Thursday, December 8, 2005

The Births of the Playa Hata and Neighborhood Superstar

During the turn of the 20th century, there were scholars and revolutionaries on both sides of the color line (Black and White) who were even more divided amongst themselves about the autonomy of Black Americans. You had one side of Black and White scholars who believed that the only way for Black Americans to thrive in America was to allow them to segregate themselves from the rest of the population. That way, none of their culture and ways would be stripped from them. They would be self-sufficient and govern themselves (to an extent, of course) and limit their contact with their White neighbors. On the other side, you had progressive Blacks and empathetic Whites who believed that since Blacks had played a major role in the very construction of this “great nation” then they should reap the same benefits as their Caucasian counterparts. They wanted a fully integrated society where one was judged by the merits of his or her character as opposed to one’s hue of skin. As history will clearly show us, the first group won out for the better part of the century. It wasn’t until after the Civil Rights Era that we started to realize the infinite benefits of the second group’s ideas. This piece will focus on the first group, though, because it was in that group that the Neighborhood Superstar and the Playa Hater were born.
It is naturally embedded in us as human beings to try to be the best at whatever it is that we do. It is human nature to enjoy a pat on the back from time to time. Whether or not either one of us will admit it, we are all (or have been at some point) attention whores. This goes back many centuries. People have always done things to try to draw attention to themselves. But the Black attention whore is a different animal. In the history of man, I don’t think that there has been a race of attention cravers who’ve done it with such style and flash (take Jack Johnson for example). And this is the essence of the Neighborhood Superstar.
Whether they did it willingly or they were forced to, Blacks were generally segregated from the rest of the population. So it became okay to some to excel only to the highest plateau in BLACK America (not America itself). Wealthy was a term used loosely, because looking at it from a broad view, very few (if any) Blacks were wealthy according to the standards of all those who’d owned plantations just a half a century earlier. However, in terms of the people who lived in their neighborhoods, they were indeed rich; a term of endearment still used today, “nigger rich”.
Those who had acquired such wealth were the ones fortunate enough to have access to resources outside of the Black community. And being among the wealthiest in the community was not enough. The fortunate ones had to let everyone in their community know that they were better off than the rest of them and as a consequence of their “wealth” they held more power than them. They had to wear nicer clothes bought from the “White” neighborhoods. They drove finer cars. They lived in nicer houses. Instead of trying to help those less fortunate, they rubbed it in their faces. They took on an attitude of “I got mine. You’ve got to get your own”. Thus, the Neighborhood Superstar was born.
Imagine being one of those people who was a friend of a Neighborhood Superstar before he became a Neighborhood Superstar. When neither of you had anything, you both made sacrifices for each other’s survival and well-being. But as soon as he acquires Neighborhood Superstar status, your friendship means nothing to him. He “buys” new friends, and no longer wants to do the things that you all used to do. Undoubtedly, some discontent toward your former friend will arise within your spirit. The more arrogant and flashy that your ex-comrade becomes, the stronger the discontent becomes. And the Playa Hater (as we know it) is born. I emphasize the “as we know it” because player hating (the bastard child of Hate and Envy) has been going on since Biblical times. Cain is the original player hater. He murdered his brother Abel in a fit of rage because their parents gave Abel more favor. Jacob is the most notorious player hater in history, because of what he did to his brother Esau. He stole this man’s birthright and blessings from their ailing and blind father, Isaac, by tricking him to believe that he was indeed Esau. God later changed Jacob’s name to Israel and an entire nation was born from him (Look at all Esau missed out on). Even those slaves who ratted out the plans of Nat Turner, Denmark Vescey, and various other slaves who tried to organize revolts could be put into a certain class of playa hater: the snitch. But that’s another story entirely.
But the Playa Hater as WE know it, started at the turn of the 20th century in segregated Black societies. Just as the Neighborhood Superstars adopted the attitude of “I got mine. You’ve got to get your own”, the Playa Haters adopted an attitude of their own: “He doesn’t deserve that. I want what he’s got.” And over the years, it (Playa Hatin’) turned into a “crabs in the barrel” syndrome. Every time someone tried to do better for themselves, there was always someone there to look down upon their looming success. Of the two (the Neighborhood Superstar and the Playa Hater), the Playa Hater has expanded itself among many different facets of life. The Playa Hater, today, can be found anywhere from a corporate board room (i.e. an all male staff trying to deny a deserving female an advancement opportunity) to the confines of a relationship (i.e. a woman’s best friend trying to dissuade her from being with a gentleman based solely but not overtly on the fact that that she, herself, is alone).
Even though these two staples of the Black community are a part of our rich culture, they both need to stop. So in closing, I leave words of advice to both the Neighborhood Superstar and the Playa Hater. First to the Playa Hater. To put it simply: STOP HATING!!! All of the energy that you put forth to stop someone else’s joy, could be used to bring joy into your own life. I can almost assure you that you would lead a more meaningful life if you spent the time to help someone rather than hurting them. And finally, to the Neighborhood Superstar, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do better for yourself, but I’d like to share with you this old Chinese proverb to take with you: The nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered down.

What Makes Me Me

This piece is being written to explain to people why they’ve never seen my drink or smoke. To put it simply, because I don’t do either of the two. I’ve even turned down communion at church because the wine was real. It’s THAT serious. Since I was a child, I’ve always tried to thrive on being different. I never hung out with anyone who was “like me”. Quite a few of my friends growing up were the ones who would grow up to be residents in our state’s correctional facilities or they’d eventually end up pursuing careers in street pharmaceuticals. And I, a clean cut kid from a good home, felt right at home with them. I never tried to do any of the things that they did (i.e. smoking, drinking, stealing, fighting, etc.) and they never tried to influence me to. They respected my stance on all of it. That just wasn’t my thing. And if I would’ve ever tried to do anything like that, I don’t think that they would’ve allowed me to. They understood that what I had going for myself could’ve easily been taken away with one wrong decision.
But ultimately, there is one person who is responsible for me deciding not to indulge in any of those vices. One would assume that it would be my mother, but it’s not. Perhaps a grandparent. Nope. Or was it the guy that graduated from L High as Valedictorian, and went to Chicago, where he smoked with some people he didn’t know, and they laced his joint with PCP, and now he’s legally retarded? Nope. Not him either. It’s not even Nancy Regan, whose anti-drug campaign slogan “Just say no” was at its peak during my wonder years. The person solely responsible for allowing me to resist the temptation of drugs and alcohol goes by the name of Eddie Warrant.
His name was Eddie Warrant, but we simply called him Ed. He lived two houses down from me. That is, of course, if you could call his place a house. It was more like a stack of wood nailed together just to protect him from the weather. From the time I was able to remember anything up until I was 15, I’d never seen Ed sober. He would walk the streets of our tiny community drunk beyond all human reason, and just sing all night. He’d knock on his neighbors’ doors asking them if they could cook a meal for him, because his place didn’t have power, gas, or water or anything else. It was just him. And the crazy thing about it is that Ed would work. He worked all week, and he made really good money. Now being that I’m from a rural area (the country as some of you people who swear to God that you’re from a major metropolis like to refer to it as), there was a lot of work to be done in fields and pastures. That’s where Ed worked. He’d do odd jobs for people who owned farms. And he made really good money from doing it. But once Friday came and he got paid, he had to go and re-up his stash.
This cycle went on for all my early life. But one day during the summer when I was 15 years old, my uncle and a couple of the guys from around the neighborhood were trying to put a radio into a car. Ed just happened to be walking by, and jokingly, we asked if he could come and help. We’d read the instructions, and had been out there since 11 am (it was around 5 pm by now). So Ed came over, and told us EXACTLY what to do with the wiring, and the radio was on and playing in less than 3 minutes. And when he walked off, we all realized that that was the first time that we’d EVER seen that guy sober. Over the next 3 years, before I left for college, I’d sit down and talk with Ed while he was sober, and the brother was deep. He had a really good head on his shoulders. And he’d ruined it all because he couldn’t kick his habit. Unfortunately, the year that I left, liquor started to get a little too weak for him, so as I understand it, now he’s shoving syringes in his veins. One of the things I never got to ask him while we talked was what made him start to depend on the bottle so heavily. And perhaps now, it’s too late.
I’m a firm believer that everything happens according to God’s perfect plan. My father wasn’t around when I was growing up, but there were a lot of men in my community that I would see and mimic until I got just the right mixture of all of them to make me who I am. Ed was not in those ingredients that made me me. Perhaps God put him in my life to show me how NOT to be and what things NOT to do. So I subconsciously made up in my mind very early on that that would NOT be me. On one of the best Southern Rap albums of all time, 8-Ball & MJG’s “On Top of the World”, Memphis-based rapper, 8-Ball, said one of the realest lines to ever be spoken when it comes to how time changes things: “That same brother that used to pimp that ‘fro and wear them stacks, he’s that brother today starving trying to buy some crack.” (think Fast Freddie from “Jason’s Lyric”). And I just could NOT allow that to be me. I know some people say that they can control their drinking binges and they can control how dependent they are on a certain drug. OK. Fine. Do you. But I have a better way of controlling mine: by not doing them at all. And for being able to say that and not really care what someone else thinks, I say THANK YOU EDDIE WARRANT.

Messy Breakups

I recently had a couple of close friends who both went through some really messy breakups. Now they’re both struggling to “pick up the pieces” and get their lives back on track. So I wrote this piece to help anyone else who may be going through a similar situation. I hope it blesses you.

As young adults, we often find ourselves in sticky situations in the relationship department. We allow ourselves to get so caught up in someone else that when their interest, attention, and (most importantly) affection begin to leave, we find ourselves in a tough spot. It’s human nature to be disappointed over a bad investment. And time is the ultimate investment. That’s the only thing in this life that’s impossible to regain once you’ve exhausted it. But there is a good way to look at this all. I’ll highlight some things that one can do to avoid being caught in such an uncomfortable situation. Having been on both sides of this equation more times than I care to mention, I’ve gathered a lot of information over the years. Here goes:

Keep it real – Now that phrase has been used very loosely since its inception. It’s grown to mean a variety of things. But what I mean in this instance is be completely honest. Often, things go sour because one person expects more from a relationship than another one does. In any relationship (business, platonic, romantic) there has to be a set of guidelines set out at the beginning. Both parties involved must know exactly what the other party expects to gain from the relationship. These guidelines must be stated explicitly (but with tact) so there will be absolutely no confusion. For example, if a young lady who’s had a crush on a brother for quite a while finally gets his attention, she’s probably going to want that ‘Romeo & Juliet’ type love affair. The guy, on the other hand, may just want a “9 ½ Weeks” type love affair. So you have to put everything out there from the jump so everyone will be on the same page.
Love Yourself – Before anyone can honestly say that they love someone else, they have to love themselves. It is impossible to love someone else before first loving yourself. And even when you have that part down, you cannot forget that before there was a “you all” there was just “you”. You know how to make yourself happy, and you should continue to make yourself happy. It’s not a good look to depend on someone else to be your source of happiness. If you have to depend on someone else to make you happy, you’re in a truly sad state. Your mate is there to complement your existing joy; “icing on the cake” if you will. And if you and I have the same God, you already know how jealous He can be at times. He doesn’t think too highly of us looking to someone else to do His job.
Come Back Down to Earth – Okay. I often see people losing their minds when a relationship goes bad. “Oh, man. She was the one. How can I live without her?” “God told me that he and I were supposed to be together.” Okay. Stop it. Just stop it. Apparently she wasn’t the one, and you’ll live without her now the same way you did before you met her. And stop lying on God. I didn’t even know he still spoke to us in stereo. When the union goes awry, just charge it to the game and move on. It’s natural to hurt. There will definitely need to be some time to heal depending on how long it lasted. But understand this: Every girl or guy that you meet shouldn’t be dubbed as “the one.” I do believe that there’s someone for everyone, but how do you know that your one isn’t halfway around the world? When “the one” does come, you’ll know it without having to think about it.
Get a Return on Your Investment – Stop saying that you’ve wasted your time when a relationship goes bad. You’ll always get out of it what you put into it. It may not be in the form that you’d like for it to be in, but you’ll get something back. Any time you’re in a relationship for an extended period of time, you’re NOT the same person as you were entering the relationship. Being with your mate changes and molds you in different ways that are often undetectable. But you are a better person for it either way. Embrace those changes as well as all of the positive experiences that you’ve shared with your ex-mate and let it spur you on to be a better person.
Understand Humanity – One of the biggest problems in relationships, especially at our age, is “cheating”. Okay, define cheating. That’s one of the things that should be done at the “keeping it real” stage. In addition to that, the tolerance level for “cheating” must also be established by both parties. That way, there will be no discrepancies involved. If this understanding is breached by either of the parties, one thing that the “cheated upon” party must understand is that the “cheating” party is human. As humans, we make mistakes. In fact, every mistake we make makes us even more human. I should say that in this case though, you don’t want your partner to be TOO humanJ. If it becomes habitual, you have to resort to a vital part of step 3: charge it to the game and let it go.
Get Rid of Your Tunnel Vision – Pay very close attention to this step. It will seem as if I’m contradicting myself, but I’m going to make a point. One of the things that we absolutely hate is when our mate brings baggage into the relationship from their past relationships. It restricts them from giving their full attention to their current situation because they’re still holding on to grudges from their past. This is strongly discouraged. HOWEVER, a little bit of baggage won’t hurt. In fact, it will help. If you’ve been through a rough situation in your past, you’ll feel twice as bad if it happened to you again. You can’t allow yourself to be so in love and so blind that you can’t see signs of the same thing happening again. You have to learn from past mistakes. But I reiterate, keep the baggage to an absolute minimum. Don’t let it dominate your relationship, and don’t allow it to hinder you from loving or being loved. Keep you just enough around to keep yourself from falling into a familiar pit.

And that’s only the beginning of it. However, that’s all that I have time to write at this point. If the spirit so moves me (or if it’s requested) I’ll continue this list at a later date. But in the meantime, if you’re going through a similar situation as my friend or if you’re thinking about entering a serious relationship, take heed to these steps that I’ve just outlined. They could help you to avoid a very stick situation.

© 2005 W. Mack