Archive for the ‘The Culture of Dependency’ Category

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This series explores the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is driven by the antiquated ideology behind an economic system that no longer works in the favor of the people.

The Story

I recently was having a conversation with a friend who was talking about moving to New York. I asked where he would want to live and he said Harlem. I laughed and he asked why. I told him that it was funny to me to here people say that because I grew up in NY and I remember when Harlem was not a place you wanted to live in NY. There were parts with music and arts that people might frequent but people didn’t aspire to call Harlem home. Now, Harlem is chic. We also talked about the similar pattern happening in Brooklyn and in the SouthEast area of Washington, D.C. These places normally relegated to majority Black and lower middle class residents is suddenly booming with expensive condos and studio apartments thanks to gentrification.

In many ways gentrification is perceived as something desirable and beneficial to a city. Conversely, to anyone who lives or has lived in a lower income community the word gentrification is like saying Raid to a roach. It carries the implication that the people who currently call these areas home will be physically exterminated from their homes and the community that once was will no longer exist.

Spike Lee commented on his thoughts about gentrification in a recent talk at Pratt Institute.

The Cost of Gentrification

Objectively speaking gentrification is about the influx of wealth into a previously low economic area of a city. This usually happens through government investment in the communities development through the renovation of buildings and homes which helps to draw people with higher household incomes. This creates a silent battle for those individuals who already live in the community.Those who already live in the community must choose between staying and allocating more of their household income to housing and cashing out to move on to neighborhoods that are more affordable. In this dilemma lies the sinister nature of gentrification.

Gentrification wears the mask of positivity in that it declares that a neighborhood will be better. The neighborhood will look better, there will be more and better police protection of the neighborhood, property values will rise, better stores and businesses will be attracted to the area, and the city will obliterate a sore spot. It is a fact gentrification does do this. But at what cost?

The cost of gentrification is a loss of the community and culture through disregard of people. These communities draw the attention of the city because they are decrepit sore spots of dilapidation. However, they draw the attention of people because despite whatever crime or violence may exist, these areas have a sense of community. These areas have a culture. For instance Harlem was a draw for wealthier individuals because of its history of artistic culture. Once the violent crime impassioned inhabitants were pushed out, no one had to speak about the dangerous aspect that once existed.

Gentrification implies that the people who live in these communities are the reason that the neighborhood could not and did not thrive. The truth is they the lack of income flowing into the neighborhood crested a people who found a way to survive in it (maybe through crimes and acts of violence). Gentrification implies that geography and buildings contain culture. But culture is appropriated and cultivated by people. The removal of the people who are rooted in the community will most certainly erase the culture.

One of the reasons gentrification is an insulting act for people who live in the communities being gentrified is because it is an extension of the city’s blatant disregard for them and their lives. The lack of economic power equals the lack of political voice. These people were left to carve out a life for themselves amid whatever deteriorating conditions. After years of survival the city suddenly pays the communities some attention and decide to invest in developing the community but with disregard for people there who clearly cannot afford the expensive new homes and no plan is put in place to allow them to. It, again, for these people is do or die: pay more or get out.

Gentrification Raid

The Unspoken Truth

So, why did it take this great influx of White people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!

– Spike Lee

The most largely avoided aspect in the conversation about gentrification is race. I’m sure the mainstream argument would be that this isn’t about race it’s about economics. However, in this era in America and for the last few decades race has been racially coded with economic terminology. We don’t have to call them niggas if we call them ‘urban,”ghetto,”hood.’ We don’t have to call them predominantly Black/Latino neighborhoods if we call them ‘ghettos,”lower income,”projects.’ We don’t have to say their inferior if we quote lower college graduation rates, higher high school drop out rates, higher prison populations, and a greater presence in drug and violence related crimes.

In this current time there is no way to speak about American economics without a consideration to race. Certainly there are White people that are poor and love in these very same communities. For this reason I would never be so sensational as to use terms like ‘war on Black people.’ But I’m also not delusional enough to believe that simply because there are few White casualties in these acts of discrimination that the predominant race populating these communities is Black/Latino and those lives are the center of the disregard.

The Problem

The problem is that these communities – because they have no wealth- have no voice. They are disregarded. There is very little empathy for people who live in lower income neighborhoods. Public opinion in support of the American Dream – which is more of a delusion – insist that these people are in their station in life because they are stupid, lazy, or uneducated. Public opinion says that they should stop whining about living in poverty and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. I ask, how the hell can they afford the boots??

Higher income middle class persons who could and should stand beside and support these communities are conditioned to view them (despite only a few degrees of separation) the way the mainstream does: as unwanted sore spots filled with society’s leeches. The upper middle class buy into the hype about gentrification: that it is about community improvement and wealth creation in lower income areas. This justifies their indifference and makes them feel powerful and wealthy. There is nothing the upper middle class wants more than to be closer connected to the upper class with as much distance from the lower class in geography and ideology as possible. This dynamic effectively neutralizes the radical support that these communities need to survive.

The Point

If we continue to buy into the illusion of gentrification and do not protect and support these communities, we are in fact assisting in their destruction. When a community is destroyed so is it’s culture and it’s history that even those in the upper middle class probably have some connection to (a generation or two in their family history).

These communities do need and deserve some ‘revitalization’ but not at the cost of the culture and lives that already exist. They deserve to be made whole and left in tact. As long as gentrification, as it operates now, continues we will continue to see a disparity in economic life in cities because the wealth being created does not benefit or remain in the racial groups or social classes that it first affects. Those people get a one time lottery ticket that forces them to another area of the city that is just as problem ridden as the one they left. Only now they don’t have their history and sense of home that they spent years creating. In essence they begin the cycle of surviving at the poverty line all over again. And since the people are the community, the community is not helped by gentrification; they’re merely shoved under a rug until they become a problem worth noticing again.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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This series explores the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is driven by the antiquated ideology about an economic system that no longer works in the favor of the people.

The Story

I was recently reflected on American history and how it was that this country has gone through so many catastrophes and calamities and still managed to rise to the top as a world power to be both feared and followed. It is in this history that I see where this notion of The American Dream became possible. Through the rise of men like Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller, J.P. Morgan, and others. These men who built empires from relatively humble beginnings and went on to contribute so much what this country became. However, it’s no secret that the America in which they were living was a much different place than what it is now. So the question emerges: is The American Dream now just a dream?

Whitepaper-Capitalism-and-American-DreamThe Backdrop of the Dream

Capitalism is the backdrop for the story of The American Dream. The principles and ideologies inherent in capitalist theory have saturated our mindsets and changed the way we interact with one another. The ruthless competition that it inspires for aggressive business is taken as a social model that we use to create socially acceptable identities.

How many times does one here a person identify themselves by what they do? How celebrated is it when an individual speaks of their aspirations for economic and/or business domination as opposed to say developing a charitable organization or performing civil service? In regards to the ideology of capitalism and its presumptions about people, there are 2 major issues.

Capitalism makes 2 major assertions regarding people: that people are mostly self-interested and those that accumulate material wealth are the most happy. While it is arguable whether these two assertions are accurate, the fact that America has adopted the capitalist economic model means that the economic structure of our society will create the truth of these 2 premises by default of forcing people to survive within a system that already presumes this to be true. The system exists and makes these assumptions, people will become these things in order to survive within the system. These 2 assertions combined with the fact that individuals are viewed as commodities and their only value is based on what they create brings those at the bottom of the economic structure to seek, above all else, material wealth.IT'S-CALLED-THE-AMERICAN-DREAM-BECAUSE-YOU-HAVE-IT-TO-BE-ASLEEP-TO-BELIEVE-IT

Shattered Dreams

Capitalism is the ideology often attributed with making The American Dream possible. I can see how one might make that assumption. it would appear free market enterprise, competition, and the drive for innovation would offer a smart, hard working American the opportunity to enter the market and make something out of nothing. But this is not wholly true. The truth is that those men like Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller, J.P. Morgan and others were not just smart, ambitious, hard working men who did great things. What made them successful was their ability to accumulate working capital to fund their ambitions. Capital that today, in light of the economic crash of Walls Street, the folding of the real estate industry, the collapse of the automobile industry, and the deterioration of the banking industry, is not easy to come by. This in turn makes The American Dream only possible for a small percentage of the country who have private means or the power and influence to secure capital.

Social mobility is as American as apple pie. It is what drives Americans. Our dreams, hopes, and fantasies of being one of those amazing rags-to-riches stories. But the truth about social mobility brings light to the dreams we conjure in the dark.

Pew Video: Economic Mobility and the American Dream

A study conducted by colleagues of Harvard and Berkeley discovered the determinants of social mobility in the United States.

The top 5 factors that influence social mobility

Family structure

Racial and economic segregation

School quality

Social capital

Income inequality

– Harvard Research Study, Where is the Land of Opportunity?

For some this may seem discouraging; however, there is nothing possibly tangible about a hope based on a lie. The study exposes the truth about upward social mobility in America. According  to the study to climb the social ladder in America, one cannot be self-interested and only concerned with accumulating material wealth. The greatest factors affecting social mobility have to do with an individuals connection to the people closest to them: their family and their community.

The study found that people who grow up in communities with a large amount of married parents tend to do better economically as well as people who grow up in racially segregated communities. This makes the obvious point that as much as we may want to buy into the model that everyone pulls himself up by his own bootstraps, apparently it takes a lot more than one pair of hands to do the pulling. It is not hard to see that the fact that the ability to amass capital has become much more regulated and less risk-taking, if one wants to be socially mobile in America today, they’d better have some help.DreamIsOver

The Problem

America has become the most blindly nostalgic countries in the world. We hold onto antiquated methodologies like a dog with a clean bone. We refuse to see that while we have been reveling in our own greatness, the world has been making advances and innovations to that which we created. That in turn has created an entirely different reality, which to accomplish greatness will require an entirely different model for dreaming.

Economists of today have stated that America is not a pure capitalist country (maybe it never was). The model under which we live is a mixed economy that falls somewhere between socialism and capitalism. Hence, the redundant battles between the right and left wings of politics who constantly argue about social welfare and private enterprise. I imagine America much more of a mixed economy now than it ever was. That being said, a purely capitalist view of navigating the system will fail to produce the results of years past.

Perhaps it is because these moguls who came to power during a past era, refuse to learn new tricks and instead want to hold the country hostage to ways better off discarded. Or maybe it is that we think that we can bring the dream back to life and restore the world to the way it was. Or maybe it is simply the loss of hope that comes from letting go of a dream that we cannot bear. Whatever the reason, the time to move forward and bring our mindsets in alignment with the present and give our imaginations over to a future that springs from the present is more than overdue.Redefining American Dream

The Point

As people trying to understand and navigate the system in hopes of achieving our American dream, we have to honest with ourselves about the system that we are dealing with. The capitalist moguls who made names for themselves in the early days following The Civil War, were dealing with a country with less regulation on the economy and trade market. Those men might have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, but they also had less scissors nipping at their strings. Things they did then to come to power will get you locked up now. They are no longer the success models to be followed.

We have to explore new models of economic prowess and success. We have to wake up and take a look around. Absorb the truth of the reality in which we live and then go on to dream of how this America can imagine a new dream. We need to dream a new plot line to The American Dream. Otherwise, the 1% of people controlling American wealth will remain at the top and us poor dreamers will be left at the bottom along with our pieces of our dreams.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

Resources

Marx, Karl. Capital.

National Bureau of Economic Research. Where is the Land of Opportunity? 2014.

Wilcox, W. Bradford. Family Matters. Slate.com. 2014.

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This series explores the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is driven by the antiquated ideology about an economic system that no longer works in the favor of the people.

The Story

More than any other individuals, wealthy black people have by words and deeds encouraged the black masses to worship at the throne of money.

– Bell Hooks, Salvation: Black People and Love

It has never ceased to amaze me how wealthy Black people perpetuate the ideology of the system against which they had to fight to get to where they are. Instead of using their position to dismantle the system (or at least shake it up), they wallow in their coveted new positions within the system’s structure. They insist that anyone can achieve what they have achieved by simply buying into the system. They fail to realize that they are one of the few that have been allowed to slip through the cracks of disenfranchisement in order to portray a stance of fairness and equality. They are the tokens that are held up to the rest of the community’s face to prove that nothing is wrong with the way things are. The truth is something entirely different.

America is a capitalist country. That is the economic model that we use. However, what should be an economic model has become our way of life. For the Black community, there are a number of dangers in using capitalism as a social model for success and happiness.

Capitalism as a Social Model

Capitalism is an economic system that focuses on the production of commodities and the exchange of these commodities. This is fairly easy to understand when talking about products and material goods; however, when speaking of labor and human performed service, things become more complex. Labor gains its value because of the part it plays in the production of material goods. For example, a sweater that is hand knitted may be more expensive in value than that of one produced by a machine because the human labor has to be considered and that human has to be paid on top of the materials that are purchased. This is how labor gains its value in capitalist theory. The products of human labor also include intangible goods such as services that are performed. These services, like the hand-made sweater, are products of labor. In the social aspect, products of labor give the perception of applying value to the actual laborer that does the producing. In short, the laborer becomes a commodity to be valued simply because the value of its products are connected to the human labor that produces it.

A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour.

– Karl Marx, Capital.

The production of labor influences the social character of the laborer because their products are viewed as external extensions of them. For example, fashion designers create tangible products that reflect their labor. The high fashion designer develops his/her prestige according to the value of the products that they produce. This gives the designer a measure of prestige because they are the creators of a highly valued product. This creates a blending of individual identity with the products of labor that they produce.

Often when an American is asked about their identity, at some point, we mention the work we do. We describe ourselves as being a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, etc. The products of our labor become merged with who we are. That is because in a capitalist country like America the products of our labor imply our social standing, our intelligence, our education, and our value in society. One would rather say, ‘I am a lawyer,’ than say ‘I am a nurse.’ One would rather say ‘I am an administrative assistant,’ than say ‘I am a janitor.’ This is because upon immediately hearing these descriptions, certain presumptions arise in the mind. When one hears that someone is a lawyer, it is thought that they make a substantial amount of money and can access power and influence in our society. When one hears that someone is a janitor, it is presumed that this person doesn’t have much education or isn’t that intelligent because if they did they would be a lawyer or something more prestigious. This connection merging of the value of the productions of our labor with who we are as laborers skewed our perception about identity and self-worth.

The Problem

The biggest problem with capitalism as a social model is that it only values the tangible. This concept forces an individual into a one dimensional box in which they can only identify themselves as what they are able to produce. These are the people that when you ask them where they will be in 5 years, their only answer is to be rich. These are the people who when you ask them about their dreams and desires, you never hear them mention love, friendship, or having a family. They can only identify with that which capitalism gives value to: material wealth.

For Black people this is especially problematic as we are, by our ancestral nature, communal people. We are inclined to connect and interact with one another, but this capitalist model doesn’t allow for that, because capitalism is driven by competition. Anyone who is going to attempt to be successful in a capitalist society must be obsessively driven towards its goal of material wealth and with the competition of everyone else, there is no time for that which does not lead towards material wealth. So, we place more value and spend more time worshiping money and pursuing the accumulation of material wealth than anything else.

The Point

What is most important about life is not in the things that we accumulate; those things are temporal. The essence of humanity is not tangible. What makes a person a person — what makes a person valuable — is not tangible. The greatest accomplishments we have made as Black people, was accomplished through collective efforts. There is nothing revolutionary about self-interest; there is nothing revolutionary about wealth; there is nothing revolutionary about capitalism. And revolution is what we need.

I do not seek to attack capitalism nor do I seek to suggest that it is the most horrible economic model the United States could ascribe to. What I am saying is that when sought by those for whom it was not built (in this case the Black community), it will never yield salvation. If upward social mobility, success, and happiness are what we are truly seeking we will have to face the facts that even while living in a capitalist society, we cannot live by capitalist ideology. If we are ever going to topple the gods that rule us, we will have to stop worshipping at their throne.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

References

Hooks, Bell. Salvation: Black People and Love.

Marx, Karl. Capital.

20131028-113540.jpgIn a previous post I began discussing the “culture of dependency,” a term used by a CNN writer to discredit social programs and infer that people on these programs are addicted to poverty. This series explores the ignorance of that thought and exposes the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is not created because people access (or abuse) these programs, but by the fact that they most have no choice but to utilize these programs at some point in their lives.

In the post, Coding Poverty I discussed the ways in which we code the language that we use to describe poverty. By coding the language we diminish the significance and pervert the truth about poverty in America. We fashion poverty to be a consequence of poor people’s actions and their lack of ambition when, in fact, the economic principles of this country and the prevailing ideals of individualism are the problem and poverty is its consequence.

The Story

I recently had a conversation with a White friend of mine concerning a twenty year old Black boy that lives in his neighborhood. My friend took pity on this kid and allowing the kid to come over and perform odd jobs for extra cash. The connection developed to the point that when the boy began to have trouble at home with his mother he would seek my friend’s house for refuge before disappearing into the streets for weeks at a time.

I had the opportunity to meet the boy once. After the boy left my friend and I began to discuss our thoughts about the boy. My friend felt the boy was a “good kid” but that maybe he had some cognitive difficulties because, to him, the boy didn’t seem to get “it.” The boy had no aspirations for college and a career and the boy didn’t seem to desire to want to make anything of himself. My friend felt that a lot of the boy’s problem was his mother and the lack of a father figure in his household. What my friend could not see through the veil of his privilege was that this boy was living a completely different reality from him. One in which survival is the only aspiration and it taxes your every resource to the point that you don’t have the time or energy to dream of dormitories and campuses and what to be when you grow up.

The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was being poor. It’s exhausting. You put your head down press forward and one day you look up and years have passed you by. You don’t have the luxury of vacations, luxurious holidays, shopping sprees, eating out and partying. Life is about survival and that which does not help you survive each day, doesn’t get your attention.

The Psychology of Poverty

We might shrug at the idea that poverty has an effect on mental health because it seems like common sense. Surely the impoverished are under stress and can’t afford to eat well or get healthcare, but the problem is deeper than that. Sendhil Mullainathan at The Institute for Research on Poverty focused particularly on the effect of poverty on attention and self-control. Mullainathan discovered that cognitive resources such as attention and self-control are limited. These resources are drained by the amount of time that we spend using them. Because the lack of resources means less margin for error, these individuals have to spend more time and more energy on less significant choices as other people. For someone living under the poverty line the decision to buy a combo for seven or eight dollars at Burger King might make the difference in whether or not they have bus fare or gas money to get to work at the end of the week. Therefore, they exert more cognitive resources to make this decision and similar decisions. So we begin to deal with things such as whether or not to go to college and/or planning a career path, they may run out of cognitive resources and pay less attention or cannot cognitively process the details of such a decision. And because this decision has no significant influence over their immediate situation, it becomes an irrelevant thought for which they cannot spare the mental resources to think about. This is the reality of poverty. It is not an issue of intelligence, lack of ambition, laziness, or mental incapacity; it’s a matter of survival and the best use of resources.

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The Problem

The problem is that we disregard the truth about poverty. It is more comfortable to believe that people who are severely impoverished are some self-destructive anomaly because in order to relate to these individuals and empathize with them, we would have to admit that we could be them. There are many people in this country who are a paycheck away from living in poverty. There are many people in this country who are not homeless and have jobs that are living below the poverty line. Poverty does not look the way society would like us to believe. The media shows us little kids in so e third world country with protruding bellies and glossy eyes and we think that’s what poverty looks like. Or we see people walking up the street at stop lights with cardboard signs asking for money and we think that’s what poverty looks like. We see bundled heaps of people tucked into corners of the street and we think that’s what poverty looks like. No doubt, those people are impoverished, but the majority of impoverished people do not look much different from us. Poverty is sitting beside you on the bus, it’s sitting across from you in the staff meeting, it’s standing in front of you in the grocery store line.

We have to have the courage to accept the truth. We have to be willing to look poverty in the face and see what it looks like. Until then we are lying to ourselves about the security of our own station and denying an epidemic the attention required to remedy it.

The Point

No matter where we were born in terms of socioeconomic status or what social class we currently live in, we have to understand that our perception is our reality, but not everyone has the privilege of sharing the wealth or abundance that our perspective affords us. Their reality is built on their perspective on life and we have to respect that reality even if it is foreign to us.

Poverty is an epidemic that is plaguing our country. It affects more people than we could possibly know. That woman beside you on the subway may be dressed stylishly, the man at the desk beside you at work may wear a nice suit and tie, that person you pass on the street might be begging for money, that guy on the corner might be selling drugs. But how are we to know their reality? How are we to know what life is demanding of them? We can’t. But we must consider that there are elements of their lives over which they had no control that have brought them to that place just as there are elements of our lives over which we had no control that have afforded us the opportunity to be where we are in our lives.

Who dares judge the inexpressible expense another pays for his life?
– James Baldwin

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

20131028-113540.jpgIn a previous post I began discussing the “culture of dependency,” a term used by a CNN writer to discredit social programs and infer that people on these programs are addicted to poverty. This series explores the ignorance of that thought and exposes the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is not created because people access (or abuse) these programs, but by the fact that they most have no choice but to utilize these programs at some point in their lives.

Coded Language

We live in a society that prefers soundbites and third-hand information because we are too busy or too apathetic to closely investigate information. Often we settle for coin phrases and popular terms to describe things that are so complex that one word or a phrase cannot hardly express the depth and detail of the thing that it is supposed to be describing.

When the terms and phrases chosen for these things is propagandized to give a connotation that deliberately biases the description, well then, you have coded language. Coded language is prevalent in American society. The controlling forces have become adept at coding and using those codes to brainwash the public with a version of certain stories that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Coding Poverty

In America when we speak of poverty we hear terms such as poor and lower class. These words by themselves mean relatively little but once they are coded they take on the connotations such as unwanted, unusable, unable, less than, bad, and/or unworthy. These coded terms then become concepts unto themselves that when used inspire ideas and notions. For instance often when hear about people being poor and lower class we think of them through the connotations attached and we develop ideas such as the thought that those people to whom these terms may refer are in such a place because they are stupid, undeserving, uncivilized, and/or lazy.

Then we can go a little further and see how these terms are applied to specific groups of people new terms emerge that still hold the connotations as the former words but adds an element that allows one to know that it is being applied specifically. For example, when the concept of poor and lower class is applied to Black and Latino people we get terms like project, ghetto, hood, ratchet, and common. When they are applied to White people we get terms like redneck and hillbilly.

The fact that words become coded with connotations and then evolve into fullfledged concepts that fuel ideas and thoughts is neither a good or bad thing. In truth, that is how the human brain processes information and learns and remembers things: through associations and connections that can be made. However, coding is the perversion of this process. It takes what is natural and twists it unnaturally. That is the definition of social propaganda.

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Social Propaganda

Social propaganda is the way that public opinion is shaped and controlled. It is the way that people in society are shaped and controlled without shackles, chains, whips, and plantations.

A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push it.

– Ludwig Wittgenstein

By creating a concept of poverty as so undesirable that even impoverished people do not want to acknowledge it, any possible opposition is neutralized. In the Black community it is prevalent that no one wants to be labeled as poor or lower class. Most don’t want to be labeled as ghetto, project, or ratchet (however these terms have been given different connotations which lead them to sometimes be glorified). Combine the social unpopularity of these concepts with the promise that “anyone can make it out,” and you have generations of Black people living in poverty refusing to acknowledge it because they have more than the people that live next door; because they can buy the latest fashions and appear wealthy; because they can go on trips and eat out at expensive restaurants. They may very well be able to do those things, but at what detriment. And why is that when they do those things, the results are rarely the same as they are for the people who are actually wealthy enough to afford to do them?

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The Problem

The problem is that we are so hell-bent on not being uncomfortable. We are so determined to be happy and optimistic. We refuse to get depressed and/or angry. Our denial of these less than fun feelings are what lead us to deny our consciousness reality and cling to the lies.

Black America isn’t stupid nor are we unaware. What we are is afraid. We are afraid that we cannot change this country. We are afraid that we cannot change this society. We are afraid that we cannot change our lives or our station in life. We do not want to accept reality and experience the not fun feelings only to find out that we can do nothing about them. The truth is: there’s no possible chance to do anything about it until we accept and confront it.

The Point

When we, in the Black community, stop trying to reposition ourselves in a White Supremacist society and escape the uncomfortable reality of the world we live in, then we will get so angry and so passionate about change that we will actually begin to change things. As long as we keep hyping ourselves up on this notion that we can have everything anyone else can have if we work hard enough, or get enough education, or go to the right schools, or live in the right neighborhood, or shop at the right stores and realize that when you try to work hard, you are disproportionately compensated ; when you apply for education, you cannot afford it without going into severe debt; when you choose the right school, you don’t have the pedigree for acceptance; when you move to the right neighborhood, you’re alienated and ostracized because you don’t fit in; when you shop at the right stores, you are monitored for fear of theft and/or regarded as not being able to afford anything.

The fantasy America has sold us is too far a cry away from the reality that we live to continue to be blind. They can code it and propagandize it but they cannot make it be true. Our challenge is to allow ourselves to accept the reality but maintain our determination to change it.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

20131028-113540.jpgIn a previous post I began discussing the “culture of dependency,” a term used by a CNN writer to discredit social programs and infer that people on these programs are addicted to poverty. This series explores the ignorance of that thought and exposes the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is not created because people access (or abuse) these programs, but by the fact that they most have no choice but to utilize these programs at some point in their lives.

In the last post in this series, I discussed The Trap of poverty that all too many Black Americans find themselves held captive within. Many dont even realize they are in The Trap of poverty because they are not homeless or starving. Since they have not reached the extreme expressions of poverty they see themselves as poor; however most are living one paycheck or one assistance program away from destitution. The only way out of The Trap or to avoid it all together is to learn The Game.

The Game

The Game is built on two generally accepted delusions. The first being that anyone in this country can accomplish anything they want if they work hard. The second is that life in America is built on equality and justice for all.

The detriment of Black Americans buying into such notions leads them to The Trap. To assume that in a capitalist society with a history of slavery and human exploitation an individual only has to be educated, intelligent, hardworking, and/or persistent is ludicrous. This idea lends itself to the thought that, somehow on the good faith of society and despite the conflict of interests, the less fortunate of this country will be afforded an opportunity to compete with and accomplish as much as the most successful people. That’s just not the American way.

Black Americans must realize that the system is not set up for them to prosper and in order to beat those odds we must be strategic and calculating.

chess

 

The Problem

America has become a country of appearances and accepted delusions. Every Black person must first accept this fact. One of those delusions is that the color if one’s skin, one’s appearance, and one’s socioeconomic status does not matter.

A Black person cannot totally disassociate themselves from the Black community or they risk losing the kind of necessary support that only the Black community can give them. They cannot afford to become so entrenched in Black life that they cannot see the potential and possibilities that lie intentionally out of reach.

To successfully navigate the American board game, Black people have to walk that thin line between being Black and being American. One of my undergraduate professors called it being “strategically Black.” What it means is recognizing that you don’t have to flaunt your Blackness to embrace it. At all times you are Black (and proud of it) but you are aware that while there is nothing wrong with loving who you are, America will not always understand your Blackness nor will they always love it. And that has nothing to do with what you can or cannot accomplish.

Strategic Blackness

Being Black in America requires, as W.E.B. DuBois put it, a “double consciousness.” Black Americans cannot afford to forget that they are Black. We cannot afford to not be aware of how we look through the non-Black gaze of the rest of the country. Learning to move in and out of non-Black spaces is the objective of The Game.

quoooote

The Game of being Black & American requires that we be able to connect and relate to non-Black Americans. Recognizing the universal nature of what it means to be American or just being human. With that we develop an understanding of the limits that other nationalities may have in understanding the nuances of being Black. That isn’t accomplished by being stereotypical: shucking and jiving under the mystery of our Blackness, serving the exotic nature of our roots up to the world as some forbidden fruit, or aggressively demanding concession for our cultural differences, or constantly trying to “teach” the world about being Black in order to prove that it’s okay.

At the same time that we are in connection with the great universal connection of humanity, we must specifically connect to other Black people. One if the saddest things I have witnessed is the degradation of unity in the Black community. We now focus on highlighting all the ways we are not typically Black and how, in some way, we are the token who wears Black skin but doesn’t live a Black life. We see this all too often: Black people who hate soul food because “it’s greasy,” Black people who refuse to eat fried chicken or watermelon, Black people who constantly explain how they’re not from the ghetto or are not ghetto, Black people who places to live or frequent by counting how few Blacks are there, Black people who emphasize how refined their speech is or how educated they are. These subtle disassociations from stereotypical Blackness are divisive and breed a silent devaluing of what it means to be Black. When in fact none of those things, regardless of whether a Black person is or is not/does or does not associate with them, makes them any better or worse than the next Black face.

The Point

When you understand the game, you realize that it’s more about perception than fact. Illusions are created to manipulate perception. The ideology America feeds us is an illusion and the game is all about mastering the art of manipulating perception while never actually believing the illusion yourself. When Black understand that their entire reality will change.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man

20131028-113540.jpgIn a previous post I began discussing the “culture of dependency,” a term used by a CNN writer to discredit social programs and infer that people on these programs are addicted to poverty. This series explores the ignorance of that thought and exposes the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is not created because people access (or abuse) these programs, but by the fact that they most have no choice but to utilize these programs at some point in their lives.

The Story

In the last post in this series I discussed how the inefficiencies of social programs create a trap of poverty not because everyone who utilizes them is trying to live off the system, but because the programs do not actually offer a platform for which people can actually elevate or restore their lives to a normal (I use that word very loosely) standing.

The Problem

The Trap is created because a lifestyle of poverty is reactive and driven by the need to survive. It is no easy psychological task for an individual to deal with the many emotions of depression, despair, embarrassment, anxiety, and fear that come with living on the edge of destitution.

When a person is not sure how they will feed their family from day to day or keep a roof over their family’s head from month to month, it isn’t so simple to imagine going back to school or signing up for a training program. The sheer stress can be overwhelming. And the longer a person remains in poverty and/or the deeper they fall into it, the more they are fundamentally an morally changed.

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It becomes survival of the fittest and it is in the nature of all living things to fight for their survival. This mentality makes a person self-centered. The world only matters as it relates to them and those in their close circle. They begin to see all others as opportunities or oppositions. That I when we begin to see people try to cheat the system. That is when we see people so devoid of compassion that they would hustle anyone near them to get one step ahead of their situation.

The other side of The Trap is created by those who are not living in poverty and those who will never come close to it. Those individuals with their callous judgments and ignorant evaluations of a lifestyle they do not know, do not want to know, and, for some, will never know. Those individuals who formulate the programs and out of fear of having to care for someone beyond their own selfish desires and ruthless drive to secure their own station in life will reduce the opportunities of those beneath them.

In truth, the wealthier and most successful Americans have gotten where they are by using the same mentality of those poor people they criticize. It is survival of the fittest with better weapons. Look at the 2% of Americans who make 10 times more than the working people who are taxed exponentially more on their income. Look at the ones with the resources to amass a fortune and hide it away in offshore banks and untaxable investment funds. Look at those who increase the costs of their products in response to the demand to offer better healthcare options to their minimum wage workers. Look at those who exploit the illegal immigrants with less than minim wage pay for dangerous and/or intensive labor. How are they any better than the girl who doesn’t report her live-in boyfriend so that she can maintain her benefits and add extra income to her household. How are they any better than the person receiving unemployment and working “under the table” so they do not have to report the extra income and have the benefits reduced. How are they any better than the person selling their food stamps or their child’s social security number for cash. It’s colors different but it’s the same outfit.

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The Point

My point is that to eliminate this trap one side has got to actually use their influence to create a system that offers more than a net for homelessness and starvation and the other side has to reserve and use some energy towards building for the long term and not just one day at a time. Both are easier said than done. But neither will be accomplished if we waste time complaining to the mountain instead of climbing it.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man