The part of the Boy Scout credo that has always stuck in my mind is "thrifty, brave, clean, reverent." These were a part of the litany of ideals – trustworthy, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent - that we were expected to strive towards, not only as Scouts, but as human beings.

There always have been and always will be plenty of people who refuse to do anything more for themselves than eat, sleep and wipe their own butts. And as long as TV and the newsmags continue to tell them that they don't have enough stuff, or a big enough house, or a big enough car, or an exotic enough vacation, there will be very little "unlearning" of this kind of belief system.

The proletariat has always been screwed, and will continued to be screwed long and hard, so long as we avoid getting better educations, but master the intricacies of Playstations; so long as we skip reading the fine print, but memorize the lyrics to 50 Cent; so long as we continue to front and floss, instead of making the sacrifices needed in order to be our own boss; so long as we hang out at the club every night shaking that ass, instead of enrolling in some kind of college to study and try to pass.

And yet some of us, who know better, who talk the talk and walk the walk of community empowerment and education and "each one, teach one" will sit in front of our computers screens and our TV screens and silently nod in solidarity at the rage that palpates for the cameras.

Maybe the things we think that are solutions to this are just plain wrong. Instead of thinking outside the box, let's forget there is a box. I have no idea what the right thing to do going forward is supposed to look like, but I know damn well it's not supposed to look anything like this.

It would be easy, from an academic standpoint, to dismiss this crude minority, but the reality is that they have somehow tapped into a latent desire by a larger secondary group of us who want to connect with this outlaw nature, a desire strong enough to counter the very things we say we are working towards. Which is how you can end up talking to a black single mother with a master’s degree in education who openly acknowledges a fetish for gangsta rappers even as she teaches middle schoolers how to avoid peer pressure. Or black middle managers in corporate America who pull into the parking lot in the mornings blasting Snoop Dogg’s latest. Or black medical school interns who unwind between shifts by watching rap videos on BET.

This sentiment is so strong, so pervasive, so insinuated into the fabric of our daily lives that once in awhile, I even find myself, against all my efforts to the contrary, succumbing on occasion to the view of blackness that labels us as thugs, as criminals, as drug addicts, as welfare queens – images embedded in my subconscious that despite my own efforts may never be entirely rooted out.

The real question here is, if the empirical evidence shows that most of the activities that black people in America participate in are mainstream America activities – lawful and decent and positive - why do we as black people continue to allow this minority of us to stand for who we are? Why do we allow this minority to usurp so much of our intellectual and emotional energy?


This is an excerpt from my book Recarving Our Cultural Totem Pole.




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