As part of my daily routine, I usually wake up around 5:30 am and head to the bathroom, phone in hand ready to gather my thoughts as I sit upon the throne and search what early morning Twitter has to offer. The usuals are always there. Joe Budden and his “Good morning y’all!” as well as my fav, Charlamagne Tha God’s morning ritual of saying “Thank you God for blessing me with another day.” Additionally, me being a sports guy, I follow all the sports guys. That said there’s no wonder how I came across a tweet from FS1’S own Jason Whitlock.
Before I go on let me express the admiration that I have for Mr. Whitlock. Me being a young, Black aspiring journalist (well not so young, that’s a bad habit at this point, I’m 37 now) I have the highest admiration for those who have pioneered the field and made it so guys like myself can still dream of one day being on ESPN or Fox Sports. Jason Whitlock (a journalist whose acclaim comes from his time at the Kansas City Star) made his bones like a real writer should;l writing his way to the next gig with a bigger platform until he made it to ESPN guest hosting several shows starting in 2002.
Jason and ESPN eventually had a bit of a bad break up and he eventually landed a gig on Fox, now partnered with Marcellus Wiley (whom I love) doing a show called “Speak For Yourself.” The show ironically caters to all what I have termed: black likeness- something curtailed to the liking of Black people.
If you’ve seen the show, I don’t think that I need to explain further. For those of you that haven’t, I advise you to fact check if I’m correct in my assertion. On the show, many of the panelist (often ex-athletes) tend to be in accord in opinion regarding players rights vs. the league. Jason however on what more than could be considered coincidence, goes out of his way to take the opposing side of opinion regarding many issues that pertain to players empowering themselves vs. the old structure of the league where players made few decisions.
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One Saturday morning while scouring the wastelands of social media, I come across a tweet from Whitlock that read: “I don't have a problem with it. I just think it's phony and superficial. It's the kind of stuff celebs do to pretend they care. They've turned the fight for justice into a marketing ploy for Nike.” This was Whitlock’s response to someone on Twitter questioning why it seems Whitlock has a problem with Lebron and Kevin Durrant’s support of Colin Kaepernick. I then replied unknowing of what would eventually happen and asked: “Question, why you always got the complete opposite opinion as the rest of the culture, is that how you stay on TV?” Whitlock retweeted my tweet with a comment that read “Look who is at the head of the so-called culture. Rappers, rap music is lyrical pornography. Listen to what is said and being promoted. Porn is to be occasionally enjoyed, not followed and worshiped. You see Larry Flynt and Jenna Jameson at the head of white culture?”
Not only did I feel the reply was flagrant and fundamentally wrong on several levels, but I was also disheartened that a Black man would have this interpretation of who/what drives the culture. Within minutes my mentions started blowing up. While the majority of people responding look nothing like myself or Whitlock, to my surprise they echoed the exact sentiments of Whitlock. I took on about 30 comments, many of them asking why I feel everyone who considers themselves apart of the culture needs to have the same mindset. Another portion of the comments seemed to draw political connotations that led me to believe that to some “the culture” meant something that has more importance than one’s choice of music.
One of the oddest replies was from a guy who seemed to be genuinely curious and good-natured. “Most of the hate Lavar Ball got from fans/players is because Lonzo Ball comes from a two-parent household.” He then followed that up by saying that early in the careers of the Williams sisters they came across this same issue when “the culture” found out they had a father. I let the gentlemen know that what he’s saying implies that fathers are not welcome in the Black community which couldn’t be any further from the truth. The lack of male representation in the family dynamic is due to systematic mass incarceration, knowing what that would in turn do to the communities.
After my mentions slowed I was left thinking that my personal definition of the culture was nothing like all those people on Twitter. It seemed that just about everybody I engaged with had a different interpretation for the meaning of “the culture.” Now fascinated by a word that seemed to trigger such a reaction, I was now on a mission to bring some clarity to this word that seems to have a different meaning to everyone.
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines culture as -: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group
To properly explain what the culture means to me I’ll have to tell you a bit about myself. As mentioned, I’m 37-years-old and as you probably know by now, a Black man. More than that, I’m a husband, a father of two, a son and a brother. My peer group consists of men much like myself; God-fearing, hardworking family-oriented types. I have a tag for the men that are like me of my age “The end and the beginning.” This is a metaphor I’ve made up that symbolizes the end of Black children being fatherless and the beginning of Black men becoming fathers.
For the first time in decades, black households have fathers in them. In my daughter’s softball league teams are aided with the coaching and field services provided by the parents of the children. Most of the teams are coached by fathers who are dedicating their time after work, this type of male representation hasn’t been seen in Black communities in this capacity in decades. This to me is what “the culture” is about.
Progressing, building and restoring our communities, becoming pillars of strength in the lives of our children, empowering our women, being more mindful of our spending, becoming homeowners and promoting education, this is what “the culture” means to me. Growing up in the mid to late 90’s children today have it good compared to the type of households many of the children in my generation grew up in. Everyone had someone in their family that was either in jail or on crack, if not both. With drugs either being used or sold, millions of Black men (aka fathers) went to jail in droves leaving women to raise families. With all the dads in jail, as you’d expect gangs become a young man’s validation and rites to passage to becoming a man.
Today I’m happy to report that those days seem to be long behind us. There’s no longer a drug that has everyone in the neighborhood either smoking or selling it. Gangs being on the decline is a direct correlation of more fathers being on the scene. This all means duel family households and that is something that hasn’t been part of the Black community for decades. I search for the proper words to conclude something that is so dear to me. I truly believe this is a new day and age in the community. To conclude “the culture” to me means the release from old ideology and a realization of self and unity.
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For the youth, that definition is different. For the sake of conversation, let's just say the youth are those ages 25 and under. One thing that we have to consider about this demographic is that they are a generation like no other in many ways. They are the first generation of human born with a smartphone in hand. Some of the greatest inventions in the 20th century have been the advancement of communication. Johann Gutenberg’s 1448 invention of the printing press made way for books to be mass-produced. Beforehand books were handwritten and took long periods of time to distribute. If by definition “the culture” in general is a belief amongst groups, then you understand how powerful the expansion of ideology is.
In 1775 Benjamin Franklin was named the first Postmaster General and started the first United States Postal office. Before this letter writing had to be given hand to hand by travelers never knowing when the recipient would receive the letter. 1747 William Watson’s telegraph allowed instant messages over Long distance. 1846 brought the advance of the telephone, radio in the early 1900s, television in 1939, military internet in 1967, cell phone in 1973 to today’s smartphone invented in 1992.
All to say the advancement of communication could be said to be the main culprit to what drives the culture. Today’s youth unlike generations before have essentially been birthed with networks of communication never before seen. Facebook, Instagram and the rest of the gang are platforms that open up the world in a sense. No longer can one’s ideology be trapped in the small town where you were born. My daughter was 13 before I got her a phone. While other kids in her peer group were getting phones as early as seven, I held back for many years knowing that once I got her a phone, I could no longer protect her from all the bad things the world has to offer.
The bright side for the youth in my estimation is more than any generation before, due to the advancement of social media, “the culture” means the same thing to more people than ever. Hip-hop by far being the #1 music genre seems to have a lot of influence on the youth. (Before you go too far, music has always had great influence in the culture.) The difference is now parents more than ever will have a harder time censoring what the eyes and ears of their children take on. While that may sound daunting there’s also great awareness that comes with it.
Before all the police shootings caught on tape and spread on social media, many of my non–Black friends had no idea the type of injustice that Blacks endure during interactions with police. While the light is often put upon those who seem not to care for the civil rights of minorities, I’m certain that there are many more who never knew what was happening and assumed the relationship with police was the same for all and are now aware of the inequalities.
Today’s youth in my estimation due to the world now being smaller in the sense that technology has brought us closer, seems to be far more inclusive racially than any generation before. This alone gives me great hope for the future. I cen't be the only one that has been on a social media platform and seen a person/family who looks completely different than me, and while watching whatever they were doing and said to yourself “wow, they’re just like me.” This generation to me will bridge the gap, I think this will be the first generation that brings Maya Angelou’s famous quote to life “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike”
For some, the culture is threatening. During my interactions on Twitter, there were many non-Black people that seemed to take exception with the notion of the culture itself. It seemed they believe there’s some anti–American sentiment behind what the culture means. Judging by the passion in the comments I couldn’t help but feeling there was a strange fear factor involved. I also realized that there seems to be a perceived political association with those amongst the culture. To those who opposed the notion of the culture, they simultaneously seemed to label those in support of the culture politically. There seems to be a clear divide politically from those who consider themselves amongst the culture, and those who take exception to the idiom of the culture. I’m not sure where this narrative comes from however the divide seems to be woven within the fabric of the conversation without saying.
I was bombarded with replies like “why must everyone in the culture have the same sheep like mindset.” Others took aim at the media “Because 'culture' is just a bunch of media companies controlling what you see and believe so they can sell you shit you don't need. If you find yourself 'going along with culture', you are a fool.” As the replies continued to come in sounding off on the media and their agenda, I started to think that may be the media could have a lot to do with this distorted interpretation of to what “the culture” means.
Many rappers now who were around for the “East Coast vs. West Coast” beef cite the media as the main culprit in lives being lost. Treach of Naughty by Nature said Vibe Magazine’s infamous cover that read “East Coast vs West Coast” fanned the flames of a beef that never truly was. Could the media possibly use a phrase like “The Culture” as a trigger that evokes a certain emotion is some people?
It then dawned on me. The culture is to them what MAGA is to us. I’m certain there are people who back the MAGA movement who have no ill will towards anyone. I’m sure there are those that believe “making America great again” includes us all. However, what is sold to my community and is pretty much ingrained in our minds is that MAGA represents a system that empowers white supremacy and makes minorities second class citizens. There’s literally been a line drawn in the dirt.
Introspecting, I took a look at myself. When I looked at myself and what MAGA meant to me I was almost shocked at what I found. Literally, if I see a person wearing MAGA gear I would think that they hate Black people. But why do I think that? I’ve never heard anyone say that. In fact, living in Los Angeles I’ve never seen anyone in real life sporting any MAGA gear. So why do I have this interpretation of MAGA and those who support what the movement represents?
I was mad. I felt I’d been manipulated by the media and drawn strong conclusions but had not made an effort to have the evidence that would support it. Essentially, that would make me just like them. Forming strong conclusions but never taking the time to talk to a real person. Never taking the time to even hear the other side out. I felt the media had pushed me on one side of the fence by using tactics that persuaded me emotionally before I could make a sound decision.
Could this whole “Culture” and “MAGA” thing just be another media generated beef just like the “East Coast vs. West Coast” beef? I didn’t know anyone from the east coast at the time being around 12 years old, but I can tell you if there was another 12-year-old around that was from the east coast, I would have wanted smoke.
In the end, I don’t know what’s right or wrong. I do know before anyone draws a conclusion the adult thing to do would be to have researched what you’re concluding. I think that’s a start if nothing else. I’m certain the media uses words and phrases as triggers to get reactions, which ultimately drives interest. The only way we’ll see that improve is if more conversations are had by real people. It’s become apparent to me that we’ve all drawn conclusions without having the necessary conversations, and that goes for all of us.
You should do what I did, question your beliefs. I found a person that I didn’t like. To make matters worse I found that I was indeed just like those people on Twitter that I had earlier thought I was nothing like. Like them, I’m quick to make assumptions while knowing very little. I too am fearful of a regime that devalues the beliefs and traditions I was raised with. I, like them, am a proud American whose only fight will always be to have a fair opportunity. Whatever brand the culture falls under I’m certain that we all just want to be included.
Something Maya Angelou said so simply ended up being the simple answer to something I initially thought was complex. As for me, I leave with a new perspective. I plan on having more conversations with real people. I’ll also keep in mind that we’re more alike than unalike. Until the next time, the throne awaits.