Thuggery, Being an Ignorant, Tough Man as Opposed to a Smart One; Where Does a Young African-American Boy Fit in to This Culture?

Eventually I am going to have children. I will have to endure the age old question of what do I do to protect my young sons and daughters. I can’t be a hypocrite and let my son walk the streets and keep my daughter locked up in the house. I have to go by the example that was set for me by my own mother. At the same time things were a lot different then. It was the early eighties, Akron was still a relatively sleepy town with so few murders you could actually count them and nothing interesting was going on.

But that depends on where you were willing to look.

So while I was that young, nerdy, geeky guy that was afraid to sleep with girls I knew guys that did not even know who their parents were that came up in a group home. Those that did were still out on the streets until all hours of the morning. One dude showed me a cheap pistol that he was holding and a pocketful of cash. I didn’t know what to make of it; I didn’t feel any need to walk around with a gun and I didn’t really need a lot of cash for anything. I had a full time job during the summer and I saved up my money and bought whatever I wanted.

I knew him when he was younger and I would walk across the street and watch music videos with him. Rap City, or MTV Raps or whatever garbage happened to be on television at the time. He talked a good game, but I had always thought that he was mostly talk. That day though he was a tough guy and we weren’t kids anymore. Innocence had been lost a few years ago. He didn’t want to be associated with me like he used to because I wasn’t into the same stuff that he was into. He came around a few more times after that but then he moved, again (the last time was down the street but this time I had completely lost track of him) and I never saw him again.

For some reason though I never did want to see him again. He was a reminder of my own sheltered existence, and how the city was changing and how even the best neighborhoods were deteriorating into total and utter garbage. The city has continued to decay, and Akron is not a nice place to live anymore.

The irony of all of this is that I live in the ghetto now; so how would I protect a young child and keep him from turning into a meth addict or from getting too many girls pregnant that everyone has lost count? How can I keep him from turning into a caricature of a Black man, and to become a respectable Black man that people actually look up to and want to emulate. If I were middle class he could learn the same subtitles of institutionalized racism that I did, and learn how to handle himself around Caucasians and Asians and blend in. He could then turn that off and become real ignorant when he had to deal with those in his family that did not have the same opportunities that he had.

People tell me that I sound smart, and I have been told that I look smart and people have a hard time wrapping their minds around the idea that I associate myself with my own culture. That culture kept me grounded during those times that I could not assimilate myself into the middle class culture that was constantly put in front of me. That culture that I never did fit into; only to go to college and realize that it wasn’t even that big of a deal in the first place and everyone secretly wants to be ghetto anyway. That is the Blackness that you tuck away during the day, but it comes out at night, so you can be the freak and the deviant individual that you were always uncomfortable being during those piano recitals, the Cotillion and Beautillion.

We’re all ghetto, but some of us are trapped in a physical ghetto while the rest of us can roam the Earth as a free man. At the end of the day we’re all the same. If you live in a ghetto, you are going to get harassed by “The Man”, you might get locked up and taken downtown or you might get followed by personnel while you are at the store trying to shop. A lot of things can happen to you. People get in front of your face and you have to think quickly before you make the wrong move.

I probably had it a lot better than these young children because it was about hip-hop, but it wasn’t about being a thug. Most times if you did run into someone who was “unsavory”, they might have a lot of knowledge that they wanted to impart in you, and that gave you a different perspective on life. You might not be that smart, you might be from the streets, but you wanted to come across as though you had a lot more going on for you than you did on the surface.  These days ignorance is glorified, and everyone is this mindless drone whose only purpose in life is to consume. Reality television shows that were supposed to give us a look into the lives of rich Black people are filled with buffoons and Black women that you would be ashamed to know. To be fair the men in their lives are not that much better; the camera simply is not put on them as much and the producers edit the footage in a way in which the men do not look quite as bad.

Do I really care what happens in the life of someone else? If Black people that have money have the same problems and dysfunction as the rest of us what do we have to look forward to? My friend, if he is still alive, is probably in a prison somewhere. There are good kids in the ghetto that are very smart and stay out of trouble. There parents are in a difficult situation and they do not know if they are going to eat, or even if they know where their parents are at. People are walking the street selling themselves and doing whatever it takes just to get by. But it is a full time job, and I seem to have enough trouble managing my own emotions and keeping myself away from my own vices in life. I’ll take it one day at a time, as I do everything else; keep me in your prayers as I navigate these deep waters …

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