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Gibran

EXCERPT; THE UNMAKING OF THE BLACK MAN

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                                                                                                                                                                 9

                                                                                                                                                          Hood Rats

As far as it goes, image is the most powerful behavioral mechanism in the ‘hood. There is nothing ambiguous about it. A tough one is indispensable, and when it comes to understanding the human condition in the ‘hood, nothing is more serious. After image, everything else is secondary.

 

In every sense, the deeds of hood rats emerges from their image which is, strictly speaking, a social commentary drawn out of the mYth of their family legend because in ghetto culture, the nature of how you get a headstart on the block is usually derived from the known or reputed oral accounts of your big brothers, uncles, or father’s reputations. A well-armed image is a cultural heirloom that can be passed along among family and close kin, but no matter how ‘bigged’ up the image is, you are expected, at some point, to stop riding on the rep of your ancestors and to forge your own image.

 

In many ghetto families, the only thing passed down are the name and the image, and what will matter most in the end, despite their scars, battles, marriages, and failures, will be how close the sons have remained to the true image of their fathers. This is the essential element of success in the ‘hood, and though it may appear incomprehensible to outsiders, the quality of life in the ‘hood can be assessed by how much suffering gets done to preserve, live up to, or to enhance your image.

 

Image, then, is the premier social device whereby hood rats are measured, conceptualized, and given meaning, but since the reflexive character of image lacks the social reverence of identity, it is easy for a brotha to transform his identity, but harder to relinquish his image. That is why some brothas who identify themelves as Muslims, Christians, etc still portray the image of a thug. Identity is like a hall of mirrors. Image is.

 

Identity can distort, and oftentimes it is not always a true reflection of the person as individuals can wittingly and unwittingly misidentify themselves as so many brothas have found out when they have unsuccessfully attempted to identify themselves as bonafide members of white, corporate America.

 

In the hood, the role of image helps to diminish anxieties about place because everyone contributes to the peace by walking their own tightrope. A ho is always a ho. A stick-up boy is always a stick-up boy. A playa is always a playa. Therefore, everyone know how to occupy their space. The danger comes in when hood rats try to experiment.

 

Whether coincidentally or not, ‘hood rats will indelibly associate with conditions on the block they recognize as socially validating to them, and once they claim their set of  conditions, they will automatically begin to ascertain who is either stronger or weaker than they are. This is the proverbial, urbanized hunter-gatherer instinct.

 

In the ‘hood, social conditioning begins immediately after birth. From an early age, ‘hood rats are much more to be ‘doers’, who, once they learn to walk, spend quite a bit of their waking hours in active participation of one pursuit or another in direct contrast to non ‘hood rats whose traditional formative years are engaged with greater verbal instructions and cues.

 

Baby ‘hood rats are more externally expressive and alert due to the fact that they make contact with their environment sooner, and as an unforeseen bonus, they are less apt to become traumatized by the ever-changing (worsening) of society because they tend not to suspect their biological disadvantages as much as they do the shortcomings of the physical environment. (That’s why when things go wrong, white people blame themselves. Black folks blame society.)

 

Quite naturally, in an environment where the universally agreed upon response is to ‘re-act’, the technical ability ‘to do’ is as valued as computer literacy, and that, unarguably goes to demonstrate why bigger, faster, and stronger are the ultimate ‘hood qualities.

 

Isolated and cut off from mainstream America, the ‘hood established a subculture unique to the whole world, placing great  emphasis on Eubonics as the required language, Motown as its cultural soul, and the church as its center.

 

At the same time, however, white America had just experienced the most prosperous 30 years in its entire history. 1945-1975 had turned out to be a golden era for the American mainstream, and there was plenty of spending money in the hands of white folks.  With money to burn, Uncle Sam spent untold billions on the construction of new suburban malls and new highways to get to them. Unsurprisingly, not a red cent of this post-war wealth was distributed to the ‘hood. In response, our Eubonics grew more pronounced. Our music more personal, and our religion more private. (In what is perhaps the greatest paradox of our lifetimes is this: how in the hell is it possible that a powerless people could be enveloped by such a powerfully negative image!)

 

Nonetheless the ‘hood, unremittingly grim, was nothing more (or less) than the evolutionary ass-end of The Great White Society with both the harsh environment, and even harsher white men as antagonists. In the ‘hood, there was never any ‘all things being equal’ to be considered, and the government could identify no viable reason to regulate affirmative action for black America since it could never be determined exactly what pillar of mainstream society would be upheld by their upliftment. “Hood rats proved, once and for all, that democracy was not equipped with the social or political muscle to compete with its own shortcomings.

 

In nearly every quarter of white America, nothing provoked Uncle Sam to acknowledge that class differences, second only to ‘cracker chauvinism’ would strap black America to a constitution with a closet full of rattling skeletons.

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