In preparation for an upcoming talk to some young men I thought about how the paradigm for normalcy has been shifted for young boys of color. What I mean by that is I personally don’t think there is anything abnormal about being educated, not incarcerated, having a job (non-athletic or non-entertainer) or better yet being socially responsible. Yet somehow this narrative puts me and many of my peers in elite status. Although, I do recognize that only about 20% of African Americans hold college degrees and to go even deeper less than 1% have a doctorate degree, but this message is not solely about academic credentials. I also am keenly aware of the urban myth regarding black men and prison.
There are more black men in prison than in college…
If I were to reflect just upon my social circle both now as an adult and when I was a kid I would venture to say I know more dudes who became truck drivers, longshoremen, work at the Post Office or are school teachers in some capacity than I do in jail, the league (NFL or NBA) or in the studio with Rick Ross, Kanye or Jay Z. However, the launchpad to a quality life has been co-opted to the two aforementioned entry points (sports or entertainment) and anything short represent failure. What this further suggests to me is the perceived economic windfall that comes from such career pursuits trumps any focus on real world options that may allow many of our boys to evolve into to functional young men much less feel good and optimistic about being something other than a ball player or a hot rapper.
The all in approach of sports leave many young men of color degreeless and broken economically without a functional skill that’s applicable to the real world and the repercussions of the music game I would offer are even worse. The requisite narrative in order to be considered “hot” and even get a semblance of attention requires you to profess to a lifestyle that goes counterproductive to the greater good of any potential beneficiary of your success (see Bobby Shmurda).
What we have to do is say to young boys of color your ability to drain a 3, fly through the air and dunk, catch a pass or run like the wind are quite limiting relative to the totality of your life and this is just a moment and skill set in time. Therefore, use that skill as the jump off to educate yourself and develop options.
And to those young boys of color who see their microphone proficiency as their gateway from the mean streets of wherever they come from they have to be reminded that there is no romanticism in the conditions that create oppression.
You know it’s hard out here for a pimp
When he tryin’ to get this money for the rent
For the Cadillacs and gas money spent
Three Six Mafia
Their words have become antiseptic to a harsh reality that allows the struggles of many to go unnoticed or at the most taken for granted. Furthermore, those very same words normalize the hurt and pain relative to premature death and prison and ain’t nothing normal about that. Matter of fact your narrative has evolved through your lyrical experiences (both real and flat out bull shit) created an entire industrial complex that thrives upon your destruction.
There is NOTHING wrong with being able to fix, analyze or develop things, nor is there anything wrong with driving a truck or any of the other honorable professions that allow you to be free physically and mentally of harm. Matter of fact I would say that’s more normal than anything.
Shout out to all the dudes working normal jobs…
That’s My Truth and I am Sticking To It…
Dr. Irvin PeDro Cohen