February 4, 2020

Nobody Knows Best - EP 3: Black as a Mindset

Kicking off Black History Month with a spicy one. Let's talk about "blackness".


Oh boy, here we go again.

Intro Music

Armory: So about a year ago, someone asked me a question.

So at that time, they were dating a black girl who, if I remember correctly, was adopted by a white family. So she had, like, the cadence and the way of speaking and sort of the character.

But, like many...[who] grew up with the...understanding, if you even want to call it that, that she wasn't really "black" because of how she presented herself.

So then he asked me like:

Retired Texan: "Hey, as a person who sort of understands that and has described that sort of experience, like, what is that experience like?"

Armory: And at the time, I didn't know how to answer that.

And just to get out of the way, it wasn't that this question offended me or was weird to me or anything like that. In fact, I appreciate people asking those sort of questions because it allows someone to answer them.

Armory: [laughs]

Armory: Right?

Armory: But it was more that there were so many threads that were going in my mind simultaneously, because in order to explain that, there's a lot of pre-text; older, established history that you have to put...in front of someone first before really explaining the dynamics of that.

Armory: So at the time I answered the best that I could and it was okay, but I felt like I got really muddled because it was so impromptu.

So I thought about that a little bit...and then I decided since I'm doing this thing anyway, why not revisit this, explain [this] in a more coherent manner, and then answer that core question.

Armory: So in order to explain that [question], we have to lay out some history.

Now for a good portion of time, shortly after slavery was wrapped up in America. They were a bunch of "free"...black men and women...but some people could argue if they were really free when they couldn't get any homes or really own property and things like that.

So you had this period of people trying to get readjusted and integrated into broader American society.

And then, after a bit, you had like some movements and you got...two key figures that I'm sure everyone knows about. So you have Martin Luther King, Jr. and you have Malcolm X. And there are many other important leaders but to me, these were the two most defining ones, not only in the greater world's perspective on how that period of time worked, but also the philosophies that I feel personally drove the black community going forward post both of their unfortunate deaths.

So on one side, you kind of had the MLK mindset, the one of peaceful protest, not resorting to violence, diplomacy, and instead trying to come up with clever ways of protesting. Because he had the idea that if you made the oppression and violence that was going on, during that time, clear and real in front of people, that there wouldn't be a way to ignore it. And they [Americans] would have to look in themselves and question their own morality on if they wanted that sort of culture and conflict to continue or if they wanted to make a stand.

And his sort of mindset [also] goes into the idea of how America was continuing to increase the military budget while ignoring the overwhelming majority of poor people.

But overall, he was a type of person who was like:

"MLK": "Let's not resort to violence, but let's make what's going on very clear. Treat people with love and respect, but be firm and stand up for yourself."

Armory: On the other end of the spectrum, you have Malcolm X, who had a horrible upbringing that really shaped his later rigid mentality...surrounding "blackness"" and his perception of white people and things of that nature.

And he was unfortunate in the sense of what happened to his mom and then later, despite all of that initial weird childhood stuff, being very bright in school, only to be told...I guess I-

Armory: In the nicest way I can put this, but you can look up the quote, that his profession, if I remember correctly he wanted to be a lawyer, was not for people like him. And he was told this by a white person.

Shortly thereafter, I believe he dropped out. And then at that point, he was just doing what he needed to live. Like he was, if I remember correctly, he was doing a bunch of like seedy underground stuff. Basically, a lot of things that really, really poor, disenfranchised black people did then. And then after a while, I believe that led to him getting arrested, and then he got to the Nation of Islam. And then from there, he had a very, very strongly built black supremacy type mindset.

And he was very controversial because on one end, he, or to a lot of people, was a person who advocated for a lot of the black people to...dig back into their roots and remember their strengths and remember where they came from and the people they descended from and was very much a pro-Africa, pro-African ancestry type person.

But at the same time, until the very last few years of his life, he was pro-segregation because he believed that black and white people shouldn't be at all involved with each other because it was always going to go wrong. He believed white people were literally devils, and he was okay with black people doing whatever they need to do to be heard and to get rights even if that resorted to brutal violence; and he was cool with that. But his philosophies resonated with a group of black people.

So you had these like two core ideologies that drove a good chunk of the 1900s in terms of black history and black culture.

Armory: So personally, I believe that MLK was the correct one, in the sense that I believe that the goal should be for us to eventually fellowship as one American body and to remember the past but not hold it against people now and instead try and move forward together, while also standing up [for each other] when that's necessary.

But despite how I feel about that, the one sort of thing that I agree with Malcolm X on, which is really getting out of control now and the one thing I will say that he was 100% spot on [about], is the idea of "wokeness".

And if I were to paraphrase his ideas on it, one thing that he said was that you should be wary because there will be some [people] who will try and, you know, be the outright racists that you would expect, but you would also have those people who would pretend to take on those aspects [of wokeness] when it was convenient for them, and when it would give them status or boost themselves up, but when it really came down to it, would abandon those people that they claim that they're fighting for.

And if you take that lesson all the way now, it hasn't really changed that much. And there's this group of people who use "wokeness" as a way to elevate themselves and to shut down others and to carry on a spirit of smugness that only helps them and who they want to elevate and has very little to do about the people that they're supposedly helping.

And I do believe that everyone should be cognizant of people who use movements or use progressivism as a means to elevate themselves, or to be holier than thou, when in reality, when you look at their actions, it's more of an elite class built on the assumption of benevolence, but is in fact parallel to the system that they claim to be "resisting" or "fighting" against.

Armory: So once both of them unfortunately died, their ideologies drove black people and black culture forward.

And there were some who, when they had kids decided to pass on more of the MLK mindset, or more of the Malcolm X-like mindset.

And then that generation of black boys and girls post their assassinations, who would then become the black men and woman of today grew up in kind of a fuzzy culture. And in some cases it was fuzzier than others.

Armory: So what do I mean by that?

Armory: So the more MLK-ish people who believed on sort of carrying his ideas forward, they had the mentality of going to their children or other black boys and girls that they saw around and saying that you need to have your head up high, and you need to study, and you need to speak proper, and you need to make sure that you work hard, and do the best that you can in this world because you're the generation that MLK spoke of, the one who-

Or the ones who would eventually mix in with the other races and have that fellowship and stuff.

So you can't do anything that would make you look ignorant. You need to carry yourself with pride and be proper and cleaned up and move away from the old stereotypes that had drove the black identity for so long.

Armory: And then way on the other end of things you had the more Malcolm X type people [who] were more like, black pride, don't trust anyone outside of us because we're the only ones that will have your back, remember your roots and the strong legacy that you came from, and remember to honor people like you who have done great things and have sometimes died for it. And they still had the mentality of keeping "blackness" in whatever form that they thought that it was.

Which, if you look at those two sides on their own, you could see that they were there some aspects if you take the best look at them, that complement each other.

But if you take all of what both of those represent, it creates really fuzzy and confusing scenarios.

Armory: So what do I mean by that?

So to go to me now. and many others for a second, this would mean that you'd hear from one person:

"Person M:" "Be proper! Don't use that type of slang! Be educated, hold your head up high, and try and get along with everyone else and live that dream.

So then they'd be like:

"Young Black Child: "Okay, that makes sense, and I'll go do that."

But then the more Malcolm X-ey people would look at those type of people and be like:

"Person X:" "why are you speaking like that? Why do you know about those things? Why are you interested in those type of things?"

"Person X:" "You seem white."

"Person X:" "In fact, you seem so white to us, that you, you must be ashamed of your ancestry and your history, and where you came from, and this must be your attempt to try and leave us behind and try and pretend that you're something that you're not."

Armory: And it's really frustrating but understandable because you have to keep in mind that the assassinations were very fresh to these type of people.

And there was still a lot of pain from things like women's suffrage, which...is still weirdly whitewashed to me because even today, I see people sometimes being like,

"Woke Person": "Oh man, like this [women's suffrage] was such like a big, like, feminist win, and it was a blow to like the patriarchy and all this sort of stuff."

Armory: But very few people remember, or maybe they have selective memory, that when the vote in America to have women be able to vote like men was passed...

It wasn't for all women. It was for white women initially1.

So only they had the ability to vote and everyone else still was subjected to what the core white base in America wanted for the country at that time.

When you go into I was talking about earlier, where there was this group of people who had this core skepticism that was founded by the people that they were interacting with during that time.

And just to be clear, here, I'm just trying to explain the context of that culture, this isn't me, but there was very much an idea of like, white men were conquerors, they're the ones who enslaved everyone, they're the ones that gave people names, they were the primary oppresors, so in no reality would they want to align themselves that type of person [minorities]. And that white women were deceitful, and that they would lie blatantly or act sweet and trying be allied only to betray the people that they were saying that they were aligned with.

So then those [black] people had their children who saw this reality and was taught about this reality, who were then seeing a generation of kids who were acting in the MLK way, of becoming more integrated and mixing, but to them, they essentially became their oppressors, which is why this weird dissonance happened where someone who looked like them was acting like the people who traditionally oppressed them.

Armory: So...when those people would speak up and be like:

"Person X:" "Hey, like, what are you doing? You're trying to be white, you're ashamed of your ancestry and your history. You need to go look at that."

Then they [black youth] would..."deviate".

Armory: They were like:

"Black Youth": "Well, I don't want to be like the people I've been told, oppressed, me and my family and my race for so long. So I'm going to delve into my culture more and focus on those aspects."

Armory: And unfortunately, while that sounds good upfront, it created a mindset where it was okay to not be educated or not speak properly because those things were deemed "white".

And it became okay to go into gangs and defend your neighborhood because you can't trust the police, right? Because they are against you because they've always been against you and they're usually white.

And that combined with the rise of hip hop and R&B, and rap, defined what blackness would look like in the late 80s and 90s.

But there was one thing that nobody expected. And that was that rap, hip hop, R&B would become mainstream, and popular, and powerful.

Armory: And it was so powerful that there were other races who admitted to loving it and wanting to get involved and absorb that culture. But there were different branches of that. There were some people who were attracted to...

Armory: [laughs]

Armory: For lack of a better term, the, the "black MCU" that was developing with Biggie and Tupac. And sort of that, that story about that culture that they've never had a taste of because they were different.

And then those who were so..in love with it, that they would go out of their way to be around black people and speak and act and talk like them.

But here's where things get tricky. Because that blew up, and that became the definition of "blackness", and became the defining characteristic of that post Malcolm X, MLK generation, that became the barometer for "blackness" at that point. So in a way, the Malcolm X-ey type people kind of won even though the promise of the MLK ideals was slowly happening.

And a lot of black boys and girls just went in that direction. It felt good to be on top and popular and to have people emulating that aesthetic...and adapting to you rather than [it] always being the other way around.

Armory: But then you had people like me.

Armory: [laughs]

Armory: Because the more Malcolm X style of thinking became mainstream, and that became the definition of "blackness", which was embracing what always was there and looking backwards to get strength, people like me all across America, were just looked at as "Uncle Toms"; people who want to leave their blackness behind, and were ashamed of it and wanted to mix with other ethnicities...from this place of being ashamed of where they came from, which is a false premise, right? And is the thing that kind of irritates me the most because there's this idea that by being proper, that being proper in of itself is "whiteness"...which doesn't make sense...and ends up dividing people more than bringing people together.

And I think about things like...I remember people having conversations like:

"Black Elder": "Oh, why aren't there more black people in baseball and all these, like, fields that were maybe majority white or something."

Armory: And then the little black boy or little black girl who would raise their hand and be like:

"Black Youth": "Oh, I'm interested in that!"

Armory:...Would immediately be shot down, like:

"Black Elder": "Oh, you're you're trying to be white. You're trying to be like them. You trying to leave us behind, like, what's up with that?"

Armory: And then instead of having that potential person go to those fields and change the landscape, instead, they feel ashamed, and they're like:

"Black Youth": "Oh, I guess I guess that wasn't the right thing to say. I guess I should have kept that to myself. I guess I should, instead do something that's deemed more 'in my lane'."

Armory: And...it's a little funny in a twisted way where back in Malcolm X's time when he got told by that teacher that he shouldn't go into a field that he wanted to, despite being so good at school and being on top, because it wasn't for people like him, I don't think he would have even imagined a future where that same conversation would happen, but instead of the, in his words "white devils", telling him that it was someone that looked like him.

So for a good while growing up...there was this conflict where I was being told all of these things and one of them made sense to me; the idea of being educated and standing up for myself and trying to get along with everyone.

Armory: But there-

Armory: It was-

Armory: There was this bit of shade, that existed where I would, for example, loved rap, R&B, hip hop, but I also liked rock a little bit as a child. And the second...anyone would hear that there was like this disdain. Like there was something wrong with me. And funny enough...

Armory: [laughs]

Armory: The only reason why I ended up liking it was because like many people who grew up during that time, I was super into wrestling. And it was awesome. And funny enough, a lot of other black people were into wrestling, and a lot of their [wresters] themes. just so happened to be like, really, like, cheesy rock themes.

So I would hear them during that time, or that type of music and be like:

Yung Armory: "Yeah, it's like the wrestling!"

But for some reason, that was the line.

Wrestling was okay, but liking rock, like, ugh, that's, now you're delving into whiteness and now that means that you're ashamed of yourself.

Armory: So then, of course, as we got older and older...and this is personally where I have the most beef with the...larger black community of that time, is that now, it wasn't just those "Malcolm X'ers" who were saying to me and people like me:

"Person X": "You're not being black enough."

Armory: Or...

"Person X:" "You're interested in these things because you're ashamed and you want to mix in with other people while forgetting where you came from."

Armory: Now, white people were doing that.

Everyone under the sun had the "pass" to define "blackness" themselves as well. And the black community was okay with this, or a good chunk of it was, because it aligned with what they believed. Where that era of black culture was that popular, hip hop, rap, R&B driven mindset, combined with the black power movement, culture and the more Malcolm X-ey type ideas.

So now, not only was I getting it from people who looked like me, I was getting it from people who didn't and it was "okay".

So what ended up happening?

Well, eventually, either one of two things usually happen. Either you eventually caved in, and you decided to get rid of your potential or what you're interested in because you want to fit in and you want to be "black", or you're like:

Yung Armory: "Well, I don't need you guys anyway."

And you just lived your life.

Armory: [laughs]

Armory: Also, some of those black boys and girls who were older than me that had to deal with this, who eventually found success, were then shamed for not giving that back to the community that gave them so much garbage their whole lives.

Armory: Because now it was like:

"Leech": "Oh, remember that one time where I gave you a popsicle that time in the summer? Well, that means you owe me. And now that you're doing well, you need to go back to the community that was treating you like garbage because you wanted to do something for yourself that didn't align with what they wanted. You have to go back to that community, and you have to contribute heavily now that you're wealthy. And if you're not, then that means that everything we said about you was correct from the beginning, and you really didn't care about us or yourself or where you came from. You always just wanted to be white."

Armory: And they were, of course, varying reactions to that.

Armory: [laughs]

Armory: But to make this a little lighter, the one benefit that I think, growing up in that sort of culture gave me was that, even though really early on, it was painful and it was really confusing, and it was weird to see things I was genuinely interested in, be used against me to prove how I wasn't "black" enough for my community or for other people's eyes. It-it...made me stronger. It made me really understand who I was as a person and made me really appreciate the people that came before me and what they had to go through. And even now much, much later, it's still weird...and it's still something that comes up...but the one thing that makes me happy is that...the generation below me?

Armory: [laughs]

Armory: The generation below me, they don't have to deal with it nearly as much now with the internet and how things have been so centralized, and the fact that even in 2020...rap and hip hop and those black genres still have so much weight, and that they're still so popular?

That gives me a lot of hope of what MLK was really driving towards.

Armory: So while I am mad when I look back...it would be irresponsible for me to not understand the history that drove people to think that way.

Because you really have to think about it. Like, we're talking about an era where people were lynched. We had the woman's suffrage thing that I mentioned earlier. There were still people doing blackface shows where they would jive around like they were black and do these exaggerated poses. When you look back at like MLK, for example, when if I remember this story right, there was a time I think in college where he fell in love with like, some white woman, and he wanted to take the relationship like really seriously and move forward but everyone in his community was like:

"Black Community": "Oh, that's such a bad look like you can't do that."

Armory: And even though he really liked that person, he had to drop that relationship for the sake of the greater "community".

When you think about things like Jim Crow and the Rosa Parks incident, and the assassinations and all of that...and then barely 20-ish years after that, barely, the same people...who drove that pain now want to be like you.

I can understand why that would be so jarring and why you'd [they would] be so suspicious about it.

But at the same time, the idea of treating blackness, like a mindset, an identity that someone can put on and off, is really damaging to those who don't have a choice. Who, to the majority of the world, if someone were to come up to them and look at them, they would be black...and whatever consequences that means, depending on where that person is, [it] doesn't matter if they're interested in "white things".

So when I think about that, I kind of wonder if those things I experienced and many others growing up, really mattered at the end of the day because in a way, we're a little bit more black.

End Music

1 Black men could, but you can guess how well that was working out then.