Every so often, someone makes the claim that people in the hood don’t think about complex social justice issues. Hearing the sentiment left me conflicted. Sometimes, people couch the idea as sympathy. There's so many bad things going on in their lives that they don't have the space to think about them. Other times, it's spoken in disgust. To them, the hood is populated with backwards people who we need to run away from or contain.
Now, I realize what bothered me. Whether sympathy or obvious contempt, many think people in the hood are stupid. Both sides tend to view the hood as this backwards sinkhole where nothing good happens. I realized that people felt comfortable saying these disparaging remarks around me. This is likely because I'm not perceived as someone from the hood. I am, though, through and through. Their comments caused me to reflect on my own life.
One of my earliest memories was being terrified of the rats that ran through my radiator at night. I would run into my mother’s room to sleep with her. My dad was off working the night shift at the Sheraton up the road. I was one of those kids who would have to leave school early on the first of the month to pick up WIC. We played hide and seek around the buildings and trees in the projects. Grief and fear gripped us while we watched our peers swallowed up by so much violence and neglect. Guns and stabbings, drug busts and turf wars were an actual
part of my life.
Right across the street from that rat-infested apartment was a public library. My mom took me there every week. I devoured the books, taking out five at a time. My father would bring me more books that he got from the hotel. Thoughtful, engaged people were all around me. Black Muslims, Five Percenters, and other groups talked about black life and thriving. The Black folks around me supported my thirst for knowledge.
With that said, it was no walk in the park. I experienced too much violence, poverty, and lack. Making it to school was often an exercise of military tactics, fighting prowess, and luck. Homophobia was rampant, as was the sexism. It was tough and the trauma of enduring it will likely impacted me for the rest of my life. It's only by luck and circumstance that I made it out. Yet, acknowledging that the hood isn't without flaw doesn't make the black people who live there stupid. How can that be, when so many with degrees and money voted for a president who is okay with sexual assault? Plenty of people in the hood suffer daily. Still, we think about the forces that impact our lives all the time because we have to survive. Sure, the formal lingo often isn't there. But formal lingo is often a sign of access, not intelligence. And again, have you seen what folks with formal lingo and access are doing to our country?
I have too many degrees. I've taught hundreds of students in colleges and universities. I’ve encountered some of the most prolific minds in faith, social justice, and organizing. I’m also a direct product the hood. I wouldn’t be who or what I am today if not for the efforts and thoughtfulness of the people who lived there. I'm not stupid and neither are they. When people in the hood and similar places are treated with dignity, then we'll know that we're getting somewhere.
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