Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Writing Process

Writing for and about young urban Black girls seemed effortless, to me. Most likely because I was writing directly to my own teen, so parent stress and counselor know-how gave me the wheels I needed to get the project moving. But in coming up with a male book counterpart I'm finding myself conflicted between the theories of Kunjufu
(conspiracy to destroy Black boys), Akbar (the community as a self), the Clarks (White and Black dolls experiment), Leary (post-slavery syndrome), Fanon (the psychology of the oppressed), Wallace (hyper-masculinity), Sanford (the politics of educating Black children), Woodson (miseducation), Wesling (symbols and power struggles), Karenga (Black Studies), Asante (africentricity), Cross (identity crisis) and Father Cosby himself on responsibility and accountability. Do we have to be in conflict over approach and direction? Aren't all these theorists, including Cos, correct in their explanation of why our boys are in the condition they are today? Are any of these theories over-exaggerated or overlooked? Most junior Black psychologists leave graduate and doctoral school without ever hearing about any of these psych gurus. The psychology curriculum in America is still very much a White male-dominated concentration with minor mentions of our own accomplishments in the field. This way the message stays focused on the glorification of European-American thinking while diluting or virtually dismissing the psychological effects of the African holocaust.

I have my points of reference (my wheels) and have a clear idea of how I want this here project to move; what I want the reader to walk away with. That's the easier part. The challenge is in establishing my own theory, if I can even call it a theory, without coming off to psychological, too sterile, too disconnected from reality. Or do I just build from what the experts have already presented and offer something new, something not so new but a more current version of what it means to be Black, male, oppressed and miseducated, and what roles do conspiracy and accountability actually play in the search for possible solutions?

But I'm not writing to and for my colleagues or that group of gatekeepers who decide what an ideal dissertation should look and sound like. I'm speaking to the young bruhs themselves, so I can't waste time appeasing the intellectuals when it's the supernaturals I need to impress. The pre-teens, teens and young men who didn't read Father Cosby's book not because the message is irrelevant but because it's packaged in a way that caters to traditional readers, Black educators, especially, who tend to have more conservative views on what it means to save Black boys. They often follow formulas that are european-based and therefore useless to our boys and their frustrated parents. Telling our youth to take responsibility for their actions is one thing. But not discussing how systematic racism and generational poverty directly affect self-esteem and community progress is once again blaming the victim, not the culprit who created the problem, to begin with, and exploits it, whether it be music videos or the retail industry. The ideal book on young urban Black males should be written by a young kat, because it's his voice we should be focusing our attention on and not how well we can get him to fit into mainstream literature and society, in general. Some parents may have bought Cosby's Come On People and found themselves force-feeding the book's message to their sons or by-pass the message altogether since its author has seemingly developed a rep for being detached from the realities of everyday urban life. It's great to have the likes of Larry King to help promote your book, but if folks in da hood ain't talking 'bout your book you don't exist, son! And when your chapters list smells like more finger-pointing, more safe convo ('safe' in the sense that you avoid holding White privilege and negro mentality accountable), you gain the respect of your peers but not the very population the book is supposed to be written for--

What's Going On With Black Men?
It Takes a Community
We All Start Out As Children
Teach Your Children Well
The Media You Deserve
Healthy Hearts and Minds
The High Price of Violence
From Poverty to Prosperity

I don't mean to jump on the Eric Michael Dyson beat up on Cos bandwagon, but tell me who these subtitles speak to. Tell me who in da hood doesn't know about the plight of Black men, that it takes a village to raise a child, that we were all children at one time. Show me a Black child or adult who doesn't yet know that we have to school our boys on the wickedness of street life, how the media exploits and misinforms, to eat right, to put down the guns, and how poverty doesn't have to be our collective reality. We know all this already, pops. And a single mother can use that $25.99 plus tax on groceries or outstanding bills. Fact is, we've heard all this before. Or more specifically, our boys have heard all this from those who label them as problematic to those who fear or downright despise them. There's this assumption that poor Black people enjoy living in and around crime and violence, and that Rap glorifies street culture. Yet we don't consider changing the realities of inner-city living if we want young bruhs to have more to Rap about than just guns and ho's. I personally don't follow gangsta musak but I don't blame the Lil Waynes for bringing up what we'd rather avoid. Kids today assume Black culture is street culture. We know better, of course. But when you live in a war zone and have to dodge or tolerate bullets, starvation, unemployment, mental illness and shady police officers, it's easy to view Black as wild, wild west which should explain why so many young men try to look and act tough and detached emotionally in order to fit in and not be targeted as weak or different. You can't be different in a hostile environment. You become isolated, picked on, run out of your own community or, in more serious cases, murdered. So to tell Black folks--regular Black folks--to Come On and get it together is like telling a rape victim to stop their whining and carry some mace next time! That's how our boys see it. This notion of armoring yourself to avoid any attacks when their version of armor (and honor) is what challenges traditional parents and educators. We see the sagging pants as a sign of psychosis, if not plain rudeness, while they believe it's a way of rebelling against the System that failed them, their parents and their grandparents. So why at this point should they assume that the suppressing of the self for assimilation-sake is in their best interest? They look around and see Black people still with no power. Fine accomplishments across all fields, but no real power. We have a Black President but no jobs for Black men, especially; nor has Obama presented a Black agenda, even after repeated requests from Black statesmen and women. Them mom n pop stores that were solid employment sources for our youth are virtually non-existent, and gentrification is the modern genocide forcing poor Blacks out of historically African American neighborhoods to ghettos of displaced peoples. Ask most young Nubians what success means to them and they'll tell you-- Having money and more money. Cosby money. Because when you have Cosby or Oprah or Michael Jackson money you can afford telling poor Black folks to get their act together and develop better relations with the police. Because in the neighborhood you live they don't shoot a Black man for carrying a hairbrush or shoot him fifty times to get him to stop running.

To be fair, Cosby and co-author Dr. Allen Toussaint were mindful enough to include the following messages--

Build On Our Legacy
Get Smart About Sex
Don't Count Out the Ex-Offenders
Reject Victimhood
Don't Imitate the Slavemasters
Slow Down On the Fast Food
Eat Together As a Family
Speak Out About HIV/AIDS
Face Up to Mental Health Issues
Respect Your Children From the Beginning

Still, how do my sons build on legacy when they see capitalism or the focus on I versus We as the driving force and not culture and ethnic pride? How do I get smart about sex if my parents are in denial about sex? What do we mean by supporting ex-offenders if we as a country spend more money recruiting Black male inmates than Black male college students? What does victory mindset looks like if I can't find a legit job and don't fit mainstream society's definition of success? If I'm told I'm imitating slavemasters by calling my peers and myself the N word, then how is it appropriate to push colored and negro? As in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and United Negro College Fund. If I slow down on the fast food, is the corner bodega gonna supply healthier foods? Will the new organics store consider my parents' limited funds or cater to residents who don't look like me? If we eat together as a family, will the discussion be surface or honest without conditions? If I bring up HIV/AIDS, will the focus be on how closeted gay men are causing the crisis or that depression, unprotected sex, and the avoidance and denial of reality are what causes the stats? How do we address mental illness in the Black community without ever mentioning post-slavery syndrome? And what does respecting your children looks like when mom or dad is taking parenting lessons from religious doctrines?

Father Cos also says it's all about choice. But what choices does an inner-city youth have when confronted with all types of negative forces and limited alternatives? Remember Nancy Reagan's Just Say No slogan? Drug addicts, legal and illegal dealers and physiological experts alike will tell you that the body doesn't respond to slogans. So what does it mean, really, that it's all about choice? Sean Bell should not have gone to his bachelor party? Young bruhs shouldn't come off so Black if they want to land a job? Al Sharpton should've tried making threatened White people feel safe with him if he really wanted to win the presidential nomination? An entire school of at-risk Black students should've perfected their Shakespeare and not their Tupac if they were serious about graduating? Who's choice is it, really, anyhow? And isn't what we're really telling our sons is to learn how to play the Game of at least looking the part, if not being the part? These all-boys academies we're producing. Are they successful alternatives to a dilapidating public school system or are they merely training grounds for good little negroes? What happens when they're faced with racism and all the other isms that are part of the Black American experience? Will it be choice that prompts them to be angry at the tie and one-sided education they once revered after realizing that being judged by skin color is part of the foundation of capitalism? Who will be present to explain the contradictions of life and how a PhD still means second class citizen? Who will teach them how to cope, now that James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time is practically defunct? I know a number of high school graduates who won't be able to attend the cheapest university in our city because of shortage of seats. It's their choice to pursue a college degree, but without such opportunity, along with unemployment, what are these boys to do in the meantime? What do we have to offer them that the neighborhood crime lord can't offer? And don't say integrity because in a do or die setting, integrity is at the bottom of things to have.

I recently visited this African arts and clothing shop in Bmore, and after coming across a particular sculpture the White owner proceeded to tell me about my African history. It should no longer be a surprise to find African-based establishments be owned by Whites. If you want to control a people you simply learn as much as you can about them. So I showed my mother's manners and politely walked away hoping he saw my disinterest in his knowledge of ancient and modern sub-sahara as to say, You studied Africa. I am Africa! That's how it is for these boys? They take a question like, What's Going On With Black Men? and right away put the book down. It's not a shutting down at all but an expression of raw emotions and, more importantly, a sign of intelligence. Like a slave running from bondage or not turning the other cheek but driving a fist full of rage onto someone who just spit at you for having darker skin. That's not disobedience but intelligence. And one thing I know for certain from teaching High School, teenagers don't like dumb questions and they despise messengers of lies, and parents who are too afraid to speak up for themselves, if not for their children.

Stay tuned...


primamyrna said...


Bookstore in the Island of St. Thomas U.S.V.I. I can imagine your books selling off the shelves in this neat little bookstore by the harbor.

K. Koromantee said...

You're my #1 fan, you know that?! thank you so much for your continued admiration and support. and send me the name of that bookstore when you get a chance.

primamyrna said...

check link (think you may have to copy/paste)well worth it,It's always my first stop off the plane..

You hold the key, knowledge.
A good Teacher should be revered.

primamyrna said...

Thought you would like this, enjoy.