In today’s era of “skinny jeans” and every other rapper down south is named “Lil” (remember when cats use to use “Big” in their monikers?). There is something within street sub culture and society that is triggering much debate and speculation. Being that today is Father’s Day, I felt it beyond fitting to elaborate on a vicious cycle i’ve seen all of my life on various levels, which has helped me understand today’s apathetic “skinny jeans.”
This is this the first installment in my essay series “Its Like A Jungle Sometimes”.
“Where Im From”
As of lately, i’ve been coming to grips with the after effects of not having a father present in my life. Like many of us, we go through the trenches of this void while bumping into walls and roadblocks, concentrating more on what’s within our reach as oppose to whats not there. I was very fortunate to have an amazing grandfather, siblings, uncles, elders and “big homies” who guided me through the journey towards manhood. However, being reared in the East Side of South LA (eventually moving to the Baldwin Hills district many years later), I grew up with what many would consider a living contradiction, while at the same time having a strong sense of identity at a very early age. My mother and grandmother made it a point to instill in me our family legacy, celebrating great men that championed during a time of Jim Crow while brandishing their assortment of decorated honors for serving our country. Making it a point for me to know that my uncles rubbed elbows with pivotal icons such as The Kennedys and Malcolm X while these enterprising self made young men created opportunities for themselves, not waiting for “the man” to give them a pass in their future.
They made it a point for me to know that they owned land and property at a time when it wasnt fashionable, setting a tone for many other cultures to follow. Civil Rights, Equal Opportunity and Excellence resonated with everything they worked for and sacrificed while still dealing with the harsh reality that someone desired them in a lesser light.
This gave me a blueprint to follow in addition to the values and virtues instilled by my beloved mother who single-handedly raised all 5 of us (while attending college, holding down a mortgage and private school for me and my sister). Whether my father was in the picture or not, there was a criteria expected of me.
With that being said, its beyond safe to say that there is a perpetual distortion of Black Masculinity that has lasted for centuries. I say this while fast forwarding to a society where the image of African-American men in the media have been tremendously tarnished due to the over excess of “homo-eroticism”, “madea”, “thug life” ,
“no good brother” and other forms of voluntary buffoonery, flunky-like types which has created a one-dimensional scope for African American youth and society at large. For youth raised in single parent homes and/or by the system, this presents a very dark cloud in aspiring to become anything greater than what is portrayed in the media (Real and Chance?, College Hill? Lil Wayne? GTFOH..). Where is the outrage or has drinking the kool aid become chic?
There has always been a huge fear of Black Male dominance in just about every arena. As author/historian Donald Bogle once stated (in reference to the “Black Penis Theory” and Jim Brown films taken from the documentary “Jim Brown: All American” ) “he’s well endowed, erect and ready to use it.” A metaphor of what African-American men will do in the name of survival and gut instinct at which leadership and dominance takes place. The irony is that African American males are the most imitated and loved yet feared, hated and envied in the same degree (This does not make us better or less, but if you take in consideration the 400 yrs + odds that we’ve faced and still stand gracefully while thriving; It puts us in a very “unique” niche).
For some, it is still taboo and a hard pill to swallow. So what do you to tame the lion? (if you will). You eliminate his purpose by stripping him of his true character and distorting his image, which has been demonstrated throughout various media outlets, film, radio, sports and television. Why is it that we see images of athletes that are in constant hot water? Yet we do not see amplified images of NFL draft pick Myron Rolle who is a Rhodes Scholar. Why is it that Tyler Perry is celebrated for constantly sporting a dress wanting to look like a horrible version of my grandma? To add insult, there is not one African American positive male image that is uplifted in any of his films. While Spike Lee has introduced a plethora of amazing actors with a well balanced viewpoint and a multi dimensional audience.
My point is, something has got to give and there must be balance. The new generation are embracing these images & stereotypes as gospel while questioning themselves without lack of guidance in many cases. There is hardly any rights of passage or a code of ethics that this new generation can look forward to. In the words of Kool and The Gang, “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?”
To further explore, lets examine the character “James Evans” (played by legendary actor John Amos) from the 70′s hit sitcom “Good Times”. I personally remember being excited every time James would excercise some type of discipline into the household and made sure he reinforced his tough stance with love while respecting his dedicated better half “Florida Evans” (played by the late great Esther Rolle). James’ character reminded me of how my uncles and elders got down, they weren’t the flunky types, they came with the business at your doorstep! For me as a kid watching this, I felt a sense of connect and pride while watching the show (even though it echoed the ills of poverty and celebrated decorated stereotypes yet always had a moral in the end, plus great music and THELMA!). However, I never lived in a housing project in my life nor did my household celebrate broken english while excelling, at the same time I never lived in a Bel Air penthouse either. The main factor I respected about the show during its “James” era was the echoing of pride and dignity, while James displayed his alpha male swagger in each episode. His character fell in the pocket with other “dons and icons” such as Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Calvin Lockhart, Robert Hooks, Harry Belafonte, Billy Dee Williams, Nathaniel “Rollo” Wilson,etc In 1976, the character of James Evans was written out of the script (due to John Amos opting out a renewed contract due to his refusal to play second banana to “Kid Dynomite” and other dumbing down factors in the script). I viewed this as a symbolic move to emasculate the African American male and elevate JJ’s shenanigans (played by the great Jimmie Walker) and handing the pants to “Florida Evans” (they would never remove “Howard Cunningham” from “Happy Days” and promote a fatherless single parent home). At this point, the show made a mockery of every male character that entered the Evans household. Even Keith (played by the great actor Ben Powers) the gentleman that married Thelma (played by the great actress Bernadette Stanis) broke his ankle (due to tripping over JJ’s foot), he never got a chance to move his family out of the projects. Thus, we fast forward to the mid 1980′s where another great sitcom “The Cosby Show (anchored by the great icon Bill Cosby) used a similar premise as “Good Times” but in a more elevated setting and a direct result of upward mobility while the array of African American male characters were shown in a great light that everyone could relate to. This was during a time when Hip Hop was reclaiming the masculinity (which in many cases were over compensating with too much bravado) that Soul and R&B lacked. Icons Prince & Michael Jackson were leading a new generation of Soul/Pop/R&B fans with glitter socks and g-strings, Unlike the swagger of icons such as James Brown and Rick James that left a lingering effect on many kids around the way (Rick James wore the leather and lace too but he made it clear as to who he was taking home at the end of the show). The 80′s became a very cloudy and dismal era due to the effects of Reganomics and crack cocaine which effected many communities while drastically changing the perimeters of many families who did not survive it.