At age 13, I was a brown belt in Isshin-Ryu karate and the second biggest kid in my class. At 14, I could tell you that the origins of “Superman” actually trace back to German literature. At 15, naming every wrestler on the roster of WWE (WWF, at the time) and WCW was a piece of cake. But did that gain me the respect of my peers who were heavily influenced by hip-hop and sports culture? Did girls sell out seats to hear Lil’ Q speak? Not exactly. If fact, it got me a lot of “unwanted attention.” (That’s the nice way of saying I was bullied.)
Nowadays, you can’t go anywhere without seeing some form of pop culture being advertised at you: from the blockbusters that are pumped into the theaters every summer to the Spiderman themed toothpaste and underwear you bought your nephew for Christmas. Kids from 1 to 92 rush to the stores to get their new “Batman this” or the latest “Walking Dead that”, and I guarantee you that if you went to the movies this year, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson probably had something at the box office. We are living in the golden age of pop culture, or as Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) from Leverage would say, “Age of the Geek, baby.” And I’m pissed.
I’m pissed that all the hardships I endured for loving pop culture was afforded to me simply because “black people don’t do that.”
Rewind back to 1996. Michael Jordan has just returned to the game of basketball, in possibly one of the biggest marketing partnerships ever between the NBA and Warner Bros. Nike can’t keep up with the demand for Jordan’s signature “Space Jam” 11’s. Dallas wins the Super Bowl XXX in dramatic fashion, and the ’96 NBA Draft would give us some of the biggest names in basketball history, such as Allen Iverson, Ray Allen and the Black Mamba himself. Flip over to music, and R. Kelly is probably still swimming in “I Believe I Can Fly” money from that year. Nas drops his sophomore album around the same time that we are introduced to a hustler from the Marcy Projects who went by the moniker “JAY Z”. Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, and while 2Pac saw the release of his fourth solo album “All Eyez on Me, he would not live to see his fifth, which he had completed only one month earlier.
It was a big year for Black America in 1996. All that took a back seat to my newly found love for comic books and all things nerdy. Looking back on it, what was shocking to me wasn’t the fact that I was taking an interest a new hobby so young; it was that as time went on, people started to look at me as if I was an alien. And not the good kind of alien that comes down in blue tights to save the world. Because my interests didn’t revolve around football or other sports, I was seen as an outcast amongst my own community. My mother would tell me years later that she’s glad I took interest in sports and different extra-curricular activities because “I couldn’t have just been a nerd.” At the time, it was funny considering I was a member of the football and quiz bowl team at the same time. But this is seriously an issue.
Young black people are shunned by their own culture, simply because they do not conform to the habits and interests of the greater populous. Having a passion for something not readily identifiable as “things black people do” is viewed as ridiculous and openly condemned by members of our race. And in a constantly diversifying world, what does that say if we are telling our young, “You can only like these things because you’re black”? We repeatedly tell kids that they can be anything they want, even the President of the United States. But we turn right back around and place limitations on them in their own minds by creating barriers based on their background. In doing so, we push them to the very same habits and mentality that so many of us view as a blemish on our culture’s list of achievements. (Gang culture, incarceration, and a lackluster view on education.)
So let’s start inspiring our children to EXPAND our culture. For every future Michael Jordan you cheer on, motivate someone to be the next Dwayne McDuffie. For every Kendrick Lamar you support, encourage a kid to be the next Gary Clark, Jr. It doesn’t matter what their interest is. EMBRACE it, EXALT it. EXPERIENCE it with them. And the next time someone tells them that black people can’t do that, just remind them that Prince, in all of his glorious musical and sexual prowess, made music for a Batman movie in 1989.
Your argument is invalid.