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Where Is The Black Voice?

Has Black America Lost Its Influence?

No Voice, No Accountability

The NAACP, who installed its youngest board chair last week, awarded its 2009 Image Award to the increasingly raunchy Beyoncé for Outstanding Female Artist and to the foul-mouthed and salacious Jamie Foxx for Outstanding Male Artist, which suggests the NAACP, much like the black church itself, has bought in to the benign see-no-evil posture of not only tolerating youth-targeted media of questionable moral character but demonstrably awarding it. Which, I suppose, is fine. The NAACP does not present itself as an arbiter of morality so much as an avenue of social justice. And, though I realize I probably sound like a maniac or a prude to many people reading this, my ire at Ms. Knowles , Mr. Foxx and the rest is not so much about censoring their art form as it is about building a firewall between adult entertainment and children. Beyoncé's top constituency is not 30-year old women but 13-year old girls, to whom the singer is teaching lessons of sexual commodity. My frustration with the NAACP, the black church, and, I guess, everybody (since I seem to be the only one peeved about this) is there is not only no leadership in Black America, there is, sadly, no accountability in Black America. Ms. Knowles, husband Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Scrappy-Doo and the rest all know, good and well, they are selling sin to children. For, if they truly restricted purchases of adult material to, well, adults, their record sales would plummet. These people are no better than cigarette companies trying to get impressionable kids hooked, or drug dealers using them as mules. Beyoncé is hardly the antichrist, but she is increasingly crossing lines that demand a discussion of whether or not this is a positive person or a person of reasonable moral character. I honestly don't care if Beyoncé shakes her cakes, don't care about Lil Wayne's childish, insipid gynecological raps. But if these persons aren't serious about keeping the adult stuff away from ten and twelve year-olds, then, by any reasonable moral standard, they are corrupting children for money. And the NAACP hands these people a statue. An image award. Way to go.

Much as mother railed against the evils of Kool and The Gang and Earth, Wind, and Fire, neither she nor I ever imagined the level of depravity and filth that passes, acceptably and without challenge from the black church, as “culture.” Sure, we’ve always had our Millie Jacksons and Ohio Players, but those were fringe acts. Without labeling, most parents I knew made strong efforts to keep adult material away from children. It was certainly not on broadcast TV and the raunchier stuff didn't get past strict censors on the radio. We snuck Richard Pryor albums into the basement and covered our mouths as we howled with laughter, but these were all explicitly adult fare. Today, filthier things than Pryor might even have imagined are considered mainstream, the more filthy, the more desirable. Kid—kids, I mean nine and ten—don’t want the “clean” version of the favorite rap artists. Parental warning labels on CDs are considered sales tools; without one, the CD loses its street cred and kids don’t want it.

It’s unclear whether or not Black America can ever get back to the simpler times of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a perfect man nor was he surrounded by perfect men. But our focus was on the mission, the vision, at least as much as it was on the man. Nowadays, individual foibles cloud our vision. In 1984, Jesse Jackson made a joke on Saturday Night Live about his walking on water and the media reporting, “Jesse Can’t Swim.” Well, Jesse can swim, but we’re no longer cheering him on. We are, best case, taking him for granted. Worst case, we’ve lost our faith.

I take great issue and find great fault with Robert L. Johnson and his Black Entertainment Television which, along with MTV and others, transformed much of black media. Way too many of our parents parked way too many of us in front of TV’s where we grew fat and emulated gangstas and hoochies, developing early appetites for drugs and premarital sex. Today’s society is reaping the results of those choices, as popular urban black culture has grown vile and brazenly, self-congratulatingly immoral.

The anti-values of the anti-establishment, anti-intellectual, anti-achievement, anti-spiritual “black” culture is what is systematically emptying our churches as the older generation dies off and we pass on none of our values to the younger one. This is the Book of Judges come to life: God-fearing, bible-believing parents grown mute at their own dinner tables. Children of pastors—pastors—routinely know nothing of God. It's not so much that they reject God as they know God only by association, having seen him only in fleeting bursts from mute fathers whose wretched humanity is on daily display. Which not only makes the pastor/father a hypocrite but makes his son or daughter a liar, forced to hold sacred dad's secret that he cusses or drinks or whores around. All of which makes a liar of the cross in the eyes of the child, to whom Jesus is just as phony as their dad is.

The Black Voice: Dominated by idiots like Rick Ross. This is what White America sees.
This is what Black America has to say. Bishop Jakes, Bishop Morton: where's our multi-million dollar ad campaign denouncing this?

Life In Two Dimensions

God is likely the very last thing on the minds of most urban black youth who see not Barack Obama but Lil Wayne and Beyoncé as their role models. I’ll have to assume the reason neither artist speaks much about their faith is they don’t have any. For, even if they were Buddhists, I’d imagine they could carve out some small portion of their art to share that dimension of their lives. Our youth live flat, two-dimensional lives: height and width. No depth. No spiritual dimension. And that’s all right with them. Whatever you get out of going to church (or, for that matter, visiting this website) is likely a mystery to them. A mystery they’re not interested in solving because your church is so darned boring. Because nothing going on there Sunday morning speaks to them in any genuine fashion. This lack of faith is called apostasy. Think of apostasy like a terminal illness you hand down to your children because of your own laziness or disbelief—successive generations knowing increasingly less of God, their values corrupted as they prize wickedness and sin while despising the truth. While the church does nothing. Says nothing.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson’s diminishing national role in the civil rights movement seems problematic and systemic. It is difficult to separate Jackson’s seeming fall from grace (fathering a child out of wedlock) from similar moral failure on the part of far too many black pastors.

The days when Dr. King’s voice thundered across the nation, speaking for virtually every Negro man, woman or child, are long gone. Today, Louis Farrakhan is almost universally vilified by whites for both his Muslim faith and alleged anti-Semitic statements. Which leaves Reverend Jackson, whose own voice is now often eclipsed by The Reverend Al Sharpton. Jackson’s sphere of influence now seems terribly constricted, the old school Classic Coke Jackson seeming to struggle to find relevance. Jackson’s political voice was stilled during the election when he said, into a hot mic, that he wanted to “cut [Obama’s] nuts out” for lecturing in black churches about the welfare state. Jackson’s broad-based classic activism seems undercut by the nihilistic populism of this era of thugged-out, over-sexed, under-informed Black America. Our well-to-do Cliff Huxtable class seems content to pursue career goals and personal agendas while the impoverished underclass seems to care mostly about money, cars and other material status symbols and getting laid. Which is primarily why we have no voice.

So, who’s at center stage? The TelEvangeliMegaBishops. Talented preachers who "pastor" impossibly large congregations. Who run around with bodyguards and layers of insulation from the people they are leading. MegaMinistries, with millions in the bank, who nevertheless don’t spend much, if anything, helping the poor in their own back yards. How do we respect these slick guys with 20 minutes of preaching followed by ten minutes of infomercial? Who rarely, if ever, explain the plan of salvation between special offers and cruise planning?

Politicians? The only currently serving black member of the United States Senate is Roland Burris, an opportunistic dilettante who edged out Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.—himself tainted by disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich—for Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. But Burris arrived on the national stage in a defensive crouch, appearing opportunistic and a bit of a weirdo. Elijah Cummings, Harold Ford, Jr. (who shows tremendous promise), Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters—these are, to my knowledge, exceptional leaders and servants of the people. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn is also an exceptional leader, who was sandbagged by a CBS rail job a couple years back, a reporter accusing a clearly confused Clyburn of influence peddling in order to get his daughter a job.

Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney disgraced her office by acting like a childishly sophomoric Aunt Esther, slapping a police officer who didn’t recognize her and then engaging in a phony “racial profiling” media gabfest while two small Milwaukee boys went missing. Such exploitive, phony social justice campaigns badly damage our community’s ability to mount real challenges to real injustices, such as the Milwaukee police’s shabby, sloppy, foot-dragging response to the two missing boys. This kind of fake movement tends to suppress the real thing while undermining our trust of people in leadership.

The president, who seems almost too good to be true while, at the same time, slow on the draw, Obama being, perhaps, too mature or too much of a grown-up to effectively fight some truly evil—and that’s not a word I throw around—men and women in Congress. But the president can no longer speak for Black America. His historic win actually robbed Barack Obama of that right. Worse, he has to be careful how he speaks to Black America.

So, maybe the question is not even who is speaking for us but who are we listening to? Beyoncé and Wayne can wallow in self-delusion all they want. The fact is, these people are children’s entertainers. They may not consider themselves such, but the reality is Beyoncé is influencing young girls at impressionable ages, just as Lil’ Wayne appeals to prepubescent boys who no longer play cowboys and Indians but play violent, misogynistic video games like Grand Theft Auto.

And the church does nothing. Says nothing.

A Children's Entertainer: Beyoncé's core audience is 13-year old girls.

Normalizing Dysfunction

Our children, by the multi-millions, are being taught conflict resolution by violence and sexual expression without moral accountability. Respect, on a street level, is usually earned by threat of violence. The tough thug. The guy with the money. Everybody else is easily dismissed. “If his status ain't hood, I ain't checkin' for him,” Destiny’s Child crowed in their song, Soldier. Wanna get the hot girl? Bulk up and droop your pants down. This is the idiocy of the street. And we do nothing, say nothing. We accept this as some adolescent diversion when this mentality is destroying lives.

There is no black voice because we respect no one. We don’t follow black leadership because that leadership has, time and again, proven itself to have feet of clay—to be fallible and even corrupt. And, with each successive generation, this situation becomes exponentially worse.

We have no voice because too many of us feel we either have nothing more to achieve, nothing more to gain or that the struggle is ultimately futile. With the notable exception of Minister Louis Farrakhan, there have been precious few effective national movements or events (if you don’t include the inauguration, of course) in a generation or more. Many of our youth have never even seen such a thing except in old news footage.

What disturbs me most is the defeatist agenda of normalizing this behavior, calling it a phenomena of culture rather than demanding excellence and progression for Black America. It is as if excelling is simply too hard, so we make a virtue out of under-achievement, celebrating the ain’ts and dems and da’s. Worse, we brand any call to excellence as oppressive. The challenge is often, “who’s to say what ‘normal’ is? Normal by whose standard?” As if earning a college degree, or, say, pulling our pants up, makes us sellouts to white culture. That so much urban “culture” is entirely manufactured and mostly financed by whites is a hugely ironic detail that is typically dismissed as fringe thinking.

This anti-intellectual, anti-historical, anti-spiritual standard accounts for our lack of respect for leadership, which, in turn, produces increasingly fewer men and women willing to stand and deliver. Is this Beyoncé's fault? Of course not. But our diminishing influence is directly related to the erosion of our values.

Christopher J. Priest
21 February 2010

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