For many Black males there is not a question of success, rather a question of the type of success that they will occupy. My mother and father set as cornerstone of my development that I was special and that there were imperatives to being special; namely practiced faith, work, sacrifice and commitment to community. These fundamentals informed the context of my development and are in the main of how our society appreciates successful people.
I start with my life as example because it is normal. The precedent that my parents set with me is not an anomaly, nor is it the blueprint. Nonetheless, Black males in America are typically pushed, from birth, to be better than and to be nimble, disciplined and strong enough to remain sane and to live life in a society that considers them a problem. This negotiation, or orchestration as my mentor Professor Gordon likes to call it, is complex, nuanced and though not always socially acceptable is a success in its own right considering the perils of progressing as a Black male in the Western Hemisphere. These psychological successes are important to recognize. Therein lies the thinking behind this manuscript.
Too often scholarly research and popular culture present Black males within a faux orbit of one-dimensionality. There is the routine othering of Black males, the positioning of them outside a place of normalcy. As a rule, the way we understand Black males in American society is not in terms of success, at best it is in terms of survival. I argue here that within survival are abilities and attributes that mirror those found in the very best kind of successes. In operating from this perspective those abilities and attributes can inform identities that are psychologically stabilizing and socially rewarding. Most importantly, however, this text utilizes Black males as a tool in the push toward theory.
In growing up, as is stereotypic among many Black American males, I listened to a lot of hip-hop music—I still do. Within this genre I was always fascinated by the stories of racialized struggle and the negotiation of that struggle in the three to five minutes allotted for the record. It was tremendously motivational for me. Whether it be the incendiary rebellion of Ice Cube, Geto Boys and Public Enemy, the sophisticated articulation of KRS-One, De La Soul and Rakim, or the insightful social criticism of each, I was captivated by their storytelling and by the negotiated identities of these Black males amidst a reality of racial inequality and systematized oppression. Imagined or real, there was substantive psychological work being done that spoke to the agency and awareness of these Black males and to their ability to cope and to defy — to balance. I found messages here that extended beyond Black male rhyme writers.
The coping found in the Black male experience I saw as particularly salient and thought it a good illustration of how identities are driven toward stability. I have since woven this into the fabric of my research agenda.
I believe this is the good and the possibility in Black male expression, and in a hip-hop behemoth that is much maligned.
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