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June 08, 2004

Boot to the Head

The other day, I was listening to some old comedy routines. One of them is entitled 'Boot to the Head', in which a mystical martial arts instructor teaches urban wise-asses a lesson in patience. One of the urchins, challenging the ancient Chinese secrets of the master quotes the character Mel from the old TV show Alice. For his insolence he gets a boot to the head. This illustrates a theme in my writing, or something that should be a theme in my writing, which is the sustainability of black culture.

Simply stated, one hundred years from now, people will forget Nelly, but they will still be playing Thelonius Monk. In the words of Stanley Crouch, there is some music which seeks to 'elevate with elegance', and then there is music to shake your ass to. Seeing as men and women will always have reason to shake their asses, it won't really matter if it's Nelly or someone who has yet to be born, rise to pop stardom and then fall into obscurity. The asses will be shook, the tune forgotten. But for those cultural productions which are part and parcel of the will to reach excellence and perfection, for those which sustain the spirit, the memories will be strong.

Yet one could argue that the baser and more vulgar instincts will also be with us forever and arts appopriate to those should be remembered as well. Perhaps that is true, but as I look to culture in regards to the strength of a nation, there are clearly things that build us up and those that tear us down. There is nothing I find redeeming in such bling hiphop as Nelly's, no matter how clever and artful he may be. We should remember that our churches are hundreds of years old, and songs of faith are known by heart and will be sung through generations. Try singing "Its Getting Hot in Here" in church. You won't be there long.

This underscores my point. Black culture which is sustainable is so because it is superior. Those things which lead in the paths of righteousness will be clung to and revered. They give us strength to carry on, they bring us through the pain, they remind us of our value. These are the things that deserve to be called black culture. But the cult of the sagging pants, aping the ways of the jailhouse, do not deserve to be called black, no matter how many African Americans are living that nightmare. We are not sustained by the life on the inside. That is the way of death.

I hold out a great deal of hope that America can and will sustain a variety of classes. We already do with much success. And in that context there will always be some contest of authenticity over which whose preferences will mark African American culture. It might be the sonservative suburban black of Atlanta's Cascade Road. It might be the urban blue collar of Detroit's Belle Isle picnicers. It might be the hip cool mix of Brooklyn's bohos. America will help those who help themselves. But it cannot and will not be the culture of hate, despair, thuggery, and other social dysfunctions that are often called 'black' today.

There are many legitimate reasons why African Americans suffer in this nation. We are right to give our aid and comfort to those who have fallen off track. But we cannot afford the luxury of cosigning with those who settle for diminished and degenerate expectations of themselves. That is not a black thing. It is a thing of despair. Chuck D said it many years ago "You're headed for self-destruction". And we who have enough family to know ourselves should wave those people goodbye and not let them appropriate black culture. Let our warning be clear.

There will come days, when we are called to instruct, that we will be challenged by our students. They will try to take shortcuts and they will bring all types of ghetto philosophy to bear. Remember what your mother said when you got fresh. "Who do you think you're talking to? I'm not one of your little friends."

Boot to the head.

Posted by mbowen at June 8, 2004 10:58 AM

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Tracked on June 8, 2004 08:00 PM


Well said, brotha, well said.

Posted by: robert at June 8, 2004 07:56 PM

Just thinking of that routing makes me and my wife bust up.

"But we cannot afford the luxury of cosigning with those who settle for diminished and degenerate expectations of themselves. That is not a black thing. It is a thing of despair."

Definitely. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the term "defining deviancy down" as he discussed the damage that a long-term welfare mindset would cause. His liberal bona fides can't be questioned. Society can have a safety net, and that's a good thing, but when the safety net becomes a permanent hammock, that's a different story.

Boot to the head. Great post.

Posted by: Aaron's Rantblog at June 9, 2004 12:27 AM

100 years from now they'll be playing Ray Charles and Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix, too. It isn't all about the jazz, though the jazz is nice.

Posted by: Bill Benzon at June 10, 2004 04:08 PM

and 100 years from now, Rakim will still be eating up 21 MCs at the same time.

Posted by: Avery at June 15, 2004 07:37 AM