Arresting Developments of Blackness and the Pimps Who Prostituted me Like a Whore! a Reader Response by Delano C. Son

Arresting Developments of Blackness and the Pimps Who Prostituted me Like a Whore! a Reader Response by Delano C. Son

I’m sitting in the back of the police cruiser un-cuffed, trying to dry my eyes from all the crying I did earlier.  As we pull into my parking lot, I’m secretly scared shitless, wishing I could stay with the police officer a little longer, fearing what my parents might do. I’m getting off a plane with about 8 members of my extended family at Pearson Airport stashing about a quarter pound of Saint Lucia’s finest cannabis in my possession. As we approach the customs officer I’m scared shitless, because in front of our party appears to be an East-Indian lady who has been stopped and searched. I’m sitting on the couch with my arms around my girl. On the news it appears princess Diana has just died, but who gives a crap about that. I’m at my girl’s house and her parents aren’t home.  We’re both horny! Tonight’s defiantly the night! But ‘on the real’ I’m scared shitless.  Honestly, why didn’t anyone tell me these things would be so damn stressful? It was hard enough growing up as a teenager in the 90’s, hell I was constantly looking for identity, belonging, and acceptance. Not only did I have to deal with uncontrollable hormonal changes, I also had Nazi adults who were constantly policing my every move.  It seemed like it was us against them, the youth verses the old establishments. How did things get this way? If adults and youths are part of the boarder culture, why is there such a prevalent dichotomy between the two?

Giroux (1997) answers this question by stating: “a new form of representation has emerged in media culture fuelled by degrading visual depictions of youth as criminal, sexually decadent, drug-crazed, and illiterate.  In short youth are viewed as a growing threat to the public order”(p.  40).  As I attempt to make sense of this quote within my own youthful experience, I am forced to question the origins of the ideological pillars which were sacred to our performance of culture—namely our clothing, our music, and our language. Were we really making our own decisions? Choosing what brands were fashionable or not? Or were we mere puppets controlled by aging baby boomers  “aggressively in search of acquiring a more ‘youthful’ state of mind and lifestyle” (Giroux, 1997, p.  37).  Although, the voice of the youth spoke loudly as we accepted and made fads out of; Air Jordan’s, Power Rangers, Gangster Rap, Grunge, Pogs, fluorescent colours, and fanny packs—we were not the inventors! We were not the ones in control of our shared space called subculture.  We learned how to become teenagers based on the images, symbols, and scripts which were presented to us by the dominant group—the adults.

Attempting to understand myself as a racialized teen the media and others called black. I found two understandings of what blackness might be represented on the network television and the silver screen. The first was the token black guy. This individual was funny, athletic, and normally surrounded by predominantly racialized white friends.  His linguistics were always shaped by urban street lingo as he constantly used phrases like; Word, what’s up, that’s dope, that’s wack, buck wild, chilling, bust a cap, crackalacking, and b-boy! His clothes were almost likely two sizes bigger than what he required. His pants were worn with a little slack below the waist exposing his boxers. A prime example of this type character is Murray, played by Donald Faison in the 1995 blockbuster hit Clueless. It made sense to become that character, because everyone loved and accepted him.  Consequently, while I was among my white friends I performed the respective cultural role of “the token black guy” for fear of rejection and expectation.

My second understanding of blackness involves the discourse with other blacks.  This was portrayed in T.V shows and movies such as; A different World, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Cosby Show, House Party one and two, Juice, Fear of a Black Hat, Above the Rim, CB4, Friday, Jason’s Lyric, and Menace to Society.  Through these representations ‘black’ received its own voice and appeared to distinguish it’s self from a type casted role. It felt good, just being black! However, the predominance’s of this role signified black males “through narrow representations that fail to challenge and in effect reiterate the dominant neoconservative image of blackness as menace and other” (Giroux, 1997, p.  45).

I quickly learned that in order to belong and feel accepted I had to mimic and play both roles, which were constantly being broadcasted to me via the Hollywood media machine. This is where I got a large part of my black identity. I was seduced into the popular culture of becoming black. Typecasting myself was too difficult to do.  I didn’t have the time or the patience to invent an autonomous style of dress, performances of language and/or selection of music preferences. It was much simpler to buy into the cultural production called blackness. It was already ideologically defined for me. All I had to do for success was perform the tokenized roles. At that time, no one showed an alternative choice. No one even suggested thinking critically about how institutional racialization of blackness works to marginalize. Would I have loved to sit in a class and engaged in deep discussion about why N.W.A sang a song like ‘F%&k the police’, sure! But I doubt ‘media studies’ was part of the curriculum back then, and if it was, I never got exposed to it.

Giroux (1997) tell us,

Recognizing that Hollywood films function as teaching machines demands more than including them in the school curricula, it also demands that educators and other cultural workers bring questions of justice and ethics to bear on the form and content of such films. (p.  60)

Furthermore, “it is crucial” he states “that those who control media culture in this society become accountable for the knowledge, values, and desires they produce ( p.  61). The dilemma I currently face as a by-product of Hollywood’s marginalized racial teaching machine; is understanding my own personal identity as a disfigured representation of the dominant group I now belong to (the adults).  Unlike today with the explosion of the internet and its versatile usage by teenagers and children alike, media and youth representation of the 90’s were controlled by adults. I was arrested for stealing, but rappers like Onyx and the Wu-Tang clan told me it was cool. I started selling weed, because movies like Friday, Half baked and Fresh tricked me to believe that it was the only way to make a quick dollar. I engaged in sex and sexual activities, because it was everywhere; in the movies, in the music, in advertising— it was just what a teenage boy did.

As I think of my responsibility as a disfigured racialized black adult educator, I am plagued to question the rolls in which my students may feel culturally pressured to play.  If “Culture is the medium through which children fashion their individual and collective identities and learn, in part how to narrate themselves in relation to others” (Giroux, 1997, p.  59). Who am I to challenge the norms and values presented to them as culture?

Reference

Giroux, H. A. (1997). Channel surfing; racism, the media, and the destruction of today’s youth (pp. 35-63). New York : St. Martin’s Press.