Catch Me If You Can, the black version

The movie “Catch Me If You Can” was a 2003 Dreamworks release from Steven Spielberg and the whole crew of them.  It starred Leonardo DiCaprio as the real life Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. who, based on the movie, had some serious childhood issues with his father namely and before he was 19, yes you read correctly, in 1969, he had passed about $2,500,000.00 in bad checks in 26 different countries.

Yes, you read that correctly.

kevahn-thorpeThis movie was a sleeper film in the black community.  I’m not aware of ANY black people, let alone uppity Negroes that have watched this movie.  Well, this movie made it into my collection and is one of the better movie that I like in my collection.  So when I ran across the story of one Kevahn Thorpe out of Queensbridge Projects, home of Ron Artest and rapper Nas, my mind immediately went to that of Frank Abagnale, Jr.  His story was recently told in New York Magazine earlier this week and was covered by The Root writer Tamara J. Walker.  I didn’t read Walker’s story immediately, but clicked on the link and began reading the lengthy NY Magazine story. 

For those that haven’t already clicked on the story and gotten the gist of it, or at least skimmed it, what happened is that Kevahn Thorpe was a teenager, who’s now 18 years old serving a one-to-three stint last transferred to the infamous Sing Sing maximum security prison as a result of having spent last summer at Rikers and being what most consider a kleptomaniac.  What begs the attention of this young man is that he has shoplifted chronically, and high-end merchandise.  He has consistently lifted from stores like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Prada, Gucci and upscale stores like Barney’s and from designer stores that I’ve never heard of and most certainly can’t afford.

Usually when we hear of blacks who shoplift usually the names like Rocawear or Girbaud pop-up, not with Kevahn.  He started out as a young kid going downtown and lifting from the Macy’s stores and realised that he could get away with it and eventually he stepped his game up.   In the midst of the interview process with the NY Magazine writer Jessica Lustig, Kevahn was quoted as saying “I feel high-class—like nobody can tell me nothing” concerning him being dressed in head-to-toe upscale designer labels.

Immediately my mind went to a Rudolph McKissick sermon I heard where he said that “you dress up in name brand clothing because you don’t know your own name.”  And I really wondered how true that was in the case of young Kevahn. 

kevahn-thorpe-2The story goes on to say just how he had begun to put all of his stolen wares on his Myspace page and that his brother was still laughing about the prospect of him stealing high end goods, but after the first arrest stopped going with Kevahn on the jaunts to the stores.  The story speaks about how much at wits end his mother was, she even tried putting him out, but it was to no avail.  His first run-in with the law was when he was 16, and just how much it appeared that the juvenile justice system was trying to bend over backwards, Kevahn just refused to get it.  His thickheadedness, if you will was even more evident when he was mad upon one of his releases that the prison had lost his clothes with his stolen clothes in it.

The pity of the story came at the end of course.  Kevahn, a 5’7″, 18 year old kid with a slight frame is in Sing Sing because for some reason a disconnect in his mind exists between cause and effect.

The air of the story left it to be that Kevahn was worthy of being some sort of fashion consultant because of his knack for studying catalogs and paying attention to so much fashion detail, but that for some reason he just refused to stop shoplifting.  So was this just general kleptomania, or was there really some deeper issue that goes back to his first quote that “I feel like…nobody can tell me nothing.”

Walker in her article in The Root said “Thorpe’s story reminds us of luxury’s destructive pull. We all have a bit of Kevahn Thorpe in us. Looking like a million bucks, and having other people notice, takes a bit of the sting out of not actually having any money.”  She then takes a turn and ties this all into black America’s obsession, it seems, with how Lady Michelle O. dresses.  I think it’s an interesting tie-in, but I’d rather go back and park ideologically with Walker’s quote.

Let me be transparent here:

It’s hard existing in a world and in a society that focuses heavily on the things that we can obtain that give us status.  One’s ability to look and dress a part is key to success in this world.  My mother is convinced, and probably right, that when me and her were coming back from a funeral in Mississippi and had stopped at a Holiday Inn in downtown Memphis that we probably received better treatment and the discount simply because we still had on our dress clothes from earlier that day.  I personally still struggle internally with just how many things I want in my own world that I keep believing are going to give me the status that I want, and feel that I deserve.  I try and justify my intellect and my genuine motivations for reasons why I should have this stuff versus others who I don’t perceive put the same effort into what I did.

It’s hard sitting in your third year of grad school (I’m in a four year program, so I’m still on track) not fully financially independent from your parents, yet and still you see your other friends finished with their graduate studies and doing well–on the outside.

I have two friends from grammar school that at the age of 24 and 25 are paying mortgages on houses in addition to all of the other bills.  Other friends work 9 to 5 jobs and are on their way to moving out of their parents house and others already have at this point, and in a society and world that puts emphasis on what things you have and how much status those things can give you, it’s a wonder we don’t hear more stories similar to that of Kevahn.

Well, I remember the same preacher saying in another sermon “don’t be worried about how I got what I got, because to get what I got, are you willing to take what I took?”  meaning, that the two friends that are paying mortgages on their houses are parental inherited homes due to the death of their single parents.

That aside, what am I, or what are the Kevahn Thorpe’s of the world supposed to do?  There aren’t many alternatives it seems.  Kevahn is one who less than 24 hours after a release from a detention center goes back to shoplifting, or then there is the case of people like me who just sit up going “WTF” when we turn on the television.  Oh yes, people, please believe I am NOT the only person who reads this blog who feels, shall we say “materially inadequate.”

I think what really is at the root of the issue is self-esteem and self-worth.

It’s basic self-esteem issues that both I and Kevahn appear to deal with based on the story told by the reporters.  When your self-worth is tied into that which you own, or how much you own, or anything that’s ephemeral, you stand the risk of being like Kevahn, or possibly being like me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some recluse that stays in his dorm room hunched over his desk writing blogs all the time like some social misfit, but nonetheless reading Kevahn’s story was a bit of an eye-opener for me.  It provided for me a lens to let me see that I’m not all alone.  I remember being in high school and feeling that I didn’t get respect from some of my peers and that I would get more respect, or rather status, if I had wore designer labels.  I didn’t get that opportunity until post-Hurricane Katrina when I had to buy a whole wardrobe, and even then I realized “clothes don’t make the man” because even in all of that, I still didn’t feel complete.  

Even when I got a car, was a senior in college, I still didn’t feel like I had “it.”  I just knew that at that point, not saying girls was gonna be all over me or nothing, but hell, I had a lil’ change in my pocket, had a car, was dressing the way I wanted to, and even when I would try and holla at some of the girls on campus–nothing happened.  Perhaps this is my own jadedness, but it still appeared to me that the girls on campus were more attracted to the guys that had more things, ergo, more status.  For example, the frat boys of course, or the ones that stayed off campus–and there I was.

It took me from high school to Hurricane Katrina to come to grips that I just wasn’t ugly.  Yup, this uppity Negro had SEVERE self-esteem issues.  This was at least seven years of agony that kept me self ostracized for fear of being teased and ridiculed from peers at school and in the church youth groups.  Even when I got to Fisk in post-Katrina times, it still was a daily battle where I began to force myself to stare in the mirror and get comfortable with what I saw myself.  Even still, it wasn’t an overnight thing that I dealt with.  

Then it wasn’t until this year, some nearly 10 years removed from when I first started high school that I was able to articulate the following out loud not just to a friend, but rather to myself:  Perhaps you actually do have it altogether; everyone else realizes it but you.

Whew!

photo-3That took me out when I first said it.  It was something that I had thought in my head, but to actually vocalize it was something else.  I used to hate having to hear “you’re not my type” from people that I was interested in, but they were interested, it seemed, in what others could do for them, what five-star restaurants they could take them to and how far they’d fly in to see them, or just how they could make someone move from another city just to be with them, and then I realized that I’m created just to be me, and no one else and I’ve begun the process of believing myself.

Yes, it’s a process.  This is not an overnight event where tomorrow morning I’ll be able to wake up and process all of the hurts and anxieties that high school and college and even my current situation has dealt me, but dammit, I’m on my way to putting it altogether.

So for those who actually read this rambling and it made sense to them (LOL) then perhaps this blog post was really for you.  Maybe you really do have it all together and the rest of the world is just waiting for you to realize it for yourself.  Prayerfully after all is said and done you’ll be an asset to those around you who’ll welcome you with open arms.

Maybe taunting “catch me if you can” really isn’t indicative of the individual running from society, but rather the individual running from self.

Feel free to leave comments.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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8 responses to “Catch Me If You Can, the black version

  1. I must admit that although the uppity negro is my friend, I am a lurker on his blog. I read every blog that is posted, but this time I have to leave a comment to applaud what was written. This blog is one that should be read by all because most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have had to deal with issues of self-esteem at some point. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being transparent!!!

    “uppity always”

    TU

  2. This was very deep. You should write a paper on this subject. The things that cause a person to buy a house they can’t afford, Drive a car that has a payment that equals a mortgage, doesn’t wear any clothes that doesn’t have a name on it etc… It’s a sickness that knows no color. America throws fame and fortune in our faces everyday via commercials, television shows etc… That’s probably one of the reasons Pres. Obama doesn’t want to tell people they are going to have to save money…he will get a riot on his hands.

  3. @TU

    Thanks for the support.

    @CO

    I just wrote this from the heart. I got to writing and realised I didn’t have an angle that was that much different than what I had read on The Root, so I just started writing how I was really feeling when I read that article.

  4. Uppity is knowing who you are and to whom you belong . Epiphanies happen. Values shift and we learn to look up more rather than down. And we grow on…

    Bless you Uppity, grace and mercy on you!

  5. WOW!!! This was AMAZING! A pastor I know (Terrance Johnson @Higher Dimension Church in Houston, TX) recently preached about “things”. And saying how some of us are in debt because we’re peering into our neighbor’s home and coveting their “things”, without realizing what they had to go through to get what they got.

  6. One word: Awesome. I am really impressed by your writing, and can definitely relate to what you have said. Keep being honest and much success to you.

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