Chris Smith

The Comedy In Being Black In America


I wrote down my innermost thoughts on a piece of paper when I was 22 years old.

“Don’t tell me what it is to be black in America, because being black in America means being held back in America, This is a fact and America can kiss my ass when they hearin’ this, because being black in some areas gets you attacked by the prejudice, and this also is an attack on America, on the blacks in America, that’s cashing in on making it look bad to be black in America, I’m undone because we blacks sadly slackin’ in America, the ones that forced us here want our bags packed in America, and we are our own enemies too so it’s hard to relax in America, we weren't made to fail but we not even in a class in America, this is a slap from America, from everybody who is and ain’t black in America, that our heritage is nothing but fabricated facts in America, stuck in being just entertainers or slanging crack in America, misinformed and discouraged is the look back in the mirror at us, but everybody that ain’t black takes their best crack at trying to mirror us, that’s kind of what it is…to be black in America.”

This was years before the Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown events, but not too far removed from the deaths of Oscar Grant, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen and the 1998 dragging of James Byrd Jr. in the small Texas town of Jasper. I wrote this at a time when pro-black radicalist, assuming that the tragic disposition and struggles within the African-American community stemmed solely from the white oppressor, were in dormancy. I have always believed that though we were never responsible for the initial cause of our problems as an ethnic group, we were in fact enablers of our situation often playing victim and looking for the next Martin Luther King or Malcolm X to lead us to some promise land. As I grew older, I realized how much more my soliloquized poem held truth.

After the Mike Brown incident many professional athletes and entertainers began to somewhat speak out on the issue, using social media and planned gestures on their respective platforms to voice their disagreement with the direction of America and the treatment of her citizens. These same icons that were once heralded and loved were now trolled with messages from former fans (stake holders) voicing their disapproval with them joining in with the sentiment of the black community. To be honest, I had some of the hardest laughs of my life reading the comments. Me being who I am, I have always tried to find humor in every situation, and the fact that these athletes and entertainers were being told that they were losing support from fans that were offended by the athletes perceived support of the looting that occurred, provided plenty for me to laugh about. Not to mention that this was after the whole Don Sterling situation. Just to provide clarity though, it wasn’t funny that they were now receiving backlash for their minute efforts of support. The funny part was how after all of this, the injustice, the disrespect, the blatant disregard for our dignity as human beings, excuse my next rant, these N****** still took the court, still ran out on that field, still accepted that deal from major record labels and the beat went on. This moves us to the next point I am trying to make that shows how misinformed and discouraged we are looking in that mirror. Just imagine during the Don Sterling event if all of the major NBA stars chose not to play another game until he was ousted from his position of ownership. Now imagine what message that would have sent to the black youth that idolize them because they became successful from the same areas of toil and low self-esteem that they’re still living in.

That misinformed and discouraged look back in the mirror at us, who is to blame for that? Tupac Shakur once said with a unified acknowledgement and entitlement, “It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live and let’s change the way we treat each other. You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do what we gotta do, to survive”. I was a fan of his for a different reason than the aggressive and clever lyrical skills he displayed. I identified with him because of his ability to acknowledge that our issues as a community start with us, without forgetting the fact that we have been systematically programmed to be dysfunctional. African Americans every year pack out the malls to get the latest Jordan brand shoe for themselves or loved ones, no matter how many times it comes out. This isn’t to say we can’t buy the shoe and have nice things, but it does show exactly what we value as a people who have almost a majority of their population stuck inside of impoverished neighborhoods. This adds insult to the injury caused by the scenes played over and over again on the news about black human lives being injured or taken, by another black human being or beings, over the possession of these shoes. Probably not a great example to use, so let me move over from the touchy subject of purchasing shoes and lets look at our lack of focus as a people to purchase land and property. Let’s now examine how many black lives have been taken or injured for being in the wrong neighborhood claimed as territorial property by another group of black lives who don’t own not a single square foot in that area. Misinformed and discouraged might have been an understatement.

Now-a-days you can find a plethora of pro-black heirs to the black panthers and civil rights leaders, hollering about how we need to start investing in our own communities, our own businesses, and bring back the black wallstreet that was bombed in Tulsa. See the funny thing about that is there are so many businesses owned by black individuals that exist in major industries already that are struggling to stay alive because we have made Ralph Lauren, Walmart, Walgreens, Nike, Adidas, Sony, McDonalds, 24 Hour Fitness and other mega companies alike into what they are. Truth is, just like the superstar athletes and entertainers that stayed safe are minimal with their responses to what’s happening today in society, we have no self-value at all and won’t even try doing for ourselves. I am sure Miss Azealia Banks misunderstood this as Kendrick Lamar tried to explain.

Another tragedy within the African American community is that we are entangled in this belief that the only way to financial prosperity is through athletic and entertainment talents or the street pharmacist route. I remember one kid that was in my high school class a few years ago, while working as a behavioral specialist, gave me insight into a perspective that struck me in awe. We were in the gym during their break time and he challenged me to a one on one game of basketball. After realizing that he couldn’t beat me, though the game just began, he quickly changed his interest in competition to playing catch with the football. After several failed attempts to catch my passes, he walked off the court in frustration and yelled, “ I ain’t shit”. At first I laughed like I normally would as this was the relationship I had with the student, being that he was a younger relative of a guy that I used to clown with back when I was his age. I then realized that he was serious in his analysis about himself and I went over to question him on the chances that he might be serious about what he just said about himself. He responded to my concern by saying, “ Man I suck at sports, I’m going to be broke unless I can come up on something with my music, I can’t go back to selling crack because I got caught already and now I have a daughter to take care of”. That very instant we walked back to the classroom and I began to try and educate him on various trades and careers that he could choose in order to make a way for himself and his daughter. I couldn’t fathom the stress that he was dealing with, already having a record, and being a high school parent supporting his family with a settlement check he received from a bad wreck he walked away from with a now mangled face. This kid grew up in the same poor town that my best friend had grown up in, with the same blocked and narrowed view of routes to success that we once had, and two years later I saw him on the news for a robbery, just like my best friend who is on his 7th year for an agg. charge in robbing a bank. I am 26 now with a son of my own and those two events in my life are burned into my brain and serve as reminders of how much I have to expose my son to in order for him to not go down the route that so many of us African American men follow being ensnared in the trapped belief that we only have a few ways to be wealthy or successful. I read alot now upon these new millionaires and billionares in the tech industry, you would be surprised to find out how young these kids are. One 17 year old sold his app creation to yahoo for 30 million dollars, and there are countless others like him and all of them have one thing in common. They aren’t black. Millionaires created every year from real estate ventures, technological inventions, oil and gas companies and a countless number of other industries that seem to be only tapped into by people without any skin color resembling to mine. Where did we go wrong? Was it Lebron’s 90 million dollar contract straight out of high school? Is it the braggadocious lyrical content of mainstream rap artists? Why aren’t we hands in on any of the new trends in business concerning technology and mobile applications or social networks? This is a saddening reality as I sit here writing this in a month dedicated to learning about people of color that once used to innovate and have contributed to many of societies dependencies of old times. Now all we do is hustle, work on mixtapes, and allow ourselves to be enslaved to the dreams of being professional athletes by closing our minds off to knowledge of anything else, wasting years and money of free college education without ever taking the opportunity to learn something valuable and new.I think we are stuck. What if Myron Rolle was the hero of our black youth?

Now, lets talk about “the blacks cashing in on making it look bad to be black in America”. I used to enjoy shows like Martin, Fresh Prince of Bel-air, and the Jamie Foxx show. Even though they played into some of the stereotypical views of African Americans in society, it undoubtedly showed the sides of us that wanted to be married and have a family like Martin and Jena, that we did have a high sense of respect and honor for our women with class like Fancy was shown from Jamie, and that we needed male role models but rather those had been our fathers as Will Smith showed in the scene of fresh prince that every young black boy born before 92 would remember. Today we have shows and music that almost encourages our resentment for monogamy, parental responsibilities, competitive drive to one up another, hostility, and futile thinking. This makes it awkward for me being the only black male english teacher at a predominantly white school with over five thousand kids, with pictures of my wife and son decorating my desk, dressed in my professional attire when my minority students question my “blackness”. As weird as it makes me feel, I never forget that I was once the kid that thought if you weren’t sagging, talking with the careless southern drawl, or hip to the latest rap song that you were limited in real “blackness” as well. It’s because I used to be that kid that I hold the views that I do. When I observe the younger generation of minorities opposed to loving relationships to nurture into marriages, young girls dressing like damsels and careless of all civility, our young boys with aspirations of being an athlete or entertainer for the sole purpose of buying a whole lot of things to brag about to others and splurge on their lusts for classless women, that is how I know that we are in an ugly situation. But I also know that we can no longer point our fingers at other races for our current state of well-being. We as individuals have to make the choice to improve ourselves and positively change our perception of the world in order to see that dream that MLK had come to fruition. However, I am angered because it is the message that these shows and songs send to other races that give them the impression that we are all like that, which you can attribute to the deaths of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown the apprehension of their offenders to treat them like normal human beings. Instead they felt threatened. I’m not saying it is justifiable because they had misconstrued perceptions of black males, I am saying that there is a darker demon that needs to be addressed that made it necessary for a black mother struggling to receive commitment from her childs father to exploit herself sexually on national television, swinging from shower bars,for money. I am saying there is something that makes young black men get on nationally broadcasted mediums and disrespect, devalue, hate, and embarass other black men and women for money. I am saying that until we stop jumping, running, singing, dancing, and acting, no matter the degrading effects our actions have on our people, for a check then we will never see change, and we will continue to lose young men and women to nothingness, and we will continue to grow up in broken homes without structure, and we will continue to be misinformed and discouraged.

My final point is that it’s funny how hard it is to be black in America, because we make it harder for ourselves in every aspect of living. The biggest threat to our socioeconomic crisis is the ignorance to other avenues of financial improvement outside of sports and entertainment. The biggest threat to our existence is the lack of empathy, extreme jealousy, and extreme compellingness to cast judgement rather than helpful providence that we exhibit toward one another. In speaking about our financial situation, we stand to follow in the footsteps of our fellow African American athletes that play themselves into landing big contracts but never once do we aspire to be the ones handing out the contracts. We are first to be skeptical about one another when trying to work with each other in business and rightfully so because we are also the first to cross each other. I began writing this with a goal of explaining how the racism label is all pretense and that the reality of what we fight against is really just plain and simple hatred. I believe that instead I gave a portrait of how self-hatred can project a reflection that we all are fighting an endless battle against. This can be applied to a conversation of our world of cultures and beliefs at war right now, but hopefully by pinning the focus on the issues of my people of color first then maybe, just maybe it won’t be so hard to be black in America and then maybe, just maybe we can focus together on making it even less difficult to be a human in the world.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.