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My son and I are of differing opinion as to how people achieve their success or status in the world. As with many parents, I am constantly on his case about finishing his education and “making something of himself'.” I mean he does all right in retail sales for himself. Young single Black Man, working two jobs, driving a black Mustang that attracts more attention from law enforcement than from the ladies. He fashions himself a player, part of the Hip-Hop community. He is quite convinced that most people obtain their status in the world through their associations with others, and not through personal conviction, sacrifice, and dedication.

I know that my opinion comes from growing up with a father who worked hard every day and expected the same from his children. My father didn't have much in the way of money, or celebrity, but he was a man who through the value of his knowledge was able to take care of his family. My father was not afraid of any man, and he had a presence about him that, I won't say commanded, but more or less engendered “respect.” He carried himself in such a way that people seemed to understand that this man considered himself worthy of their respect. He was a man who would help the neediest, and our community knew that when times got hard, when the cupboards were bare, when the holidays were upon us, they could “go see John.” You know what I mean! Most Black communities have that John, or Miss Jones, or Henry round the corner, where a fella could get a meal or a few dollars when things just wasn't clicking. You also know that these are the kinda folks in the community who don't take “no sass” from nobody. They have a personal value and integrity recognizable anywhere in the world.

So me and the son are heatedly discussing certain people in powerful positions who owe their success to their individual accomplishments and others who are successful through their association with other people’s accomplishments. Incidentally, we begin discussing Amiri Baraka's description of Condoleezza Rice as “skeeza.” He felt rather strongly that this was an unfair attack on a Black woman who has attained a great position.

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In the interests of trying to find some way to diffuse his growing anger at Black folks putting each other down, I attempted to explain a little of my thoughts on the subject, so I said: "Calm down son. Condi Rice can certainly take care of herself, physically and philosophically. She has elected to join the club of those who subscribe to the politics of personal power. You know about this club among the black community of gathering 'personal power' unto themselves in order to ‘prove’ their worthiness to those whose personal power exceeds their own.”

Now, I had to repeat that twice, so it was clear who I was talking about! Now you’re forming an image of the club. You know who they are. Ok, let's go on and see if you can better define this club. Let's look at two figures in the Black community, say Colin Powell and Andrew Young. See – you thought I might go for Clarence Thomas and Al Sharpton, didn't you? Colin hasn't totally subscribed to the club because he brings some personal power of his own to the club. His power does not spring from others or from some chance encounter with the power people. His personal power stems from his personal determination to be better than those around him. This being one of the tenets of those who practice the philosophy of personal power. Whereas, Andy Young has never considered himself a powerful entity unto himself. He knows that he was raised up by community, brotherhood, and consensus. Andy never had to push himself into any club because his community is what elevated him to power. Now you begin to see the difference.

Truthfully, Colin has squandered much of his personal power by giving over some of his personal convictions to follow the “party line” with George Bush. Of course, I'm talking about Bush Sr. This has lowered his personal stock among the Black community and certainly among the world community. The world looks and listens to Colin today and they say, "Where is the exit strategy from Iraq?" So, what we need now is an Andy Young to put credibility to promises of Iraqi freedom, both from terrorists and quasi-colonial powers.

Now that we're on the same page, you understand that Condi Rice “don't really have no power.” You know damn well that she was appointed "national security advisor" to Bush because of her ability to work as a mentor with “special” students. Dr. Rice simply does Mr. Bush's heavy reading. Don't believe it? How come Condi is not plugged into the national security apparatus? If she really was then she should take the fall for 911, because she failed to bring to the President’s attention the immediate threat of terrorism.  The National Security Advisor compiles the reports of the CIA, FBI, and all other intelligence agencies and then briefs the president. The National Security Advisor uses these reports to prioritize the national security agenda. So 911 falls squarely on Ms. Rice in failing the President and the people of the United States. Of course, the “Politics of Personal Power” allows the President to lend her some of his personal power and fill the position "according to his needs."

You see, personal power extends from others or to others. It is not homegrown, grassroots, community driven, or divinely uplifting. Personal power is given and taken quite naturally by contact with the orbits of other personally powerful people. Naturally, because this is certainly the way the physical world works. Atoms more powerful lend tiny electrons to lesser atoms in order to make new compounds useful for progress. This is a powerful argument for personal power.

Labeling Condi Rice as “skeeza” may not be literally correct, but where does she draw her personal power from? Whose powerful orbit has she encountered which lends her this aura of personal power? Now make your list, check it twice, and try to be careful with regard to defending and/or offending those who come to power, or who wish to come to power.

I'm sure my son only gave me the courtesy of listening, at first. He's headstrong as young people are prone to be, and always were. But it gave him pause, and I was somewhat relieved when he said, "That's 'old school' Dad. I know I have to do my own thing and be my own man, but I gotta get into the community before I get back to the books." My reply was, "Son, your community wants you to get back to the books, it's just that they don't want you to get lost on your way back home."

The views expressed above are mine alone, and are not meant to disparage anyone on either side of this conversation. They are simply a small expression, by one Black man, of cultural diversity in America today. The writer is: a survivor of New York’s South Bronx community, a Vietnam Veteran, a former single parent, and presently belongs the diaspora of unemployed American technology professionals. He may be reached via email at lloydcata@yahoo.com.

 

 

February 19 2004
Issue 78

is published every Thursday.

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