The other day, I was asked to participate again in #SocialistSundays, which is a Twitter-event where myself (clearly, y’all know I’m a Marxist) and other people who are, well, left-leaning, basically discuss a little bit about capital, capitalism, Marxism and the resulting movements from the Marxist tradition, Marxist analysis, etc. Anyhow, @GSDouglas had possibly the tweet of the month when he tweeted:
“We will discuss the ills of capitalism! And we will do it at the Waka Flocka concert!”
We’d been joking about how “intellectual” or “educated” (I use the quotation marks to highlight the dubiousness of these terms in this context, which is a conversation unto itself) Black people have two sides that appear to be incompatible (note: DuBois’ double consciousness) – the “intellectual” life, and the Black life. Clearly, this isn’t a new topic or idea, but I think it merits a good re-visit because there are two things to sort out here – is this really a dichotomy of two incompatible ideas; and if so, what does this do to the social and academic lives of these Black academics? (Though this problem isn’t restricted to Blacks in the academy, it speaks explicitly to Black intellectuals, many of whom have some sort of involvement with the academy.) Part 1 will deal with the first question (is this a dichotomy).
I’ll refer back to the quote above to try to illustrate the first issue – there’s a glaring juxtaposition that occurs here. On one end: Critical analysis of capitalism and its resulting social, political, and economic effects both from a conceptual standpoint and also with a unique eye to the United States and the relationship between race and capitalism is a very difficult thing to do. People have made careers, both academically and outside of the academy, dealing with these issues. There are no easy answers, most take some time to develop, and developing these answers can be helped out by conversing with others about particular views (hence #SocialistSunday).
On the other end: Waka Flocka Flame provides us with perhaps the newest image of the antithesis of intellectualism. I’ve listened to him. Heard about his live performances. There’s nothing intellectually stimulating about it. “OH Leh Do It” will not improve your quality of life. He’s had better songs and verses on songs (“No Hands” with Roscoe Dash and Wale has been getting a ton of radio play, for example), but he’s a hypeman (in my estimation) – not a rapper. He strikes me as this generation’s version of the 21st century version of Flavor Flav, with double the coonery and none of the political references the 20th century Flavor Flav drew on. I recognize this is a bit of a derisive description of Flocka (which he yells out often in his verses; he’s also prone to yelling out “BOW BOW BOW”), but this is for a particular effect. I haven’t been to any of his live performances, but I know what a rap concert looks like. Particularly a rapper whose strengths aren’t in his lyrical abilities. They get rowdy. Folks drink and smoke. Lots of dancing happens. All in all, it’s not an environment that’s conducive to consciously thinking about various social ills. It’s a place to, in some ways, embrace a couple of those ills and not have to think about certain issues in-depth except for the location of the afterparty.
And that’s what makes this such an interesting juxtaposition. Clearly, it was made for comedic effect (and I got a good laugh out of it) but it also reflects what many consider to be a reality of being an educated/intellectual Black person. On one hand, there’s a serious intellectual undertaking occurring that necessitates a certain behavior in order to effectively participate in the intellectual pursuit. On the other hand, the environment is such that this activity is out of place, unnecessary and possibly buzz-killing (both literally and figuratively). This is the dichotomy of the educated Black person in the United States.
Certainly, some of the weight of this dichotomy is because of the assumption that the educated person should enjoy (or at the very least, theoretically would have an appreciation for) things that are intellectually stimulating. That is to say, when we’re in our down time, our hobbies ought to be intellectually stimulating. It’s as if this is a necessary condition of being an intellectual – we must now be intellectually stimulated because we desire to be (since any schooling after high school is voluntary) and as such, its expected that since we desire to be intellectually stimulated that this desire should bleed over into all facets of our lives.
I’ll use myself as another example in two different ways. I can’t think of any person who knows me who wouldn’t consider me a contemplative intellectual in my general disposition (this is how I am at all times, not just when doing my academic work). And yet, when I go to my alma mater’s Homecoming next weekend (for those of you who will be in attendance, remember the rules!), I expect that I’ll be yelling out, “YEAAAAAHHHHHHH, OH LEH DO IT!” while grinding salaciously with a woman. There won’t be much analysis of anything happening except for the location of the afterparty, and that might be wishful thinking. I’ll be riding around, listening to music that any “educated” person would call foolish (this time last year, it was Travis Porter’s “All The Way Turnt Up” that was brought to my attention. It isn’t a musical masterpiece, but when I was at the alumni party and heard this song for the first time in a club, I was hooked). I am, for all intents and purposes, an educated Black person (determining what is meant by “educated” should be given a closer look. The working definition is that someone has at least a college degree, but even that’s not a good definition.) But at first glance at Homecoming, I probably wouldn’t look like one because there won’t be a ton of intentional intellectual pursuits taking place. I don’t go to Homecoming for the intellectual stimulation.
A second example is my general music palate. The assumption about people who are “educated” is that they are supposed to appreciate music in a more sophisticated way. Many of my contemporaries, for example, seem like audiophiles with the varying metrics with which they will appreciate a song or an artist. (Back in college, all it took was a decent 808 kick, some bass, and a catchy hook.) The songs we actively listen to would change to reflect our more sophisticated appreciations. Less of what artists are on the radio, for example, and more of the artists who aren’t. My musical tastes developed from my childhood; I grew up listening to classic soul, funk, and R&B hits and albums – I know a good song when I hear it. But a quick glance at my recently played on my iTunes should give you insight into the type of music I actively listen to: “I Go Ham,” “Throw This Money,” “Patna Dem,” “I Don’t Care,” “Never Too Much Money,” “Real Nigga Roll Call,” “Don’t Violate,” “Space Age Pimpin,” “Have Her Singing Like,” “Hoe Check,” and of course, “I Don’t Give A Fuck.” This is not the music we would typically associate with somebody who could be considered an intellectual or an educated person. In fact, there’s an attribution of anti-intellectualism to this kind of music – music that has highly sexual content, profanity, sexism, glorifies drug use and violence; or that has very little to contribute to music in general (“Patna Dem,” “Have Her Singing Like,” and “Hoe Check” are the songs I have in mind; there’s not much lyrical content to them).
Of course, my personal history influences the music I actively listen to (my brother brought back Atlanta and other Southern rap music from the early 2000’s, like Pastor Troy, Lil John, 8Ball & MJG, Three 6 Mafia, Dungeon Family, Baby D, UGK, and T.I.), but this doesn’t seem like the appropriate lineup for someone who is educated, right? I should be actively listening to more Janelle Monae, Common, Dead Prez, Andre 3000, and B.o.B., not OJ Da Juiceman, Gucci Mane, and Young Jeezy, right? I have music from all of these artists, but the play counts for some are much lower than one would expect from someone who “should have” acquired a more sophisticated musical palate. At the very least, shouldn’t I actively listen to good music rather than what I can even appreciate as ridiculousness over a beat? The lack of apparent intellectual stimulation in this kind of music, or in the activities of the above example, is supposed to be anathema to the intellectual. As if there’s no reason for these activities unless they possess a nugget of intellectual gold worth mining out.
There appears to be a dichotomy, then, for the educated Black person in the U.S. – there is this academic, intellectual, world wherein we are supposed to operate with a certain vocabulary, demeanor, and attitude. There is an expectation that this same disposition is how we should live at all times; intellectually vigilant and critical. There is also a world wherein that particular vocabulary, demeanor, and attitude could very well be out of place and alienating for those who use it. That is to say, these worlds appear to be incompatible because the cultures of both worlds have fundamentally different values. And yet, the educated Black is expected to manage these two worlds. Call it another version of the “Dilemma of the American Negro Scholar.”
To avoid doing 2000 word posts all the time, I’m going to stop here. Do you all agree with this dichotomy as I’ve presented it? I will re-visit this subject to deliver a more in-depth looks at the results of this dichotomy, namely that there are a number of problematic beliefs that have to be held for this dichotomy to exist in the first place, such as a conflation of “educated” with “enlightened” and the result is that we have a class of “enlightened” people and a class of “unenlightened” people (and given my above statements about my Marxist affiliations, it’s clear that I’m not a proponent of class creation). The more dangerous part of that belief? The educated Black can now be accused of treason from both classes because of our participation in both (which, if this class structure exists, reflects on the problem of what class the educated Black resides). Either way, DuBois has written about the double consciousness, and John Hope Franklin wrote about this in “The Dilemma of the American Negro Scholar,” (though Franklin’s piece speaks more to being Black in the academy), and I certainly want your thoughts about this. I want to incorporate them into Part 2.