Sunday, February 19, 2006

Movin' On Up

It amazes me that African-American people, particularly African-American young people will have anything to do with a person that looks like me at all. That people of color honor me with candid observations about the socially-constructed political notion of "race" leaves me humbled (under the circumstances of life in an institutionally oppressive society) beyond anything I could adequately express. But they do. Knowing that I'm going to tell all. And maybe that's partly why they do it. Sort of like leaking secrets to a trusted member of the media because the public, after all, needs to know.

European-Americans, typically, don't really want to know the answers to the questions they wave in the faces of African-Americans. I say "wave in the faces" because the White folks in question aren't really asking anything. They're just setting up what they imagine is going to be the slam-dunk. "Now, I know things aren't the way they should be in America racially, but aren't things really getting better?" they'll challenge, ready to follow up with an account of their personal experience with having once lost out on a job for which they are absolutely certain they were the best qualified.

Sometimes, they don't even ask a question. They just make a flat statement like, "The problem in the Black community..." (because every White person has a canned answer for this at the ready at all times--especially when around Black folks. One can only imagine what one would learn if one went around asking people of color to expound on the problem in the White community.) "The problem in the Black community," Whitey will continue, "is the absence of the father-figure in the home." Completely ignoring the fact that African-American men in the U.S. are four times more likely to be unemployed at every educational level than European-American men. Which then parlays into them being seven times more likely to go to jail, having retreated into crime or drug use in desperation, assuming that they actually had to do anything to get arrested.

Anyway, I was recently involved in one of these discussions I get to be a part of where I am allowed to ask real questions because I am seeking real answers and they know I wouldn't ask if I thought I knew.

"Why do some of the Black guys on campus," I asked on this particular occasion, "wear their pants hanging low on their hips as if they were on a street corner in the hood or rap stars or something?" It seemed to me, I went on, that this has to be uncomfortable on some level. I mean, I've observed guys who walk funny because they're trying to hold up their pants without grabbing them ("Look, Ma, no hands"?). I've seen them surreptiously holding onto the slipping garments with their wrist or the side of their hand without actually using a firm grip. And I've seen them needing to run and being forced to just go ahead and take hold so they don't wind up stepping out of them or, worse, having them fall down and trip the usually otherwise infinitely "cool" wearer. "It's got to be a nuisance," I said without judgment since they're not by a long shot making the most outside-the-box fashion statement on the campus on any given day, given the punk rockers, for one example.

"They're obviously upwardly mobile," I concluded. "They're on the campus. They're committed to the process of education as an opportunity to move into different circles. And they're making it. So what's the deal? Why are they still hanging onto their past?"

"Because they know this is it," came the reply from a young African-American male student who's already started his own business in the music entertainment industry and whose pants do not hang low, at least on this occasion. "Because they know that soon enough they will not be allowed to express their Blackness in public, so they're taking this last opportunity to do it now."


1 comment:

unrestrained said...

I've often asked myself the same question and sometimes answered it with the ultimately racists idea of "you can take the kid out of the ghetto but you can't take the ghetto out of the kid". I like the answer that you came up with much better.