Monday, January 10, 2011

romancing the (soap)stone... part 1

(i'm a hermit by nature, so thank Olodumare this 'internet' thingie is good at
hiding wizards behind curtains! and now, once again, i throw the switch...)

adolescence was burdensome to me, the whole 'coming of age' thing while having both feet planted in culturally parallel worlds. the one, the so-called 'mainstream america' - you already know it, the one where (hold on, let me read it straight from the sociologist's textbook) "chirrens of all races and ethnic backgrounds mix, mingle and melt into an amalgam of theoretically patriotic pastes while maintaining the universally exploitative standards that help categorize this great american nation!"

high school epitomized that exact ideal: let's segregate the "top" scholastic talent (i.e, "non-threatening-looking") of black children in our school system from the core group of black students we cant identify with and place them for the duration of their high school experience within the classroom of "top" white students (i.e, also "non-threatening-looking", but smattered with the "popular-pretty" and the "popular-dumb jock" - those best suited to take full scholastic advantage of the "studious uncool")... this meant that i was the only black guy, along with 4 black girls, in my classroom for the entire four years (the "excel program" was an experimental program - no need in placing more than one 'gifted' black male into a study group, not until we know exactly what they are capable of!)...

and you would THINK that having access to 4 intelligent sistas would be the ideal situation for a young man growing into his own, but you'd be dead wrong! blame the dumb jocks allowed to infiltrate our pavlovian setting. popular dumb white jocks have popular dumb black jock friends... if there is a dumb jock in your current professional group he exists only as a conduit for the dumb jocks on the outside to come raid the cookie jar as they "convince" you its for the common good (meaning, none of your stupid geek business!). a single black nerd cant compete against jock-osmosis... it's a brutal system based on wins-and-losses, not a grading curve... meanwhile, its me hanging out with the 'big-bang-theory-prototypes' - we speak D&D quite fluently, draw our own comic books and write poems about killing our chem teacher. outside of my white male excel-program constituents, i am not considered "a catch", on any level... and then, after 4 years of high school camaraderie, your closest white friends think you're all cool enough with each other that one of them can start telling 'nigga jokes' - to be fair, george carlin and richard pryor were the comedic icons at that time. that doesnt excuse them and it effectively ended any sense of friendship i thought was built up, but we had all grew up watching george jefferson shout 'honkie' into the faces of his 'friends' over a laugh track. plus eddie murphy had emerged onto the scene, becoming the most famous by exploiting the 'nigga stereotypes' - buckwheat, the ghetto mr. rogers, black panther parodies, etc... the pendulum got stuck in its swing between 'angry black men' and 'shuckin and jivin black men'... the early 1980's was all about the angry-shuckin-and-jivin black man. supposedly far enough removed from the civil rights era to as not be offended by the social equivalent of racism's second-hand smoke.

but i wasnt that cool and i knew there was still a need for politics; that 'empowerment' offered other options. the power to let you laugh wholehearted at the stereotype of me is important, but its not the first one a person dreams about, wakes up wanting and jots down at the top of his notepad.

in the meantime, Jes Grew (google it!) was changing the attire of the Black Arts Movement - hip hop channeled the spirit of the creative-oppressed and i found a new focus for my energies. if 'mainstream america' was the stepping stone for my left foot, then this unappreciated new black artform was the groundswell for my right. Africa Bambaataa held equal stage with Kraftwerk and Art of Noise... Basquiat exemplified what most alienated black creatives was going through, this simultaneous struggle for identity and non-identity. we were the Pfunk mantra played out, of freedom being free of the need for being free...

we didnt muse about freedom, about sharing the front seats of public transportation trying to prove the point of how non-threatening we could be... our dream wasnt for freedom. it was for an identity free of the identity america had planned for us. our parents were the ones who had dreamed of working at ford and general electric, of providing greater opportunities than they had... but it was our generation that had sat back to ask: but what was so wrong with the laundry mat you owned all to your self? only in america, because of the need for black people to escape from deep-rooted segregation, was the need to work for one's self considered a social sin... this is the point in american history where the prospects of "freedom" actually became a set-back.

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