Sunday, June 5, 2011

Losing My Cool - Redemption

I almost stopped reading the book. And that is an extremely rare thing. The "hip-hop culture" as he calls it discouraged me to the point of hopelessness. So self-destructive a lifestyle seemed completely irredeemable.

Then I got to chapter 7, "Seeing the Light." Thomas pours himself into his new major, Philosophy, after his awkward summer home, and suddenly the blinders fall from his eyes. "For all my powers of projection, though, I failed to anticipate the extent to which daily exposure to serious ideas and methods of thinking would alter me. I didn't realize that once you leave home and see new and more complex things, you might just lose the desire to measure yourself by the old, provincial standards; they cease to motivate you even when you want them to; you set your eyes on new and higher (though they used to seem lower) sights."

By pouring himself into his new-found love of philosophy, he meets his father again. He finds the influences that so propelled his dad to rise above his station in life, born to a single mother in a deeply racist culture. He devours existentialism and it's belief that we are what we act like. We create ourselves. He relates this to the countless young black people he knew striving to be wannabe gangsters and thugs and sees the tremendous waste in such a contrived existence. They had lost their true selves, their true identity for absolutely nothing. "As I thought of myself and my friends, all I could see was that the They into which we have been folded growing up had no dignity to it, no honor; it was shameful and misguided, an empty promise at best, a cruel hoax at worst."

Thomas moves to Paris for a time to escape home and all the trappings that pull at him. Wanting to discover who he really is, he must get away from all seductions and expectations to be someone he is not. He brings two friends from his neighborhood with him at one point and watches them come the realization he had come to himself, not too long ago. "... inevitably it is going to strike you that you have been lied to. You have been straight-up lied to, and not just in the most obvious way... It's worse than that; the swindling has gone down far closer to home. You have been lied to by people you have known personally, your older siblings and your classmates, your cousins and your lovers... You have been lied to and now you know that you have been lied to and you can't deny it and you are naked."

Thomas ends with a hopefulness I do not feel. He is an extraordinary young man, born into extraordinary circumstances, yet barely escapes the pull of the 'hood, and "keeping it real." His hope is that black young people will experience the renaissance he went through. He hopes the current generation will see that they have not realized the promise laid out by their forefathers in the fight for freedom.

He ends by stating, "For more than thirty years the black world has revolved around the inventors of hip-hop values, and this has been a decisive step backward. My generation, if we are to make it and to make good on the debt we owe our ancestors, must find a new vocabulary and another point of view. We have to reclaim the discipline and the spirit we have lost. We have to flip the script on what it means to be black... we have drawn this grotesque with our own hand."

For my part, I hope his hope is well-placed. Knowing the "white culture" like I do, I'm doubtful. White elites love to congratulate themselves on their openness and tolerance. They celebrate multi-culturalism and would be the last people to condemn the hip-hop culture as "a decisive step backwards." They clamor to be friends with blacks who deride other blacks as "Uncle Toms" or sell outs. They will do all they can to keep blacks from thinking for themselves and going off the plantation by straight up lying to them and calling all opposition racist. They would never allow blacks to engage in thoughtful debates that may cause some of them to question their white betters. Whites promote the hip-hop culture as they can make money off of it. They care nothing of the people they are hurting. I cringed when I saw Cee Lo Green (author and singer of Grammy award winning F*** You) heavily promoted on NBC's "The Voice." Why are white people doing this? Because deep down so many of them want to be "cool" as well. Not cool to the point of self-destruction, only an idiot or a black person would strive to be that cool (they think, but won't say), but considered cool by the ultra-cool black culture and not derided as some kind of "cracker."

I hold these views to be deeply racist. These condescending whites will smile and pat the heads of Ebonic-speaking youths and say it's their culture and we must not judge. They will look the other way as children are allowed to listen to denigrating and destructive music and call themselves open minded. They will pat themselves on the back for their tolerance and acceptance of the very forces that are destroying a proud and great people. And by doing so, they effectively "keep blacks in their place" better than any Jim Crow laws or blatant racism ever did. All the while they will toast themselves for being the good guys.

Of course, they would never let their own children act this way. Their children are white, after all.

I'm sorry Thomas, but I see a large group of the intellectuals that you love holding back the people you are fighting for with the "bigotry of low expectations."

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