I have heard this term used on a few different fronts. I heard it everywhere from politicians to preachers. I have reconciled the meaning for myself on a frequent basis. I have struggled to articulate my own "black rage" in a way that is both insightful and at times consoling. In this brief blog, I wanted to bring the conversation back to the root of where it lives in me. We can debate greater societal cases and situational misnomers another time, preferably on my radio show. Right now, I will use myself as the guinea pig for the sake of conversation.
My relationship with "black rage" has been instrumental in the man that I have become. I was constantly angry as a child. Now, I am not saying that this is because I am black, there were many other factors involved with my apparent anger issues. That is not to say white teenagers or Puerto Ricans are not just as mad. Maybe it was just teenage angst. Word to Nirvana. However, the fact still remains I was black at the time and still very much am.
The way I describe my personal relationship with "black rage" is an insatiable level of angst that I experience despite what I do that is ever present. Mouthful, right? Well, allow me to explain. The conditions I grew up in always left me wanting more. Being homeless, living with relatives, moving schools constantly and watching drugs rip my neighborhood apart. That sentence sums up the majority of my childhood. This fed into my anger but the source came from a general hopelessness that plagues poor neighborhoods and the people that live in them. Because of who I was and where I came from, the expectations were very low. That anger transformed into rage. I was angry all the time. I work with young black males, some of whom are angry all the time. I am successful with them because I help them convert that anger into something positive and urgent.
I tend to joke about this, but at 16, my idea of success was three things:
1. Beautiful women
2. A car
3. To be fly
That was it! Seriously. Many of my friends believed in my idea of success. The unspoken belief between my friends and I were that all of us were not making it out of Oakland. Hell, not everyone was trying to make it out of Oakland. Get it now, get it fast any way you can because we will not be around later to enjoy it. It was our version of that horrible term "YOLO" (I really hate that term). The tragic piece is that we were right. Not all of us made it out of that microcosm in which we belonged. Death, jail and a perpetual state of immaturity captured the majority of us. In some ways, I feel I got lucky. Once I made it into college, I surpassed the expectations my environment bestowed on me. Let's face it, I've been playing with house money ever since. Now, I worked hard, but so did some folks that are six feet under right now too. I cannot discredit their struggles. Even with the hard work, a little favor is always involved for the successful. What I did develop was a huge competitive nature. Once I found out that there was a different set of expectations for folks from other neighborhoods with skin different from mine, it drove me. I wanted to beat the folks that society told me I could not. Even if this was not necessarily true, I made it my reality. Without that common enemy, I would not have been as motivated. I wanted to beat everyone.
Let me explain the mindset I have: Anger is energy. You cannot get rid of energy. You can store it or shift its direction, but you cannot get rid of it. You have to do something with it. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed. It is already there and will be there. I turned that anger and rage into motivation. I learned how to shift that energy. I do not care who you are or what you have, I am going to beat you! Our young people are walking around with a ton of energy, many of them just have not figured out how to make that energy positive.
This is the part where I will lose people. In the eyes of many folks, I am somewhat successful. I have a great job, multiple degrees and a certain level of freedom. I have been blessed to see different parts of the world and have touched down in a large amount of states in our Union. Folks make a bigger deal out of it because of where I came from. It all came from converted negative energy. I get a refill every single day. Every time I turn on the news or am pulled over or look at incarceration rates. It does not take much to get me going. In fact, I am angry right now.
This is what I want to stick. If you have been trying to reach youth with similar backgrounds to mine and are failing horribly, let me offer you some advice. You may be focusing too hard on trying to relinquish your mentees' anger versus teaching them how to embrace it. It is futile to try to kill anger. It is energy and it will not die. You are wasting your time and losing credibility. If you are going to do the work of reaching folks in a perpetual place of pain, you have to learn to operate in discomfort. You have to show them that they do not need to be ashamed of who they are or where they come from while at the same time exposing that the ills they see are not normal. Black incarceration rates are not normal. The rate at which we die from heart disease is not normal. The way we face poverty is not normal and if these things do not incite black rage then we are having the wrong conversation. Be an energy converter.
There's my black rage for you -- enjoy.