Being Black and a Hard Place


I know that sounds like a porn that you may have rented before (you know the one). And with the title of this blog you probably expected it eventually. Sorry to let you down, but this isn’t a post about our sexual endeavors. As blogworthy as they may be. This is about a topic that my successful Black friends and I have been talking a lot about lately. The fact that it isn’t easy to be an Educated Black Person in America. Not for the usual reasons like racism, glass ceilings and DWBs. No those are old, but still relevant, stories and I’m not going to bore you with all that. I’m talking about us. You and me homie. You may have noticed that things change once you came home with that degree. After all college changes everyone. Most of the time for the better. But what happens when everything else stays the same?

In case you haven’t noticed, I love New York City. Furthermore, I love my home. However, when I go back it seems like everything has stayed the same or depreciated. They may have redecorated the mall, but they still have metal detectors in the movie theater. Understand the allusion? Ok. Well, every time I go home I see the same cars parked along the street. The same older gentlemen posted up on their stoops, the same young boys riding bikes with basketballs under their arms and the same young girls walking around, looking awkward as they push baby strollers. I usually also see the same dudes I grew up with. And this time it was no different. After being waved down by an old friend, we talked for a few, catching up on what was going on with us. While talking, I noticed his eyes moving, gleaming actually. It didn’t take long before I realized, my “boy” was checking out my watch. And looking at my polo. And my kicks. Really fam, are you sizing me up?

That’s the way it rolls though. It’s not just the females that get jealous. While folks will congratulate you for getting that degree, the dude who comes home from the State Penn will get more love than the dude that comes home from Penn State. Messed up, but it’s the reality in some of our communities. I can’t run in the spots I used to go to. I just don’t fit in anymore. Truth be told, it doesn’t even feel right to have the baggy tee almost at my knees and some even baggier jeans on. At the same time, I can’t roll with the bougie Negro crowd. It ain’t me. At this point in my life, I’m not about vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard nor am I into eating cucumber sandwiches. Much rather have a chicken patty with cocoa bread and a pineapple soda while chillin in the park. Furthermore, I don’t walk around with my nose in the air and I still can’t stand being served by other Black folks. I’m not that far removed from members of my family who were the nannies for White families. Or worked as secretaries. Or in the service industry. Once you forget them, you forget yourself. I’m not about that. At all.

So where’s home? After someone attempted to roll up on my mom and I before he realizing who we were, I’m hesitant to say that my block is it. In the same respect I don’t feel comfortable with just packing it up and chillin with the talented tenth exclusively. While there are some of us that maintain the foresight and, more importantly, the hindsight to be confident and humble, there are others who have left their past behind. And will continue to do so as they progress further. I don’t feel comfortable doing that. Isn’t it all of your experiences that make you who you are? It’s not the four years in a bubble, and everything after that, which comprises your being? Right?

Let me know,

Seattle – Things Done Changed – Washington


31 responses to “Being Black and a Hard Place

  1. It’s my experience that you can never go back home. Everything’s changed. Folks that gave you dap before are now ready to pull a crab in a bucket maneuver. That’s all good though, if they’re hating, it means you’re doing something right. Success weeds out the friends by truth from the friends by proximity. I’m sure you still got folk round your way that will be down to ride the same way they were before you left. I know that’s the way it was with me. Some folks stopped taking my phone calls, others were looking for a hookup, but there were a few that stayed true, and I’ll consider them homies for life. And it’s not just like that for high school youngin’s or friends from the hood. I’m finding out it’s the same way for the people I met in college and after.

  2. I sometimes find myself floundering on the block as well but for the most part I was the same person and kicked it with the same folks. My friends went to school and those that didnt got jobs but hell college didnt grant me a golden ticket to the good life. I had a bullshyt 9-5 that paid 11.00 an hour and I had just enough to pay the bills and kick it on weekends. Now that I have a “good” job and make decent money, I have become more and more conservative and have outgrown the block in a lot of ways. It is what it is.. you grow and change and some shyt you have to let go but that dosent mean forget and disown…

  3. I feel your pain here. I definitely still chill in the projects but it’s much different. Neighborhoods all go through changes, ppl move out and ppl move in, but something else is happening in the hood. I realized that most n*ggas are doing the same exact thing that they were doing when I left. That’s why I tell everyone from the hood to go to school, you aint gonna miss nothing while you’re away. However, I think its easy to focus on the mofos that aint doin a damn thing but I point you to alot of ppl who are out there making moves. No they may not be going to college and doing I-Banking and Sales & Trading but they holding down a decent city job. Probably making it possible for their kids to go to school.

    And one more thing I hate about going home, if another person asks me how Penn State wass I am going to slap them. I DID NOT GO TO PENN STATE. I DID NOT PLAY FOOTBALL FOR JOE PATERNO. Ppl dont know the difference between Penn and Penn State.

  4. Vanessa aka Miss V

    glad you brought this out in the open because i was definitely thinking about/going through the same thing.

    really, though… this change/growth has inspired me to do as much as i can (and in my own way) to make it better for people who have achieved as much as me, as well as those who haven’t. so while i currently don’t fit in with my old crew or ‘hood, that doesn’t mean i can’t use my ivy-league degree to lift as i climb. 😉

  5. I think it is something that is very hard to deal with to be honest. I am so New York City, i often use to say this is the only place for me. As i have gotten older i am slowly starting to change i guess. I use to joke around to say i was like Nas when he said “i knew the pimps, junkies, thugs..everybody” but i do. So yea i grew up in the hood, but everyday i grow past the hood. After i did those first couple months of college and i came home at Thanksgiving i realize coming home will never be the same.

    Now i don’t live in the part of town where i grew up anymore. To be honest i barely go back and visit only to see my parents. I’m not here saying that i am doing better than anyone over there. Like Seattle said the nose is not sticking up the air over here. Just some people, where I’m from are still stuck in the same place and their world isn’t bigger than their surroundings.

    So where is really home? I live on a block where i don’t know anyone but the people in my building.Honestly which my block isn’t so different than the one grew up on. After a little youngster tried to size me up the other day and the shoot out last night, i am out when my lease is up my block is changing. Not because i’m scared or anything but i have to think of my girl’s safety also. If you a New Yorker you can spot the set up coming a mile away (we have extra sense i think lol). She isn’t from here so i have to take that into consideration now, have take care of home first. I’m from a place of quarter waters, beef patties and cheese, hoping the fence for night pool in Astoria by the bridge. Yes i will never forget where i come from, it made me a smarter and tougher person. I will never forget where i’m from but I’M DONE!

    (on craigslist as we speak 2 bedroom in park slope $1800..smh)

  6. When I was in my hometown a few weeks ago, I was grabbing breakfast at McDonald’s before making that trek back to Boston. I pulled up to the drive thru and saw this dude that used to live on the block when I was in HS. Dude has to be like 26-27 at this point. He’d put on a lot of weight, and was looking at me with desperate eyes when he handed me my southern chicken biscuit combo. We chatted for a bit and dude was like “Damn man. I see you’re doin well. Did you graduate? You did. That’s what’s up. I gotta get out of this city man. I really gotta get out of here.”

    Now bare in mind he used to be one of the “coolest” kids on the block. I can still remember dude playin basketball in jeans with a cigarette in his mouth. Look at homie now.

    I also ran into a dude that’s still talking about that basketball game from 10 years ago. I’m talking about my career and writing, and he’s talking about crossover dribble and a lay up. Though I don’t disown, I hate goin home. If I ever had to live in my hometown again, I’d be questioning what happened in my life. That’s just the stage that I’m at. I’d help these peeps if I could, but they really need to want to help themselves first.

    If my family wasn’t there, I doubt I’d ever go back. I know my beginnings, but it’s really not the place that I want to end.

  7. Vanessa aka Miss V

    thats true Slim… can’t help those who don’t want to help themselves.

    it’s funny, one the dudes i grew up with is now a full blown local rapper and drug dealer. i remember back in the day thinking how this guy had so much potential even though he had a rough life… turns out he hasn’t gone beyond the confines of hempstead ave/jamaica ave and springfield blvd… it’s so sad.

  8. Miss V, i think sometimes people are too afraid to step out of what they know. They don’t realize it until its too late, like the dude Slim said was giving him his food. We all decided we wanted a better way and took a chance they could have done the same.

  9. Vanessa aka Miss V


  10. Alot of ppl from Queens commenting I see…… Brooklyn was always tougher and ppl from Queens were always a lil soft. lol jk

    There are tons of ppl I know who were way better athletes than me or way smarter and I see them either strung out or just pushin small weight, enough to buy some new kicks. Alot of them have little ambition, like they’re drug dealers and content w/ moving small weight not making any real money.

    I can’t say I agree with you Slim on not wanting to go back. I just banged with some of them for too long to at least not wanna check on them from time to time. And alot of these mofo be my cousins through one way or another, so I cant leave the fam like that. Now trust, I aint taking them to a party with me but I will pop up w/ a bottle of hennessy every now and then.

  11. Seattle Washington

    Do y’all think there is anyway to reach back and pull some of these folks up? Or is it only the children that are worth reaching?

  12. RightCoastLexSteele

    “I heard Lex Steele couldnt go back home…you know when I heard that? When I was back home…”

    I’m not from your conventional hood, but I’m from the hood nonetheless. Everybody thinks there arent any hoods on an island, but trust me there are pj’s right across the street from the beach. Those scenes in Belly and Welcome to Jamrock are not make believe. (Not Jamaican by the way…need to throw that out there). I didnt even have to wait to graduate, I had cats that know me try to rob me when I crossed and went back home in 02. I had cats that were related to me run up in crib and snatch dough at my moms wallet WHILE SHE WAS HOME. All that being said, I got shot @ 15 years old in private school, so go figure. All in all, I love the hood. I may not fit in wearing a button down and some Evisu jeans, but when I go back home, I’m still checking for all the people I grew up with, given they arent buried in a graveyard or the correctional system. Cant roll with the bougie crowd either, but there’s something about being on a golf course @ 9am blowing a L that is just relaxing and I cant front on that side of life either. We are all culminations of our experiences, and you cant run away from any of it. I plan on being governor of the Virgin Islands by 2038 primarily because I’ve seen both sides of life and I want to leave a better future for my grandkids so that when they are growing up, they dont miss out on the fun of chilling around the way, but they also will have a wicked approach game 100 yards from the pin. A big reason why our hoods are staying the same is because we are leaving. If everyone in your graduating high school class was successful came back home and made life different, it would be. Maybe it’s just me, but I cant shake the hood. I may not wear the same get up, but dont let the suit fool you, b. My hands are still quick, the right is still deadly, and the cliq is still deep in the streets. But I’ll never make the news again…

    Yes, I will be rollin a victory L when the poll results come in 2038.

  13. Seattle Washington

    I feel you Peyso, I have to go back and check cats. While I was in school, I found out that dude who was glaring at my watch went from being a star ball player to getting clapped in the leg to moving small change. I realized that could’ve been me easily. Felt guilty just bouncing without checking up every once and awhile.

    Furthermore, when I go home and see things it puts everything in perspective. Realize that you’ve accomplished something and puts that battery in your back to do more.

  14. Oh gosh. Such a touchy subject for me, too. Everybody from the block is still on the block where I’m from (even my family *sigh*). I can’t go home without facing the “you ain’t as Black as us” comment or the “she think she better than us” stare. Frankly, it’s emotionally draining. I’d love to “do it for the community,” but when they don’t let you in because they assume you don’t belong, it becomes more of a struggle.

  15. For me, going to the old neighborhood is a great feeling. The old neighborhood is compromised mostly of my family and the people who aren’t blood are like blood because they were living on the block before I was born. I am the ONLY person from my block who went to college and growing up as the only girl on the block I get nothing but love when I am in the City. Everyone can’t believe the little tomboy is doing what the hell I am supposed to be doing. Somehow I have become the go to person for every kid on the block (or kid of someone who knows someone from the block) now when it comes to college apps, grad school apps, SAT’s etc etc etc. anything they think I might know about. I have recruited countless high school kids to my alma mater and written more letters of recommendation than I can remember. Knowing this makes me feel proud that I can help not bothered that I have to.

    It does bother me when I return to the hood and I see how everyone is living. I don’t get frustrated with the people in the hood; I get frustrated with the people I associate with now. My colleagues who have NO CLUE, or desire, to know what a hood looks like and think America is the perfect land of opportunity or my colleagues who claim to be from the hood, but have elevated themselves to a level above the hood and now don’t want anything to do with it. This just makes me feel more love for the people in my hood because I remember 15 years ago, I was one of them. I didn’t want to go to college, thought everyone at college was fronting etc etc etc. Now I have grown up and realize I can’t hate someone because they don’t know any better. I can’t be mad at someone who cannot see the bigger picture for lack of realizing there is a bigger picture.

    It is very easy to say I remember where I came from but I got to get out of here or don’t feel comfortable here anymore. Maybe the key is to try and make your hood somewhere you can call home rather than trying to justify “moving on up.” Maybe we should all HAVE to go live in our hoods so we are forced to take a more proactive step in reshaping our hoods and in 20 years our the “talented tenth” won’t need to have this same discussion…. 🙂

  16. I think we can reach back, it shouldn’t only be for the kids. Then again i don’t know these kids today are monsters lol.

  17. “I can’t say I agree with you Slim on not wanting to go back. I just banged with some of them for too long to at least not wanna check on them from time to time.”

    Family aside, I don’t claim any of the people from home as friends really. I stay in contact with like 3 people from my hometown. One of em isn’t even from there. The other 2 don’t even live there anymore. I didn’t have real friends til I got to college. It has nothing to do with being elitist, and more to do with developing a bond with people that share similar goals, values, and thought processes. Some people have childhood friends that they still cool wit. I don’t have any of that. If I did, I’d feel differently.

  18. Slim,

    Friends or not, you should feel some obligation to where you come from. If everyone took the attitude that they aren’t personally vested in the community so why worry about it, then where would the community be?

  19. Seattle Washington

    Hmm, would it really be that different from where it is now?

    While Slim clearly expressed his attitude toward his hometown, others rep their borough and block hard while not giving a damn about the people that live there now. I’m not saying I should win the community service award for my work. Actually far from it. I just refuse to forget where I came from. Other folks remember the area code, but not the reality of the situation.

  20. Fair enough Insomnia. I actually agree. I never said I wasn’t concerned with the community. I live in a city now with a lot of opportunities to volunteer and help out. I’d rather do it for the community 100% where I live as opposed to doing it for the community 20% where I used to live simply because I was born there. If I’m going to take on an obligation/responsibility, I need to be able to commit to it. I really can’t do that for my hometown. It’s not realistic at this point in my life.

  21. Yo Slim.

    Third Ave needs you. It’s a scary place for travelers looking for West 3rd Ave, and they turn on Third Ave only to find out they are really supposed to go to WESTERN Ave.

    Personally, I think as black folk, we need to give back to black folk. Ideally, it would be nice to give back to the place you come from, but if you don’t have that connection, then what does it really matter if you’re giving back to another needy urban community? (Just don’t expect the thugs on the corner to embrace you if word gets around you’re giving back to another community w/o giving back to them. Just cross to the other side of the street when walking through, and DON’T disrupt their dice game.)

    As long as we all suscribe to the “lift as you climb” mantra, we’ll see a brighter day.

    – K.Suisse

  22. I completely agree with you. After moving on and going forward, when I see old high school friends, we talk, but we have nothing in common except the experience of high school. We bring up people we used to know and get the update on them, yeah she’s pregnant, he’s working here, or she’s doing that. We’ve both gone down separate paths and conversations end up being fillers with how are you, what have you been up to and so forth.

    Some have kids already and are on to their next one while I’m trying to get to my next job. We don’t want to turn our backs on our old neighborhood, but we can’t afford to go back so everything can be comfortable.

    I agree with Slim that you bond with people who have the same goals and mind set, and sometimes they’re not the ones from you old neighborhood.

  23. Sowhatiff Jenkins

    When I go back to the block, people tell me I “talk like a white girl”. True I got a little education, but I will still knock a fool out for stepping to me the wrong way…just ask RightCoast.

    It is definitely hard to go back at times. Things have changed, while so much remains the same. Its a hard balance to strike from my end because while I don’t want to feel like I am turning my back on the hood, the hood don’t have anything for me anymore. Not that I am better than, but I am different now. I am thankful for it though, that’s for damn sure.

  24. I guess this is just hard for me to comprehend. I have grown and changed and had many more experiences. I have made new friends and done things I never imagined doing. But when I go home, it is still home. When I step off the 5 train I feel like I am back in the world where I don’t have to act this way or that and back in the world where I don’t have to worry that I am being judged for where I come from. I don’t really get any flack from people in my neighborhood for the progress I have made and maybe that is why my perspective is so different. For me, despite how far I have come, or may be going, home (on my block) is still (and probably always will be) where I feel most comfortable.

  25. Sowhatiff Jenkins

    Do note, that I do NOT feel 100% cozy and comfy in this place they call higher education either. At the end of the day I will always be that little black girl from that hood that is still broke as compared to my “colleagues”.

    Its hard feeling this sense of responsibility, which important because like Insomnia said, who else is going to help the community we came from. However, when people look at you sideways, and judge you for where you’ve come to and give you the “you think you better than me”, it can make one be like “Peace out homie” and never look back…like many of the educated black folks from the hood do.

    Is this right or wrong?

  26. Seattle Washington

    It’s hard to give someone a helping hand when they smack it away. However, I think it’s our duty to at least extend it…

  27. When we go back home ppl give us (us being successful college educated black folk) that “you think you better than me” look because there have been so many people who have done that before. We all know the Regine off of Living Single type person who went away and came back bougie and snobby as hell.

    Also, some of the people who didnt have the opportunities that we may have had think that that we are better them and are impressed (envy too) our accomplishments. Some of them feel that if “I think you’re better than me than she definitely think she’s better than me”.

    Lastly, haterz are everywhere. In the hood and in corporate America.

  28. Word up, Peyso.

    I think it’s our duty to lead the charge. That’s what DuBois was talkin’ bout, right?

    Too much emphasis is put on the differences between black people that are educated (@ colleges) vs. those that are not… but we should realize there are many successful people who never attended school or who dropped out early (so a degree should not be the criteria for judgement) and that looking at our people more as family will help you see/realize why it should be an educated black person’s charge to lift up their people.

    Don’t be happy being an exception. Make yourself the rule.

    – k.suisse

  29. Sowhatiff,

    I don’t think it is wrong to give up on trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, but I do think it is wrong to give up on trying to help anyone because of the actions of one person.

    I encounter this problem with the young girls I tutor… I have gone through the whole they don’t want to listen to, or respect, me, because they think I have come to far from where I was to understand where they are. (or that i think i am all that or too cute or bougie or however else you want to describe it) Does this mean I turned my back on them? No, because I am the bigger person in the scenario. I am the one who can recognize the attitude they are giving off is not because of me but because of their situation. (The exact situation I want to change!) If you will fight to get what you want and not let obstacles stand in your way, why is it so easy to give up on your people because of one obstacle?

  30. So, I thought that I knew my response as I read through your part, but then I started to read the responses and realized that didn’t at all. Well, I guess that I knew it but the fact that there were so many who seemed to be in agreement with you changed my mind. Maybe that is because I am constantly a hater (or devil’s advocate as the White people conceptualize it) or possibly because their agreement made me go back to what you had said and read it closer. Doing this changed my mind.

    Just to make sure that my perspective is taken in context, I will summarize your statements to be that you have changed as a result of your college experience while your old neighborhood has stayed very much the same. Given in the context of Obama’s ongoing presidential campaign, such change is great, fantastic and the only way to be. Change is how we bring about progress, change is how we advance, change is how things happen. And therefore college should be praised as an agent of change.

    While I do think that a lot of this is valid and college does have some real benefits on the individual level, I do want to highlight the thought that you ended your piece on – a person is simply a composite of all of the experiences afforded to her or him. I truly believe that this is the case. One can not unexperience what he or she has first experienced. The same, he or she can not un learn something previously learned because forgetting means the information is not there, but certainly does not mean that the effects have not already been felt. So, each of us is a product of what life has made us and we should all embrace and be grateful for that very thing.

    Recognizing our experiences as the origin and shaping factor of our character is crucial as we ‘educated Black people’ return to our respective ‘hoods’. While we note our change, practice our newly found ways of analysis and exercise our enhanced skills of critical thoughts, we can not forget those other talents that we learned while we were away. Besides just noting the difference between us and them, let’s draw upon the problem-solving, interpersonal relationship building and understanding that we “mastered” as well. If we have a college degree, why not can we not treat life like a case study in which we have to find, develop and implement a strategy to improve the social well being of all members of that neighborhood? We can test our intellectual wits as we find out how much we remain like those folks in our old neighborhood, stripping away the things that drive our life and looking instead at how we got about getting them. My guess is that we all shook our heads when we thought that the hood was going to rob you, but would we have done the same if you took a random outline that was sitting on top of the printer in a public lab. The law deals with the stealing of intellectual property but my guess is that many of us would have looked past that minor infraction and made no connection between it and the “gotta get mine” attitude that we supposedly changed by leaving the hood.

    My thoughts right now are tied up on the question – if education make us judge, criticize and purport that we changed from that place and those people who prepared us for education, can we really be sure that the ‘hood’ is the one that robbed us?

  31. Seattle Washington

    Intriguing question C.E.P.M. As we mature, we gain and lose certain aspects of our character. For better or worse. While I’m happy about the education I received from being in NYC, I’m as equally proud of the knowledge I attained at my alma mater.

    While being at a institution may dull some sharp edges and broaden our horizons, I don’t think it has robbed us. Well some of us. It hasn’t taken anything way from the folks that still remain tied to their original surroundings. Or at least remember where they started. Those who leave it all behind, I feel as if they were robbed of their culture, morals and, most importantly, humility.

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