The Black Version of Success

This is something that I am personally aware of and has been my experience with people thinking that if you are black and rich, you are not an athlete rapper or some form of academia then it means that you must be involved in something illegal.

It might seem at first glance that the only people making money in this economy are fraudsters, corrupt officials, money launderers and white collar criminals. The slow trickle down of money to those who are working hard, gives the impression that only black people involved in criminal activities are successful. What does that say about those who hold that view and what does that say about the black man’s notion of success?  

A rapper once said  “even in you are in a suit and in benz” you are liable to be perceived as a career criminal first than anything else. It may seem that black people are accustom to overwhelming failure within our ranks that we believe the only way out has to be going on a path to destruction. It maybe because we measure success using rather high ideals. It does not matter how much you have accomplished in your individual struggles or life, your success is disregard if it is not materialized in dollars and cents. In other words if you are not driving some high end vehicle and flossing in the club then your success is treated with indifference. Success in today’s world is celebrated only if it is commercialized. 

 A number of  a older men in my small black community see success as the ability to put food on their table. Therefore these men will plant ground provisions in the hills so that they will have yams, banana and vegetables to sell to people like me. I support them for i know that they just want food on their table. It is not that they would not want to have a mansion and opulent cars but they have resigned themselves to accept their lives as it is and one claims that as long as he has a roof above his head and food to eat then he is quite okay. He values his freedom and his life that he will never allow the pursuit of wealth to send him to prison or “land him in a Grave”. 

people think rich wealthy successful black people are criminals
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 My peers are of a different perspective, ” Get Rich or Die Trying” they say. They refuse to sit by or follow the traditional routes to success which from their perspective is the accumulation of money and luxuries to enhance their living conditions. Some of our young men have a distinct idea of what success should be. They want to be superstars. They want to live like Lil Wayne and Chris Brown. Nothing is wrong with wanting to be a famous millionaire, it is just that these boys want it now. They want it overnight. They want a ‘lottery kinda success’ and this is what gets them into trouble. They do not want to spend the rest of their lives like their fathers cutting cane, working in the construction or hotel industry and end up dying a pauper. They want out! 

 It is a serious issue since our young men lack with the resources and opportunities to fulfill their aspirations often turn to other less noble means. An average man on the street is offended by the academical success of one of his peer and yet easily celebrates the sudden acquired rich status of those within his own cache. I have seen it a dozen times, “hype” people getting more attention and recognition than those who are working hard to pave the way for our advancement. It may mean that education is such a struggling path to success especially with many who cannot afford the college tuition.  The man who “hustles” and gets rich gives these poor young boys hope that one can still be a superstar without getting any form of certification or education. 

 Some are of the opinion that coming out of slavery, these western societies did not prepare for the freedom and advancement of a black nation or its citizenry. Blacks were not initially expected to become a success but to be chained to the subservience and indignity they were originally brought to the Americas for. We are expected to fail from the get go for we are children of the soil. 

 Many Jamaican parents encourage children to pursue traditional employment such as the teacher, doctor or lawyer with scant regard for other careers especially ones that encourage entrepreneurial skills, innovation and invention. If a child says he/she wants to become a chemist so that he can make paper from trees, a black parent is  nine out of ten times likely to discourage that child stating it is better to choose an orthodox career. We now have a nation of graduates with certifications waiting on someone else to provide jobs for them because they were socialized to pursue a job and not to create one. 

Now Today’s parents are ashamed of their twenty one year old who lives at home and does not own a high end vehicle like the neighbor’s son with little regard for the way in which the neighbor’s son might have procured his luxury vehicle. The child is considered unaccomplished despite the fact that he is an an artist and sells his paintings on the beach in Negril while an entire community glorifies his peer because he has money and therefore appears successful. Parent’s have redefined success. Communities on a small scale have decided who deserves commendation and the standard for success. The social currency for advancement is no longer about how many hurdles one crossed to make it to the top, in fact ones does not need to be at the top, one simply needs to have money and live like those at the top. 

Books by Crystal Evans - Every man deserves a good jacketWe blame our children for this ‘money over everything culture’ that traps our young men in a cycle of imprisonment and death, we say they have bad values, but who taught them that success is centrally about making money?  A lot of elders complain that they do not know what is wrong with today’s black generation. I beg to ask them what was wrong with theirs? Children don’t become what you want, they become who you are. Our elders should reflect upon what went wrong during the era when today’s young adults were children. Maybe just maybe they might find the answers to the problems of this “generation”. They raised a world of children who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. A money grabbing, instant gratification over profundity seeking and “step pon them” culture of people.Too many of us are invested in a perpetual need to be accepted by those at the top and we go about it the wrong way and thus have changed what true success is in the grand scheme of things . We need to find a way to merge our aspirations, build and foster success so that we no longer associate success with criminality.

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Crystal Evans

Crystal Evans was born in Westmoreland Jamaica. She is the author of several books centered on her experiences growing up in rural Jamaica and the Jamaican cultural nucleus. She is a voracious reader.

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