Tuesday, June 13, 2006




I often here our people talking about "keeping it real."  If we were really serious about that many of our problems would be solved.  But just like many of our other sayings, the statement reflects much more style than substance. Truly keeping it real entails taking a hard and objective look at ourselves, but many of us find that much too painful-and others find it, much too inconvenient. You see, one of the first issues we must confront in keeping it real involves facing up to the contradiction that while many of us claim that "We're Black and we're proud", we still tend to look to the White man for our well being. The fact is, many of us relate to the White man like we’re children and he’s our daddy.  Now, that’s real.  Are we ready to face up to that?  I don’t think so.

I've heard, for example, brothers say things like, "I was always good in school--and I could have made it, but that White man 'wouldn't let me'."  Now, let's take that statement and look at it from the perspective of the street.  If I took that very same statement and replaced the words "White man" with the name "Willie”, it clearly demonstrates what a weak argument and pitiful admission that really is:  “I could have made it, but Willie wouldn’t let me.” Brother, please!  if you're a real man, and truly proud, you're not going to allow another man to prevent you from making it, or feeding your family.  But I'll never get that brother to accept that, because that lie helps to sustain him--it helps him to justify his failure in life.  So that’s his story and he’s sticking to it—keeping things real notwithstanding.

And of course, the brother is well practiced in his fantasy.  He would argue that there's a difference between the White man and Willie--Willie is just one individual, while the White man controls the system. But that's also a fallacious argument, since if the White man was indeed standing there guarding the gates of success, and intent on holding Black people back,  places like Beverly Hills, Windsor Hills, Ladera Heights, and many other prosperous locations wouldn't be filled with so many Black people--they'd all be there on the block making excuses, right there with my good brother.  Now, that's real.

Now, don't get me wrong, I recognize the legitimacy of the brother's contention that some White folks have made it a point to put obstacles in place that make it, at the very least,  exceedingly difficult for Black people to move forward in this society, but it is up to us to develop the capacity to navigate those obstacles--and as a result, we'll become a much stronger people in the process.

All physical, spiritual, and intellectual growth is directly proportionate to the obstacles that we have to overcome.  If it hadn't been for the fact that we had a desire to get from point "A" to point "B", we never would have learned to walk as babies-and as a direct result, our legs would have become useless. And if it hadn't been for the obstacle of not being able to communicate our needs, we never would have learned to talk--in which case, our vocal cords would have atrophied.  Even involuntary growth, the size of our bodies, is in direct response to nature's anticipation of obstacles that we'd have to overcome. Use it, or loose it--that is a fundamental law of nature.  It is for that very reason, therefore, that I have a problem with many of our self-appointed Black spokespeople attributing all of our problems to the White man. These people are sending the wrong message to our youth.  

As Black people, we've got to understand that if we are the ones who are affected by a problem, it is our problem to resolve, and no one else's.  Then once the problem has been resolved, we're rewarded with wisdom, growth, and pride.  But on the other hand, when we look to others to resolve our problems for us, we open ourselves up to manipulation, a lack of respect (from inside and outside of the culture), and we receive very little satisfaction in the end---the Affirmative Action Program is a case in point.  Many of us swore by Affirmative Action--we saw it as a panacea. But the clarity of hindsight demonstrates that it did much more to us than for us.  

During the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties we held the moral high ground.  Our ability to stick together and demand our rights, along with the eloquence in which Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and many other Black poets, scholars, and musicians managed to articulate our position, captured the imagination of the entire world.  Many White folks who had never stood up for anything in their lives saw fit to march, write books, and even write their representatives on behalf of Black people.  Some White folks were so caught-up in the movement that they even tried to get their hair to kink-up or wore braids so they could look like us. But what we didn't stop to notice at the time, was that Richard Nixon was watching all of this as well--and it was he who signed Affirmative Action into law.

If we would have stopped celebrating long enough to think, someone might have said, whoa!  Wait a minute-when was the last time Richard Nixon wanted to do anything to benefit Black people?  It's a pity that someone didn't, because I'm sure that when Nixon signed that Bill, he had tongue firmly in cheek.  I can hear him now--"Ok, these White fools want to march and demand rights for these Black people, let's see how they feel when Blacks start taking their jobs, and bumping their kids out of the universities."  At the same time we began to loose the moral high ground.  White people began to say, wait a minute, they don't seem to be all that big on Civil Rights when it comes to their getting preferential treatment--they ain't no better than we are.  That's when the movement began to unravel.  

We allowed Richard Nixon to out maneuver us, and we've been paying for it every since. If it weren’t for the anger generated against Black people as a direct result of Affirmative Action, Ronald Reagan, nor either Bush would have ever been elected to office.  It was a gross waste of political capital, and the only ones to benefit from it were upwardly mobile Blacks, who probably would have been successful anyway, and White women.

If we'd been thinking at the time, we would have insisted that Affirmative Action be based on economic need rather than race. We would have also modified our cultural mindset to reward Black youth on the acquisition of knowledge and the pursuit of excellence rather than on how hearty they could party.  If we'd done that, we wouldn't have lost a generation of Black youth when Reagan flooded our streets with crack cocaine to support his war in Nicaragua during the eighties.  And as a result of that, we wouldn't have spawned a generation of the fools, raised by the fools, during the nineties. Now, out of the 4,852 freshman admitted into UCLA for the coming year, only 96 are Black--and 20 of those were recruited as athletes. That's a damn shame, and a clear indictment against the Black community.

Now, that's keeping it real.

Eric L. Wattree, Sr.


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