Pride Complex pt. II: Working hard and staying out of trouble

“He worked as hard. Stayed out of trouble too. But he didn’t look it.” 

Recently, Black CNN Anchor Don Lemon spoke about some tips for the Black community, which included to stop using this N word, stop sagging pants, and so on. An article written by Kimberly Foster perfectly illustrates why he literally did nothing for black people in the US, instead he continued to perpetuate oppressive stereotypes that just help to fuel racism. But something else came to mind when he spoke – if you work hard and stay out of trouble, you’ll make it.

I have trouble accepting where I am and how I got here – essentially feeling proud. I worked hard, and had to work more than twice as hard because of the color of my skin, the language I spoke, the parents I had, because of the identity I embodied. Unfortunately, in the American Caste system, I was on the opposite end of privilege. Even so, I overcame, and yet, I had trouble accepting it (read pt. I here).

Then something dawned one me when I heard Don Lemon’s rant. His ridiculous advice highlighted a reality that I had contended with since kindergarten. The phrase I heard over and over again growing up was “work hard and stay out of trouble.” Who didn’t hear that growing up? Well, it just clicked for me, that as a Latino/person of color, working hard and staying out of trouble was (and is) never enough.

I find it the most fascinating of contradictions when I hear conservative pundits, republicans, or middle class/wealthy people talk about how poor people/working class people take advantage of a welfare system. I know more people on welfare than not, and I never saw the laziness, the “taking advantage”, the leeches, none of that. I saw people working 3 jobs, doing things on the side, sacrificing their lives to survive, and most of the time, for their families. Clearly, the whole working hard and staying out of trouble was something that just wasn’t enough for the single mom working three jobs who had never even gotten a traffic ticket. Nope. And I just realized why.

For people of color, working hard and staying out of trouble is never enough. We need to work twice as hard, if not more, than our white counterparts. Furthermore, staying out of trouble for many of us isn’t about us not breaking the law, its literally about dodging the eyes of the police. Our criminality starts at birth, with evidence revealing how pervasive the school to prison pipeline is, and how race and gender play into it. For many of us, including those within my family, we are breaking the law simply by existing in a state of undocumentation – or in the case of Arizona, looking like we lack documentation. You can be a genius, but being a law abiding citizen can never be a reality because of your legal status. People of color – told again and again, by both white people and our successful brothers and sisters, that by working hard and staying out of trouble, we can be like them – we can make it. But there is a darker reality to that belief, a belief that is just not true.

Aside from being unable to stay out of trouble because of a racist criminal justice system, and that working hard means working harder, no one mentions how we need to shed our cultural, ethnic, and historical identity to be successful. And I finally figured out why I am resistant to my pride – I am resistant to letting go of my identity, the same identity that in the eyes of ‘Murica labeled me lazy and a criminal.

As Dom Lemon pointed out, stop saying this and dressing like that was more of an attack on our cultural, ethnic, and historical identities than behavior that is not conducive to success. I’m proud of the hard work I have done, I am proud of the hours I put in, the thousands of hours. What I know I can’t be proud of, or accept, is also having to conform to White ‘Murica. I can work hard and stay out of trouble, but my language, my accent, my slang, my long hair, my earring, my tattoo (forthcoming), the way I dress, my music preferences, my support of urban spoken word versus Shakespeare, my choice of foods, are all the things that are used to create an image of who in those country is supposedly lazy, a social leech, delinquent, don’t want to assimilate, reverse racists, and so on. My color-ness, my blackness, my Latinoness, are all things that are continuously used in an oppressive narrative that says my people, my community, are whats wrong with me. That is what I can’t be proud of, and something I have almost been forced to do to get ahead – not just hard work and staying out of trouble, but to let go of who I am.

In part one I expressed my fear of becoming like Don Lemon, where my success became part of a machine that oppressed my community. But now I know what else it is about me becoming part of that machine that scares me. The pre-requisite to that is me completely detaching from my identity. Before I can be part of the machine, I need to completely sacrifice to the machine who I am and not only become something else, but also make sure I destroy that identity in others.

I’m proud of my hard work, but what I’m not proud of, but ashamed of, is the instances where I sacrificed who I was because I thought it was part of working hard and staying out of trouble. I had somehow accepted the oppressive narrative and subscribed to it. Now I know why my soul hurt – it was because it was trying to tell me that by telling other people of color to just work hard and stay out of trouble, I was also telling them to not be themselves – I was telling them to sacrifice who they were to be successful.

I have spoken the words so many times, to so many younger kids, as it was spoken to me as I grew up. I did it without knowing what I was really asking. For that, I am sorry.

Now, I say to you, don’t sacrifice who you are. The pre-requisite to change, and I mean real change, so we can one day reach equity, is to acknowledge and embrace your culture, heritage, and history. By doing that, you’re fighting a system that doesn’t only effect people of color, but effects everyone.


One thought on “Pride Complex pt. II: Working hard and staying out of trouble”

  1. I think there’s a problem when people latch onto certain phrasing and condense that phrasing into one connected thought.
    I don’t think Lemmons wants men of color to fail, at all. I think he wants them to succeed. I think he cares.
    Asking people to pull up their pants shouldn’t be viewed as a slander on any group or community of people. If you take two men with the exact same resumes and one presents himself buttoned up ready to greet the public and the other gentlemen has his pants so low you can see the formation of his genitals and his butt crack… you know who gets the job. A man who can’t pull up his pants implies, to me, that he either crapped himself, he’s lazy or drunk or stoned, or he masturbates so profusely he need to get to his crotch QUICK! That’s what that style says to me.
    A hoodie, on the other hand, has a fashion function… you can put your hood over your head.
    In the 10th Century, foot binging was rather popular. Foot binging in China, basically meant deforming women’s feet so they could fit into 3 foot shoes. Eventually this practice was banned in the 1800’s.
    So… saggy pants is suggestive, rude, nonfunctional.
    Hoodie… functional.
    Foot biding… totally disgusting but lasted for centuries.

    The saggy pants also generated from prison culture. When men get into prison they can’t have belts, for fear as a weapon or fears of suicide. Also in prison, men tend to lose body fat but can gain muscle due to doing nothing all day but eating sparse amounts of crap food and working out all day. Once released from prison, most of their clothes don’t fit. They enter the general population once released with… baggy, sagging pants. They even developed a name for it in particular… “Saggin”… which is what backwards? “N*ggas”.

    The ENTIRE SAGGIN homage is to being a criminal. The criminal life.

    Now… you take a young urban kid who HASN’T been arrested. Now they want to look like these guys who have street cred and have been idolized by rap artists who want street cred so they dress like former inmates… so now you take this kid who HAS no criminal record trying to, well, dress like a criminal. Now he gets profiled as a criminal. He gets frisked for appearing like a criminal. Now, if this kid turns around and says, “I’m not a criminal! How dare you think I’m a criminal!” Ummmm… wasn’t the entire idea you wanted to LOOK like a criminal?

    It doesn’t make it right that he is perceived to be a criminal, the same way if a woman runs around in nothing but lingerie, half naked, looking like Madonna shouldn’t be viewed as a whore… but one could probably understand if someone said, “that woman looks like a whore!” That even if she’s’ never taken cash for sex, someone could initially think… she’s a whore.

    But most woman know, dressing in lingerie is a fashion that has a function.

    Being in a bathing suit at the beach is a fashion with a function.

    Dressing with your pants below your but trying to look like a criminal is basically… ugh… inviting a certain amount of attention – that if you can’t handle it… don’t dress like that.

    So when Don Lemmons begs other young African-American men to please where your pants correctly, when the Hip Hop community of artists have made BILLIONS off of it… and they can pay for good attorneys and ride in tinted Escalades and live in the most expensive suburbs of Jersey and L.A. there is a complete DISCONNECT with REALITY and FANTASY.

    Lemmons is simply stating the reality… if you don’t want to have cops unnecessarily harass you, try your best to just… not look like a criminal. A simple step is just… pull up your damn pants!

    I mean… would you want to see your Dad or Mother with their pants hanging below their ass? Your doctor? Your instructors? Would you really trust the opinion of a dentist if all his teeth were gold capped and his pants were hanging below his waist and every other word was “word up son… how u do’n my lil n-word… b*tches me like, whoa…” and you saw a big ol blunt in an ashtray? I mean, living the street life and using constant slang and falling into the image of “that life” puts up oh so many walls… That’s a casual life. It’s not a life that projects being employable or being an agent to a corporation or school or line of business. It’s like being a surfer or a italian gangsta… it’s not being worldly or aware of the rest of the world community.

    Russell Simons has made billions off of the plight, the style, the look of the corruption that has afflicted the ghetto. Lemmons was just begging people to look at themselves outside the ghetto. I don’t think that’s conservatism or racist. It’s actually saying “I got your back”.

    I think the Hip Hop life is an excellent, fun fantasy… but it’s also a lie.

    And yes, the conservative machine with it’s “work hard you become successful” leaves out mothers and the fact that the super rich typically only get that far via corruption and the exploitation of third world labor markets. Making money doesn’t equate to physically working hard.

    Anyway, had to share… and here’s all my thoughts on saggy pants… lol…

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