black" neighborhood, where people drank 40's, stood on street corners, sold and bought weed in the wide-open, preachers preached on the street corners like young Langston did in his days telling drug dealers to stop sinning and get to church.
Here is where my family was uppity, too white, and didn't belong. We went to the all-white school which offered a substantially greater educational environment. And, I realized that, in the all-white neighborhood the white folks either 1) liked us, or 2) hated us. The "liking us" was genuine--we were appreciated for our intelligence, our good-nature as humans, not as "black people." Whereas the hatred was a deep-rooted beguilement that stemmed from generations of mental and physical seclusion within my native West Virginia hills. So this, too, was understandable, yet still not acceptable. On the other hand, in the "black" community folks simply hated us. Why? Because 1) the preconceived notion that my family was wealthy, 2) the lightness-to-medium brownness of our skin, 3) the inflection, and enunciation of our standard English vocabulary, 4) the functional two-parent family, house and yard, and the list went on--sadly.
These people who judged us from our outward appearances are the same ones who were granted the authority to instantaneously allow us to pass through the Gates of Blackness, and bestow upon us eternal ghetto fabulousness. Who could ask for anything more? But, we were not granted a VIP Pass. We would never be permitted to gain entrance through these platinum gates (built with my tax dollar). We were onlookers, viewing our people together in festivities, as we simply had the immediate family as our backbone. And, at home, Dad, Mom, my sister and I lived a private life, teaching each other that we didn't need to be rough and tough with afro-puffs to be black and proud. Being black and proud was something that just came natural.