I was recently asked what it’s like to be me. The pat answer I give is “fantastic.”
However, the person asking the question wanted more specifics. They wanted to know what it was like for me to hold the opinions I do and be Black at the same time. To be honest, I really had to give that some thought, because the views I have I’ve pretty much had all my adult life.
Being an army brat and spending my formative years in Europe, I never had to deal with race as a significant day-to-day issue until I returned to the United States. This wasn’t to say that, before then, I was colorblind. It was undeniable I was Black, but when your neighbors are white, Asian, Latino, German, French, Dutch, etc., you’re just another part of the stew, and you go on about your business.
It was returning to America to finish college where I got my first real taste of an attitude I found offensive and more detrimental than any racism white people could perpetuate.
I was attending Northern Illinois University to finish up my degree in broadcasting and journalism. I decided to join a social organization called B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S., a group of young Black men dedicated to working with other Black college students who had trouble adjusting to college life.
I thought to myself, “It seems like a noble goal.” Also, many NIU Black students were the first ones in their families to attend college, so there was a lot of pressure on them. So, when I went to the orientation meeting and introduced myself, everyone was happy to hear there was an “Abdul” in the group.
That didn’t last long. The head B.R.O.T.H.E.R. began to speak, and, after welcoming everyone, he said, “You know they don’t want you here. They just want your money, and then they will kick you out. The only way you can beat them is with us.”
It took me five seconds to figure out who they were, because this college-educated young man sounded like my uncle, who found it easier to explore conspiracy theories that kept the Black people down than to read the classifieds.
After the head B.R.O.T.H.E.R. gave his speech, I asked a simple question: “Are you for real?” He said, “Yes.” I told him he was doing more harm than good. I told him these kids have enough pressure on them and don’t need someone who looks like them making it worse. I then picked up my backpack and left. As I walked out the door, someone said, “That brother is lost.”
I wasn’t lost; I just found my sanity. Over the next 25 years, I would run into many people who remind me of that head B.R.O.T.H.E.R. I’ve run into them in both graduate school and law school. I’ve run into them as a reporter and commentator. I’ve run into them in politics. I’ve run into them as an educator. And I run into them at family events. At the end of the day, their only mission in life is to justify their own existence by scaring other people into thinking of them as necessary.
My attitude has always been, when people start “talking crazy,” someone has to call them out. As a grown-up 25 years later, it’s a strategy that still works, although I’m not as brazen as I was at 25. There is too much at stake to just simply walk away.
So, as long as I have a forum (radio, television, print, the internet) to express my opinions and call out the nonsense, I will. It’s the right thing to do; it provides a counterbalance to the crap being pushed on people, and to be honest, it’s actually a lot of fun.•
Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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