by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Before we begin, let’s talk about what “slavery” actually is. We know historical slavery as a brutal, violent institution that left people consistent dehumanized. Almost nothing today compares to what our ancestors experienced, except perhaps, the brutality of the prison industrial complex.
But freedom and slavery are not dichotomous and instead lie on a continuum between complete freedom and complete slavery. If you define slavery to mean that someone or something else controls your actions and choices every day, then most people are slaves on some level. If you’re so deep in debt that you couldn’t quit your job if you want to, then you are experiencing a bit of corporate slavery. If you have no choice but to go to a job you hate every morning, then that is a form of slavery too. So, don’t think that slavery ended in 1865. Capitalism will ensure that slavery always exists on some level.
Every other day, I receive a video that amazes me. I see a two year old who can dance her butt off, or a seven year old who can play basketball like an NBA star. These videos reveal the obvious: That black people have talent.
There is no question that we should allow our children to excel in whatever areas they choose, but we must ask ourselves a serious question: For those who work overtime to help their child become the best singer, dance, rapper or athlete, are they putting that same energy into helping their child excel in the classroom? If the answer is “no,” then you may actually be preparing your children for slavery.
A full 99% of our best rappers, dancers and basketball players never earn a penny from their talent. But if they were to apply that energy toward science, math or going to law school, we could take over the nation. Additionally, it is critical in the new economy that every African American child be put in a situation where he/she can learn the basics of starting their own business. You don’t need to make millions of dollars in order to be fulfilled, for freedom and happiness are forms of wealth within themselves.
The worst model of professional development is to try to be the best dancer, rapper or athlete and then sit around wasting your life hoping that some white man comes along and offers you an opportunity. This makes you vulnerable and ripe for the very oppression that we spend our time complaining about most of the time. Entertainment is controlled by those who have access to capital and understand business models. Those who serve as the talent are often holding on by the luck of the draw, and stuck in a situation where there is far more available talent than there are available opportunities. For every superstar on TV, there are 1,000 women singing in church like Beyonce, another thousand brothers on the block playing as well as NBA wannabes and another thousand rappers who can spit with the best of them.
At the very least, talented people should a) have a strong educational backup plan and b) know how to create their own opportunities. If you’re a rapper, you’re far more likely to succeed if you know how to produce, market, and distribute your own product. The same is true in nearly any profession, so you should never allow your talent to be an excuse for educational mediocrity. The biggest fool on earth is the one who thinks that because he can dribble a basketball, he doesn’t need to know how to read. If this person does get a chance to earn some money, a more educated person is probably going to take it anyway.
Once again, it’s cool to have fun. It’s great to exercise our talent. But for every black two year old who knows how to twerk, there should be a thousand who know how to count to ten in Spanish. For every five year old black boy who can dribble a basketball, there should be scores of others who are doing math three grade levels above other children their age. We must excel at everything we do, and not just when it comes to stereotypes. We are good enough to do both.