Social Issues

Wealth, Value, and Black Men in America

About two years ago, in response to the murder of Mike Brown, I spoke out on Twitter with a series of tweets expressing my thoughts on the connection of wealth and value to the killing of Black men. Although it’s been two years, the state of this issue remains the same. Although Twitter is a good format for microblogging, I wanted to revisit my thoughts and elaborate on them in a complete manner.

This issue of young Black boys being killed is much bigger than murders. It’s about a lack of consideration when delivering daily services to Black men. Sometimes, what is considered to be service is a downright disservice to “us” as Black men. A few years ago, I was at an event for “My Brother’s Keeper” that aimed to begin finding solutions to close the gap in education outcomes for boys of color. I sat and observed the discussion and I chimed in: ”When are we gonna talk about wealth for our young boys??” Over the course of my time doing community work, my observation of these sorts of workshops have allowed me to conclude that generally we talk about 3 things: health, education, and being non-violent. Yet, I’ve never met a person with those 3 things that wasn’t “wealthy”. We have national organizations that teach our boys to be healthy, educated, and refrain from violence, but we don’t talk about wealth for our Black boys nearly as much as we should. Sometimes there’s this voice in my head that almost leads me to believe that people think that “we” as Black men/boys can be healthy, educated, and non-violent; All the while, some of the wealth won’t shift to us in the process.

As I speak about this issue and the disservice, I’d like to point out: I’m speaking about our own kind disrespecting us with a lower level of service as well. Even some of us as Black men who have tasted success go into lower income communities and profess to help, but we don’t really see a glimmer of hope for these kids. It might just be an act of service for a picture opportunity or an exercise that feels good. I often tell people now: “Don’t offer to help someone if you can envision them being better off than you”. There’s no guarantee that those you help WILL be better than you. But if you only want to help them “to an extent”, leave them alone totally. Don’t offer to help someone if you CANT envision them being better than you. Our children deserve that level of thought when we decide that we want to “service” them with our volunteerism. We already have far too many people outside of our community pacifying our young boys with band-aid solutions. And we either sit on the sidelines or compound that lack of consideration and service to our own. We can not save our Black boys unless we start implementing conversations about wealth…along with health, education, and non-violence.

For the sake of clarity, wealth is NOT just MONEY. Wealth is about resources and relationships.The REASON why our Black boys get disrespected by “service providers” is because people “assume” that they don’t have resources. People don’t assume that our Black boys in the inner city have family lawyers, family financial advisors, family doctors, etc. So, if you are tasked with “serving” that population, you have the opportunity to provide a lower service level because you could assume they cant check you. I often tell stories about my life as an Uber driver. What keeps the Uber model accountable is the rating system. And Uber is very strict on the ratings of drivers. And the rating model provides an incentive for drivers to provide good to great customer service. In some instances, I receive requests for pickups from people who aren’t in need of a ride for themselves, but for friends or family members. From time to time, in those situations, I wonder if the rider relays their riding experience with the actual requestor. I also wonder if the requestor immediately rates me or if they even bother. Because they aren’t in the car, and the person in the car is getting a free ride on their behalf, is it even important to either of the parties involved? Regardless of the answer to that question, in my mind, I often wonder if I decided not to provide the same level of service, would it reflect on how I am rated? To relate that back to the plight of Black men and the everyday services levels we receive: if we aren’t active in rating the services that we receive, or if we don’t care, can we change what’s happening? And more importantly, if those service providers know that we aren’t active in rating and demanding accountability for the services we receive, are they incentivized to even take their services to another level for us? I went into a restaurant a few years ago with three friends who are also Black guys. A young Black waiter greeted us & said “Whatchall niggas want??” I was astounded. Even our own people “assume” that we don’t deserve better. AND they don’t think that we will or have the ability to “check” them on it. As a law enforcement “service provider”, you MIGHT be more inclined to “rough me up” if you don’t think I have a lawyer on speed dial.You MIGHT be more inclined to disrespect me if you don’t think I will follow through and file a complaint. I believe the root of what’s happening to Black boys and men goes back to “wealth” and the assumption that “we” don’t have resources and relationships. It’s natural to have at the least …..a thought…. on being able to provide a lower level of “service” if you don’t feel that you will be held accountable.

A few years ago, one of my mentors was diagnosed with cancer. The treatment took place at Georgetown University Hospital. He has a relationship with the university and the hospital that goes back at least 30 years. His connections to the institution have allowed him to build relationships with powerful people on the campus and in the hospital. He went in, got diagnosed, and they got on top of his case. Until this day, he can and will contact them at any hour and they respond. With no hesitation, he runs EVERYTHING by them. Many Black men, who PAY for health care like this would think WE are burdening the doctors. But, we forget that they serve US! The relationships my mentor has built afforded him the top tier care that he’s received. And I’m certain that because of those relationships, his care providers move at a swift pace and study his ailments meticulously. But most of “US” don’t have those kinds of relationships/resources in those kinds of places.

Some might say that pursuing health, education, and non-violence can lead to this definition of “wealth”….maybe so. But wealth as an end result is not being discussed. We talk jobs as the “end game” for Black men, but not dominating industries. We talk houses as the “end game” for Black men, but not building communities. (On another note: I challenge someone to identify one community that is predominately filled with Black residents, with property predominately owned by Blacks, with schools and government predominately ran by Blacks, with little attrition, and properties rising. If you can’t find one example, that may be a bigger and more important discussion for Blacks in this country.) Dominating industries, building and growing communities, and having real leverage are key components. I’m emphasizing this because it seems as if we can talk about EVERYTHING except things that can actually cause a “wealth” shift in the direction of Black men. And when we discuss it, some people scream socialism. Again, to me, “wealth” is not solely about money. So I’m not suggesting handouts. This is not a war against others. But a wake up call..

We have to create value for ourselves based on what we create and not what we can buy. We can begin to demand better based on our value being assessed by what we create and control in the marketplace. One common factor in the murders of Mike Brown, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, and Eric Garner is economics. Two men (Sterling and Garner) had businesses that were essentially “off the radar”. Brown was accused of stealing from a local convenience store. Scott was pulled over and it was discovered that he had an outstanding child support balance. We are still living in a country where many Black men are subjected to sustaining their lifestyles by working “off the grid” or under illegal circumstances. We are still living in a country where the monetary value of a father’s involvement in his child’s life is more important to many than the time he spends with his children. Men across this country fleeing police and government officials because they can’t afford to make child support payments. We also live in a country where it’s so infrequent to see Blacks owning stores in Black communities (or anywhere for that matter), that our Black boys see no value or “convenience” in these stores and therefore devalue its presence by looting or snatching items and running. Even in the Baltimore riots, there was a fierce argument over whether the looted CVS was “their store” (the people of that community) or not. Sure the store is placed there, but who owns it and really benefits from it? No matter where your opinion falls on untaxed income, child support, or Black ownership, these are issues that impact Blacks as much if not more than any other ethnicity in this country. And creating value involves us being creative and providing products, services, and intellectual property that is so necessary for everyone that we create leverage to ensure better services for us in return. Just imagine if Blacks cornered the market on just one item….maybe a food item such as oranges or apples. In the event that we are utterly appalled at how we are treated as a unit in this country, cornering that market would afford us the opportunity to raise and lower prices on the items that we have control over in response to our satisfaction/dissatisfaction with our treatment. Again, this is not an attack on others, but an attempt to have leverage when it comes to demanding better service from every service provider that we encounter. If this happened, people would have to begin to rethink before they stereotype us or assume that we don’t have any power.

We aren’t without blame in this matter. Im also tired of this “You can’t judge a book by its cover” methodology. We have to design our “covers” better. That’s how you make a sale.If we are better, we have to present ourselves better. A book cant be judged by the cover, but it can be sold based on the cover. And it can’t be judged until it’s purchased. The book must be purchased and the cover has to be attractive enough to lure in buyers. I’m growing tired of Black men that I know saying to me “Im smart for real, I shouldn’t even really be out here in the streets”. Well then you have to slowly work your way forward. Your true value lies in where you are as much as who you are. A sheet of paper torn apart and in the trash has little to no value. But that same sheet prior to its trashing could’ve been the vessel that holds the language of a contract worth millions of dollars. A part of improving our chances for wealth and restoring and growing value depends on where we are and the activities that we involve ourselves in as well.

This issue is not about a killing. If we only respond when a Black man/boy is killed by law enforcement or a street rival, we are missing the point altogether. This is about a general lack of service on a daily basis toward our Black boys by “service providers” that’s happened forever. This daily disrespect in the form of service has become so common that we only become alarmed when it reaches the point of death. Remember when Stephen A Smith suggested that domestic violence victims could provoke violence? He was reprimanded and sure enough he was forced to apologize. But who hasn’t seen reports, articles, tv segments, and blogs where Black men and boys who are victimized are questioned about their provocation of their own murders and assaults? And I can’t recall anyone being punished. Even our Black mothers sometimes assume that we we’re wrong when we have encounters that lead to trouble. I’d be involved in something & my mother would say “WHAT DID HE DO”! I sit and laugh about it now but when Black men and boys are victims, it seems that we can’t ever JUST BE A VICTIM. It’s always an assumption that WE provoke others to harm us. In every other case for most people, any other victim is given that benefit of the doubt. But we aren’t. Because we don’t have value in the eyes of some. I don’t know the intricate details to solve this problem. But I know it begins with a mindset change for “us”.

We’ve got to at least begin thinking about restoring communities. Maybe not initially in the sense of neighborhoods, but starting with camaraderie. Neighborhoods are more long term. But first we have to build networks and webs to increase the value of our dollar and other resources.If you have a group of 12 guys that you hang with, you all should “try” to have the same doctor, lawyer, general contractor for your house. At least “try” to support the same establishments in general. And let it be known that your patronage comes in a “block”-oriented way. Meaning, if that service provider disrespect ONE of us, we all pull out of supporting him/her. We have to begin to show that we can pool our support and resources so that people that we care about aren’t lacking. And I say start there because down the line, that’s how you begin to be respect by ALL of your “service providers” .Again, if you walk away from this focusing on the killing, you’re missing it. It’s a deeper stereotype that you don’t have power. In some instances, service providers can walk in your neighborhood and automatically assume that you’re up to no good. Simply because of the climate. If none of your people own anything where you live, and all the health rates, education rates, violence rates are off the charts…they can assume crime is happening at any moment. And that’s why law enforcement can come right in and immediately act aggressively because the writing is on the wall. Most people won’t EVER assume that a person that looks like me actually owns the corner store or the gas station or the market in my neighborhood. So if I’m there, in front of that store, some officers might immediately run up and press me. Because it’s known that we don/t have any “business” even where we live. If a Korean, Japanese, Sudanese, or Haitian teen is standing in front of that store, that officer has to stop for just a moment and make an assumption that may lead him/her to possibly believe that teen is a member of the family that owns that establish. But we as Blacks in these communities don’t have value, so many of the assumptions of our presence end up being negative.I could go on and on (and I have). But, we have to develop value. We have to ask ourselves “Are we involved in activities that add value?”

Let me remind you: you ARE your brother’s keeper. What you do WILL have an impact on how we are all viewed. AND it has an impact on our well-being. I want to see more like-minded brothers doing well and being a great example. It helps us all. One night two of my friends and I went to go see my mentees. The three of us had just had dinners with our ladies. Two of us are married. One is engaged. The women went with us as we stopped by my mentees’ house to say hello and bring them some pizza. One of my mentees saw us pull up. He is about 14 now. He said “Dag that yall got nice cars. Yall wives in the car. Thats aight! Yall lookin sweet!!” To give you a backdrop, this is a child that I met when he was 9. He didn’t believe me when I told him I was married. He asked about my wedding ring and until this day he still asks me if I’m STILL married. Where he’s from, he doesn’t see that. It can’t be ONE example. It has to be multiple examples for it to sink it. That little boy was overwhelmed at something as simple as three black men doing a triple date with their wives. But all of us making an impact can work well. That’s if we do it with the intent of making an impact and remain committed. So when people on Twitter or Facebook say “Yall aint gon do nothin ANYWAY”. You CAN. Live your life beyond yourself. Live it to impact others. Live it to build an infrastructure for those that you love.We might not protest. A petition might not be signed. Maybe it’s time to think about other modes of response. Maybe it’s about living better for others.

We must teach one another in order to ensure that we all gain that wealth and value that we deserve.

“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6

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