I heard some nonsense on the radio last night. Fiddy, Diddy and Jay-Z collaborating (sort-of) on a mediocre tune titled to dish on their rankings among the Forbes magazine music/hip hop top cash cows. The song arrived amongst much DJ fanfare and text, email and calls almost shutting down the station's communications! What shock and awe!
Two weeks before, at a school in District Heights, Maryland--an area that is the very definition of the "new" "suburban" ghetto, a little boy among dozens who qualify for free tutoring, lunches and God knows what else asked me if I was "rich." I was there as part of a parents' night which included introductions to these new services under the No Child Left Behind Act. The school's already on the Act's shit list and no wonder. But this little boy figured if I was wearing a suit, I must be rich, and asked me if I worked for...yes-Jay-Z. He was only five and accompanying his mom and two sisters who were enrolled at the elementary school; he was telling me he watches TV a lot with his older cousins who babysit and they said Jay-Z was rich and a white magazine(I guess Forbes) confirmed that. "Mr. Charlie's" imprimatur thus conferred, it must be good!
Well, I said no to the child. I wasn't rich. Far from it. He asked me what I did and I said I am a writer I teach some college classes and then readied for the explanation I usually give kids under 8 when they aske what I do. He scrunched up his little nose as his mother shouted for him to come (they'd picked up some free goodies as well as a brochure for the free tutoring) and said: "Then why you got them clothes on? Are you white?" Like I said, he was only five. I laughed and his mother who was about 21 years old yet who looked much older, apologized. Not a biggie, I assured her, but I said her daughters should look in the media center (that's what they call libraries now...and you wonder why kids rich or poor can't friggin read) for references to people like Kenneth Chenault, or the late Reginald Lewis, even Bob Johnson (based ONLY on his current endeavors and f*ck BET!) or any number of black scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs in all sorts of product and service areas OTHER than hip hop. Or Osceola Davis, a maid who saved and invested her money such that she was able to donate $2million to charity. This lady then scrunched up her nose at me. "Well they ain't got time for that. G'night sir."
Bye. And on top of this, we have a study by the Washington Post that black kids going to private schools or "good" public schools, and otherwise from middle class backgrounds, are consistently being outscored on PSAT and SATs and many are failing to explore AP classes or other means of enrichment and access to college. Flash to today. I'm in a "gucci" Safeway. School's out at 3pm. I'm talking to a bunch of young brothers who attend a nearby "good," actually "great" public school in Montgomery County, Maryland. Their parents are professionals, including a physician, an associate general counsel at a local defense contractor, a high school prinicipal, a colonel in the US Air Force and a manager at the GSA. All are wearing "Tall Tees." The long tee shirts you see covering the baggies. After the baggy pants/exposed undies banning fever in some towns subsided, now folks are shrugging off the "racist fashion police" mantle and decrying tall tees. Now, many folks say only thugs and criminals wear this stuff and on a radio talk show the point was made, then a calls flooded the hosts saying that's not true...and then literally EACH caller chuckled and described the type of shady shit they were into when they weren't at work or school. No lie. Two of the young fellows had yanked wave caps over their heads. They said their parents either didn't care or didn't know. I'd just up and asked them; maybe they thought I was a cop or a some old gay perv? Who knows--I told them I was a writer and I think i showed them my expired NABJ card and my current Mystery Writers of America card so possibly I had some credibility. I said why do you dress this way. People say it's thugware. Criminals' uniforms. They laughed again and said it's cool that I asked in an intellectuall curious rather than disdainful way but it's really none of my business. But then there was the obligatory nods to certain rappers and the cool comment segued into the notion that yeah, the could were regular pants, a collared shirt or polo, nothing on their heads, but that would make them too much like everyone else. So would studying TOO much. Their parents push them, but in some pro forma, usual way. No passion, no direction. One kid said his mom bought a new luxury car helped by the proceeds of a house re-fi (no mean feat these days) yet bitched and moaned when he suggested she spend $350 on SAT review course materials and two hours of one on one test prep. Notice I said new luxury car. The old one was a luxury SUV model and gas guzzler. The new one's a sedan. He's got the low-rent form of test prep but says...and, here's the tie-in, fanboys and girls, Jay-Z's on the Forbes magazine list and's got Beyonce naked in the bed each night, so he's thinking he'd like to go into music production (sound engineering?) and event planning. His white classmates think that's the tightest career aspiration in the class. Of course most of them are going to college and beyond, but hey...soon their "wigger" compatriots arrive and are all tight in their tees and baggies and "yo thisand that" and they're flirting with the bevy of loud and round sistas coming in whilst my black quasi-thugs are feening for the giggly gaunt WHITE girls coming in (and a few Middle-Eastern looking teen queens too). Everyone loses interest in me and only one of them says "Yeah seeya, Mister Sir." Mister Sir being a snarky label I'd say.
When I say black people need to sit back and re-assess everything as a race...a national day of reassessment and repose...I'm only half kidding. I didn't have time to tell those kids that it's better to use Malcolm Forbes and then nerdy-ass Steve Forbes as models, rather than Fiddy. Maybe they've heard that. Maybe they could use their own parents as models, yet their parents appear bound and determined not to let that happen. Paying bills and keeping up with the Joneses and Mr. Charlies can do that. But not when it comes to the only resource we have, the only trump card we have. Our kids. And yet even that card's stained and spoiled and grubby. Make me want to cry sometimes. Or...just try to get rich and forget about it...