I just came from spending the better part of my afternoon with my friend, The Critical Cleric after I dropped off my application to Emory’s Candler School of Theology and somehow as we were sitting at Landmark Jr. cafe, and we were discussing this one young lady who went to our school (now his alma mater). He was saying about how she’s probably looking for a relationship, and I said true, but she’s from Philly and that knowing her she probably won’t find someone here in Atlanta.
And that’s when the diversionary conversation began.
I’ve long made the claim that Atlanta is a “fake” city. That is that many of the black people running around here, living and existing, are a part of a reality that is more concerned with material things. So much so that when individuals are attempting to be in relationships, they are more concerned with what type of car one drives, what’s their address, what type of job they have, what type of clothes they wear et cetera. My friend countered back that that’s probably true of any northern city with a black urban professional sector. I responded that that’s probably true, but I said specifically for blacks from up North who move down South, that there lacks a certain level of “social awareness” of those down South.
And of course, the ish hit the fan.
Here’s my point: blacks living down South do indeed have a certain cultural and social awareness, but I must say given my experiences hopscotching across the eastern half of the nation, that by in large blacks living Down South have a social awareness that is lacking.
For instance, various Pan-Africanist thoughts concerning Africa and even other Afro-centric thought as a part of African American culture are not even on the minds of many individuals living in the South. Case in point: If while sitting in a freshman required course at Dillard University on African World Studies, a one semester course, that when the professor said “Africa is not a country” and you could see the faces of many of the students light up as though this were a novel thought, somewhat proves my point.
Remember, Dillard University is comprised of students from largely middle class backgrounds with a high student populations from both Texas and Louisiana, but still middle class which means that they went to decent high schools and somehow and someway they were able to pay the $20,000 tuition–Dillard was not some community college.
So as the conversation proceeded, I told my friend that I never got challenged by my peers intellectually until I got to Fisk University. I never had some deep intellectual (well, deep to us as college students) conversation on the Yard with fellow students about some social or political issue until I got to Fisk–and yes, I was making the argument that Fisk had a higher student incidence of people from the North. And that’s true, Fisk’s highest out of state student come from Chicago and Detroit and next was California from the population centers of Los Angeles and the Bay Area. And for the record, my more memorable conversations with persons on the Yard that challenged ones varying world views from topics to politics to what characterized a “Fisk Man” or a “Fisk Woman” to even the role of black men versus black women in a relationship had a higher incidence of those individuals not being from the South.
We came to the conclusion at this point in the conversation that this had to do more with religious and social conditioning. My friend made the argument that because of the religious institutions being so dominant down south that a certain level of freedom was not possible down south, but was able to be achieved up north.
But, he still wasn’t ready to concede that indeed the social awareness was wider.
We kind of went off on a tangent concerning black preaching and specifically the modern Civil Rights movement. He said the the infrastructure of blacks had a social consciousness (not awareness) in the South that the North did not have that was able to produce a CORE and a SNCC and various other organizations that helped the movement. He used the argument of Bayard Rustin coming to the South to observe the movement. Now, I responded be that as it may, but the type of movement in the South wasn’t needed in the North because of the de jure segregation in the South and de facto segregation in the North.
He didn’t buy that argument.
And we also disagreed on the issue of blacks having a population mass that’s still heavily southern. He said population numbers are exclusive from the ability to have an infrastructure that was able to produce the modern Civil Rights movement.
Well, I guess we’re just going to disagree on that.
So the conversation meandered around preaching and the difference of a northern black preachers and southern black preachers and their content–which again, I pointed to the vast difference of social awareness historically and contemporarily. Although, I was quick to point out, at least in Chicago, the southern Baptist preaching style that’s so prevalent in many northern black Baptist churches. Which of course he acknowledged. He then went to note that generally, the rap music that hip hop has produced has generally produced more “conscious hip hop” in northern enclaves. His example was that D4L’s “Shake Your Laffy Taffy” would have been laughed out of the studio if they had been in New York.
And then finally, I was mentioning to him that I somewhat fell out with some friends from Fisk when I passed through because I was trying to tell of my various experiences of living in New Orleans for three years for college, my one year at Fisk in Nashville and my nearly four years in Atlanta for school that lead me to concretely say that the level of social awareness in the North surpasses that of those in the South. And between these two other soon to be Fisk alumni, one from rural Arkansas and another from Atlanta, both began using their family legacy and their own social location as means for their awareness.
Hear me out.
The one from Arkansas used his family history and being fifth generation college educated, and his parents professions and him studying overseas as reasons to discount my general argument. The one from Atlanta was countering that I my experiences were based on a “new Atlanta” and that I couldn’t possibly understand the “old Atlanta” that had birthed Auburn Street and various other Atlanta institutions that are black cultural highlights of Atlanta.
As I was retelling this story to the The Critical Cleric and I turned the phrase that my two Fisk colleagues were using their elitism to cover for their social awareness.
And my friend cut me off in the conversation and said, “I take back everything I just said about this whole argument. You’re right.”
You know that was music to my ears, especially because usually this is the friend that challenges my logic and not the other way around. And he went on to tell a story that he went to the house of one of his members, an established gentlemen who’s a known lawyer here in Atlanta and that in midst of the visit that this man said to him that because Africa (which I guess was a country in his mind) has never sent one boat or one plane back to the Americas asking for blacks to come back that he doesn’t want anything to do with Africa.
This was his logic.
Which more or less proves my point.
Black middle class persons down south generally, don’t acknowledge the Afro-centric part of African American culture. Because of that, many black southerners push back when persons are seen wearing African garb and please don’t bring up Kwanzaa to black folks living in the South. My issue is not that blacks need to ascribe to these schools of thought or that their “blackness” is called into question because they don’t practice them, but dammit, at least be aware of it!
As my friend posited, blacks in the South seem to be dismissive of certain cultural and social links that bring about awareness; they are self-affirming in their own “blackness” in so far as they can see it. I would like to further add (this is me and not him), that this is a result of bourgeoise and westernized assimilation and acculturation.
This, let me first say, is not the end of the world. To my fellow Fisk men, please believe they do have a world view and a social awareness that surely far surpasses many others, but I would still say that on certain Pan-African and Afro-centric thought that they fall short. Let the record show that in certain circles writers like Molefi K. Asante, John Clarke, Asa Hilliard and Cheikh A. Diop are household names, but far too often those names are a complete foreign tongue to those living in the South. Yes, this is not to say that the Pan-Africanist does not exist in the South, but just here in Atlanta. Between First Afrikan Presbyterian Church of Lithonia, Ga. and The Shrine of the Black Madonna in the West End, one does not have much of an outlet. This in stark comparison to a cultural capital enough in the city of Chicago that the annual Malcolm X Kwanzaa celebration gets news and air time every single year along with many other Afro-centric cultural events.
And of course, I’m not saying that every black Northerner is “enlightened” to a social awareness of which I’m describing. But by in large, the northern “concrete jungles” have provided an atmosphere for which one can receive a larger social awareness–particularly those afforded the privilege of the black middle class.
If you are black and middle class and living down south the following is especially for you:
If you’ve made it this far through this article and haven’t totally written me off, and still your immediate reaction is to recite a full list of accomplishments that you’ve done and that you’re family or your friends have done that qualifies you as having a world view that is broad, or, your inclination is to cite the horrible statistics of crime and under-education and projects of northern cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland or Rochester, then this entire post has been lost on you–please resume what you were doing before this.
That is simply to say that if one fails to engage some of the other aspects of African American life from a national standpoint simply because you were never exposed to it, don’t understand it, or don’t care to understand it is somewhat of a disappointment to me.
Then, the conversation turned to education and my friend said, well, let the record show that down south we have schools, up North there are “African American Studies” departments. I had to laugh because it’s true, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
And the conversation turned to Morehouse–and just to what level of elitism do we in the black community expect and project onto ourselves.
Stay tuned because this conversation isn’t over.
What are your thoughts? Do you think blacks from the North have a broader social awareness than those blacks Down South? Does elitism at times cloud our judgment on world views and various inter-racial social issues?