Setting the Bar Low

A few weeks ago, my boys and I were driving down to see the Rock the Bells concert and, as anticipated, we were stuck in traffic.  Bumper to bumper traffic.  Traffic that had us going at a consistent 5 mph for an hour and a 1/2.  Funny thing was that the traffic wasn’t for our concert, it was for a country music festival one town over.  Yes, you read it right. The slew of cars, pick up trucks and gas guzzling SUVs practically parked on the highway were not for A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Mos Def or the Cool Kids, but for Kenny Chesney. Who the hell is Kenny Chesney? Just a country singer who’s put out 13 albums, all of which have gone gold or better, has sold out every venue he’s been to and has been to the White House. The White House dog.  They won’t even let your favorite rapper stand outside the White House to take a picture.

So after finally breaking through the highway turned parking lot filled with tons cars that had “Honk If You Love Kenny” written on them and contained women with cowboy hats and bikinis on, we had an open road.  Wide open.  I could’ve swerved from side to side on a four lane highway and not even hit a tumbleweed.  I hope you’re getting the picture, but if not I’ll just say it bluntly.  The crowd going to the Rock the Bells concert was nowhere close to the amount of people heading to see Kenny and Friends.  Not to mention, they party way harder than us. Check this out…

So I started thinking, what exactly is “doing it big” in the grand scheme of things?  Maybe our perspective’s too small.  Maybe Black America’s bar for success is just a little too low compared to what is considered success for mainstream America.  Why do you say that Seattle?  Well I’m glad you asked.

Hip Hop is Dead, Long Live Kenny Chesney

Besides Kenny Chesney, popular American artists (particularly country and Christian artists) make ridiculous bank compared to successful hip hop artists.  You may not know this.  I know I didn’t.   Rappers may garner a lot of attention from mainstream media, but since when does popularity actually mean you’re getting a check?  Besides, half of the riches we see aren’t real, sorry to break it to you.  Even if they were, chains, cars and houses are not assets.  Businesses, artwork and stocks are. Even the Jigga man knows the deal.  Besides being not being a businessman but a business, man; he’s been known to compare himself to American icons like Frank Sinatra and other popular American artists.  Not even putting himself in the league of other mainstream rappers out right now.  And for good reason, have you listened to the radio lately?  Smh.

He’s Really Smart for a Black Kid

If music’s not your thing, well then how about something universal like education.  In particular, scholarships.  For those of you that have completed college, are in it right now or are currently applying, you’ve probably looked online or through one of those huge books for scholarships.  And if you’re Black, you were steered toward the African American sponsored ones.  That is if you weren’t also left-handed or 1/16 Native American.  Did anyone else notice that the requirements for attaining an African American scholarship were severely lower than any other one?  When I was applying the average GPA requirement for an African American scholarship was 2.5, while a standard scholarship was 3.0 or above.  Also, and I can say this off personal experience, you may also be turned down for being too much over the standard.  I’m not knocking these institutions, they provide a great service for Black students, but what example are they setting?

He’s a Great Black (Insert Career)

That term has always irked me, even more when Black people go along with it.  Although venues for celebrating success like the NAACP Image Awards and countless other Black career award shows are great, to me, it’s not enough to be the best within one slice of life.  I highly doubt icons like Sydney Poitier, Denzel Washington and even Will Smith set out to be Great Black Actors.  They sought to be the best, period.  So, why should I settle for being a Great Black anything?  I want to be the best as well, not just the best out of my race.  After all, I am competing with writers of other races for jobs, credibility and awards.  As far as I know, that’s the same regardless of what career path you choose.  Employers aren’t going to hire anyone because they’re best Black candidate they saw.

While our predecessors wanted us to rise above and build up our community, I highly doubt they wanted us to only stay within it.  Hence why schools are integrated and there is no longer any validity to the term – separate, but equal.   Throughout my life, I always heard the lesson of “you have to work ten times harder” than the next man.  To show your peers of other races that you can, in fact, run with them and even lead the pack.  And while it’s great to have attainable goals, we have to begin to run with the larger pack here in America and eventually lead it.  I personally think that happens when we stop settling and start abiding by the standards that everyone else is living up to.

But enough of me talking, what do you think?



10 responses to “Setting the Bar Low

  1. RightCoastLexSteele

    Quite a mouthful, Mr. Washington. Now first off, let me point out that if that concert would have been a Roots concert that this ish happened at, first off, the Roots would be banned from the Bean (if they arent already), and God himself would have a hard time getting a permit for anything urban for the following 10 to 15 years. That being said, I’m looking forward to the Jimmy Buffet (who?) Concert.
    I really feel that any comments I can add are either regurgitations (DEAR GOD I HOPE THAT’S HOW THAT WORD IS SPELLED) of things we’ve known for ages, are so idealistic and utopic that they will never see the light of practical application. It is very hard to undo 400 years of damage with legislation or the “hope” of a new election. This is a process that will take probably another 400 years to be realized. It starts in the home. Parents have to be the ones to hold the children they are raising to the higher standard. Back in the day, Papa didnt take no mess. Today, Papa is spending his bottom dollar in court so he doesnt have to claim you. And it’s only going to get worse. On the flip side of things, the way we are perceived in the eyes of our fellow Americans is also deeply ingrained in their brains and will take generations to change. It is as ingrained as our right to free speech and bear arms. I mean, shoot if for most our history we’ve been less than second class citizens, we should happy that we got a brother at least running for prez, right?

  2. Seattle Washington

    Right CoastLexSteele,

    You’re quite right. If any hip hop concert ended up like the Kenny Chesney one, we’d have all been arrested. And by all, I mean every Black person in Massachusetts at the time.

    Also, you have made some great points. The hope for a Black President will not miraculously change 400+ years of physical, mental and emotional abuse. And it is a great thing to wish for a brother in the White House and we should be happy that we have one running for the position currently.

    However, in order for Barack to be in his current position I’m sure he aspired to be a great leader, not a great Black leader. And while the obstacles set in front of us are there, and quite apparent, the only way we can conquer them is by attacking them head on. The time for training wheels is over. You’re right, America’s mindset about Black folk is not going to change. That’s something we have to do it for them. But we cannot do that if we just continue to live up to their stereotypes and not do our best to redefine them.

    Barack has done that, whether he wins the presidency or not, it’s time for the rest of us to follow suit.

  3. I agree.

    I think that black is seen as “less than” in this country. Well… in most of the world, really. When we still have people saying calling black women “pretty… for a black girl,” or “cute… for a dark skinned girl,” then yeah, that’s a problem.

    I was also told you have to be better than the rest just to be seen as equal. It’s totally unfair, but it is what it is and that’s kind of how you have to play the game.

    I really think we need to set higher standards for ourselves, period. For OURSELVES. We can’t scratch and claw and demand apologies from the others who like to stereotype us or just plain don’t like us. Forget that. We need to do better for US. Live up to higher expectaions for US. Like you said – be the best, period. Not the best black whatever. When we rise to a better standard for ourselves, I think that’s when more respect is simply demanded.

    Looking to others for validation is a dead end. We need to do better. For ourselves.

    How did you like Rock the Bells?

  4. Seattle Washington

    Well said Brownngirl, welcome to Three Ways. And I meant that in the cleanest way possible.

    To answer your question, Rock the Bells was one of the best concerts I’ve been to in awhile. There was a cloud of smoke once Redman hit the stage, Ghost and Raekwon held down Shaolin, Mos killed it and Nas gave the performance of his life.

    Also, if you haven’t heard about him… look up this kid Spankrock. He’s the evolution of Uncle Luke. His nasty lyrics will make you cringe and immediately put him on your iPod playlist.

  5. Hi, just dropping by. Interesting topic.

    When does popularity actually mean you’re getting a check?

    That’s a misconception many folks have. You have to make sure youngsters you come across idolizing some of these rappers know that what they see on TV isn’t real. It’s an act. They don’t know the cars are rented, some of the jewelry is rented and yes the cribs are rented.

    We’re happy with a piece of the pie sometimes without realizing–we might be able to get more of the pie–how about the whole doggone thing. P Diddy, Russell Simmons & Jay Z are a few that understand this. They have used their fame and have created empires that will churn money long after the record stops.

    You made a point. Why do we have to be labeled the best Black anything…why can’t it be the best so & so.

  6. For a black writer, this is a thought provoking entry.

    I kid, I kid.

    Being black in this country has and will always mean different standards by which we are measured, and measure ourselves. I was just at a conference for minority students entering law school, and one of the underlying points was to be better than our majority classmates.

    While this is unfortunate, it is absolutely necessary. Thinking otherwise is what has gotten black America into this rut of complacency that keeps us from making progress as though we are still, dare i say, in chains.

    I sure hope people, black and white, don’t think “we’ve made it” because Barack is about to be president. Like Mr. Fishburne said at the end of School Daze, “WAKE UP!!!!”

  7. Yes, I agree with what you all said. I must say that it’s frustrating that we are held at a different (read: lower) standard than everyone else. As much as I understand that there are some of us who are less fortunate than others, however, I don’t believe that means that ALL blacks need that special standard in comparison to everyone else.

    It will be funny when non-blacks start to realize we are slowly taking over (since they keep under-estimating us)… lol =)

  8. I agree with you 110%, but we have to fix a lot of stuff within ourselves. I think that as minorities we tend to feel some type of way, but you know what when i ride the train to work in the morning. I see a black kid embarrassing himself. Meaning being rude and vulgar and people are watching him. I feel embarrassed because these are where stereo types grow. I’ve worn and suit and gotten into a elevator and have a white woman clutch her person. I’ve let my pants sag and been called he “N” word. At some point something had to give.

  9. You know what, on the flip side of things, I’m tired of people telling me I accomplished something because I’m Black. What do I mean? Well, when I got accepted into [insert non-bougie Ivy League School here], I was told by a few of them otha folk, “Well of course you got in: You’re a Black woman; they need you.” (Dare they say I speak articulately, too.) When I got job offers from multiple companies, I got the same response from people. While I’m not ignorant to the so-called quotas many academic institutions and companies have, I find it an insult to my intelligence to say that my amazing personality and unbelievable work-ethic had nothing to do with my success. (I realize I OD’d…it’s fine.) Don’t get me wrong, I love that I can represent our people among the otha folk. Frankly, we need more of us: more Slim’s, more Seattle’s, more Tiff’s, etc. But I’m a firm believer that I’ll stand out and do well no matter what I do because of who I am, not what I am. That’s the level that we should all strive for. I know affirmative action is another discussion, but the successes of those who meet and even surpass the set standards of the “majority” need not be slighted or belittled by a reminder that we’re a minority within the minority–however true it may be.

    The point is, I’d take your job if I were blue.

  10. Pingback: My Degree Has Failed Me Miserably « Three Ways to Take It

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