By: Zach Fulwood
Like most people my age, I spent this past weekend listening to J.Cole’s new album, K.O.D and I must say, it didn’t disappoint. There was a heavy dose of social consciousness mixed in with admissions of personal struggles and lamenting the glorification of substance abuse by today’s youth. It was the type of album that forces you to listen to the words and not just bob your head to the beat. While the album was great, one song in particular stood out to me. His ‘1985’ track was amazing and lead me to wonder, what does it mean to be Black?
On it’s surface, this question is a very loaded one and if you were to ask 100 people, you’d probably get 100 different answers. Some might say being Black is living in the projects, struggling to survive and ultimately finding a way to make something of yourself and becoming a typical rags to riches story. Others might say being Black is rapping about sexual escapades with multiple women, selling drugs and making lots of money. You might even have those who believe being Black is simply being inferior or superior to other races of people, depending upon how their individual minds work.
I say all that to say, being Black isn’t something you can do a google search on or study in a textbook and find the answer. It’s much more complex than that because we as people, are complex. The harrowing truth for Black people is, every other race seemingly feels as though they know the answer and because of this, Black people continue to feel (whether consciously or subconsciously) that they have to validate those answers.
As J.Cole pointed out in his song ‘1985’, when White kids go to Black rap artists shows and see them turning up and not giving a f–k, that’s exactly what they’re expecting because that’s the Black experience they’ve grown up with. That’s the Black experience they choose to identify with and want to emulate. Anything else would be disingenuous and contrary to what they’ve come to know. The same goes for Black athletes and the societal expectation that they’ve been raised by a single mother and their only father figure growing up was their youth-league coach. If you watch the NFL Draft this Thursday and see how many Black athletes hug their mothers on their way up to the stage without a sign of their father in sight, you’ll see why this perception exists.
While being Black in the eyes of society isn’t overwhelmingly positive, it’s not always negative either. When you see Beyoncé performing at Coachella and exuding every bit of Black excellence there is, society can’t help but to reshape their views on what being Black is. Although the movie Black Panther was a fictional superhero story, it didn’t break box office records simply because the CGI made the 3-D experience that much more exciting. People (not just Black people) flocked to it because it showed a different perspective of what being Black was. The same could be said about the Presidency of Barack Obama.
You see, being Black is a lot of things and its meaning varies from person to person. The Black experience is just as complex and layered as any other. Unfortunately, it just feels as though despite all of the images we have of what being Black could be and should be, we are still plagued by the perception of what society says being Black is.