I was moved by one man’s opinion that black people should should make intelligence an important part of our culture if they are ever to have the world to take notice. He juxtaposed the popularity of rapper with that of a doctor. Now while there was not an overwhelming response of people championing the opinion there were enough to make me scratch my head. Not only is this opinion echoed in heads of many, it is also taught to black youth in a manner to coerce them to follow a particular path. But why is this damaging take on black values still present? I understand that one cannot expect inaccurate opinions to be completely absent in the minds of black people. Ironically, I’d like to use an intelligent discussion to challenge this point of view. Considering that I have heard these accounts in various circles of blacks from all walks of life, it’s safe to say that the opinion is fact to so many.
The first issue with this take is the expected impact of black intelligence. Expecting the world to change its view of black people, defined as Black American people, is a lofty one. Across the globe, there are countless cases of discrimination against people of color. The disdain and disrespect for people of a darker hue is historical; it goes well beyond that from the western world also. The continents of Asia and Australia have been noted as having negative views of people of color. Add in the estimation that nearly 15% of the world population can be identified as “black”, it does not prove a reasonable expectation that the dismal number of blacks in the United States can their image in the minds of the people of the world.
Bringing that level of expectation down to that of the United States, the possibility is a bit better but still unreasonable. It is said repeatedly that Black Americans are 13% of the population of 321 million people who call this country home. That’s 40.6 million people. If the population of this country was redistributed to move blacks into cities, we would only be located in the top 35 most populated metro areas. To paint my picture clearly, here’s the list:
New York city, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Jacksonville, FL, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Austin, Columbus, OH, Fort Worth, Charlotte, Detroit, El Paso, Memphis, Baltimore, Boston, Seattle, Washington, DC, Nashville-Davidson, Denver, Louisville/Jefferson County, Milwaukee, Portland, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Tucson, Fresno, and Sacramento
The interesting part of that list is that there are several cities, like Atlanta, St. Louis, and Miami, that didn’t make that list would be devoid of black people. Beyond that, think of how much of this country would be left for everyone else. It is ridiculous to think that, in reality, these cities influence the worldwide or national view of this country. Each provides its own contribution to the fabric of the United States experience. Yet and still, black people are tasked with the burden of improving their image. I would love to see activist focus on these 35 cities only next time there is a national discussion on one of the -isms or any other hot button topic and not go out to the sticks to pull the Average Joe and Jane for their opinions. The ludicrous expectation of a small segment of people to sway the views of the masses is only a minor issue because it is easily invalidated.
What is it about blackness that is so problematic for black people? Why is it that for some black people they view themselves as not only monolithic but inflexible? I recently joked with my wife that we viewed being able to juju on the beat and reading as mutually exclusive. The post mentioned at beginning of this discussion compared the image of a doctor to that of a rapper. It makes a direct assumption that being a rapper lacks intelligence where a doctor has attained some amount of that intelligence. Black people use imagery to tear down aspects that have become part of black culture with no regard for fact that many of these are artistic expressions that not only require intellect to master but also a combination of natural skill. Rather than inspire talented youth to invest in activities to cultivate those artistic talents, this thought process is used to detract and discourage.
I get it; there are qualities of black life that others will never understand and deem uncomfortable. That’s fine. Those qualities are not for them (sang it Solange). That which is misunderstood is frowned upon. In no way does that devalue what is so much a part of blackness. When I say blackness, I’m not saying for ALL black people either. It’s perfectly fine if I like party rap and the next man loves gospel because within each lies a story of being black in America.
As for perceptions, I can personally say that I am a product of this thinking. Throughout my childhood, blacks in my life tried to curb my interests by cultivating an inaccurate narrative of who I should be to pursue the higher education I desired. I soon learned of this inaccuracy when I stepped foot on to a college campus and saw the diversity among black students. I also saw those who were products of this thinking trying to hang on to it as they struggled to find their way as a young Black American. I have found myself being more outspoken on these views these days than in those of my youth. Essentially, it becomes easy for my peers to resort to this line of thinking because we have passed our formative years. Lest we forget that once in our lives, we too, valued intellect and cultural expression. We should continue to pass the knowledge down, and the meaning of blackness will run its natural course. Our interests and intellect are not mutually exclusive. To the contrary, intellect can drive the best to the top tier of our interests whether in the arts or the sciences. As for the opinions for those on the outside looking in, their opinions do not matter.