From The Whipping Stick to The Measuring Stick: Influence and Our Seat at The Table
Ownership; this is what we are talking about. For so many years the black men who I know have associated more with being owned than owning anything; a deeply jaded self-actualization based on hundreds of years of mental and physical enslavement, followed by a just as hopeless and more organized incarnation of slavery cloaked by a name called the U.S. penal system; a system put in place to rip the fabric of our culture and keep us off-balance. “Take the mind and keep the body”, a writer once said about slavery.
This is stuff that we all know and I am not here to harp on things that we are already aware of. What I am talking about is ownership; our turn to own some things. We are often complaining about never having a “seat at the table”. We reflect on the things that I have mentioned in the above paragraph and use those facts as a crutch or a scapegoat as to why we do not succeed. My brothers, we do not succeed because we lack a true awareness of our power.
You see real leadership and real power is had by those who have this thing called, “Influence”. Let’s examine this word more closely
Influence: the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.
Influence is being able to have an impact on not only the thoughts of others, but to then impact their behavior and to change their character if so inclined. My brothers, what is our influence on today’s society? The answer would be much less lengthy if I were to ask; what aspect of the society do we not influence? We absolutely dictate what popular culture finds “appealing”. We are the measuring stick for modern society. Businesses and trends are predicated on what the black man finds interesting, attractive, and exciting. We decide what’s fresh, what’s whack, what’s corny, what’s worth buying, and what needs more work to meet our standards. We push the culture forward.
We set the fashion trends by not only what we wear but by what we find appealing on a woman. This is influence on consumer behavior. We build businesses for fashion designers who could care less about us. We don’t own any of the brands that we see fit to co-sign for. Inasmuch, we lack a seat at the table.
We dictate what music is hot. Hip hop created more millionaire and billionaire record execs than almost all of the other genres combined. We build record labels, but we own very few of them. We create music and co-sign for others who create it. We influence people’s character through our music; but we still sit at the table begging for the crumbs. Inasmuch, we lack a seat at the table.
We’ll get a little deeper here for a moment. In the early post-civil rights era, it was still not appropriate or popular for a white woman to date a black man. What we saw then was a particular body type that the white segment of our society found attractive; skinny girls with large breasts. As it became increasingly more acceptable for women and men to date other races (in the late 80s into the 90s), we began to see that idea of the “perfect body” change. As more white women began to date black men, their bodies began to change based on the wants and desires of the black man. So what did we see? There was a huge boom in certain plastic surgery procedures (i.e, lip injections, butt shots, liposuction; creating the illusion of a smaller waist and wider hips). We fundamentally influenced the development of a certain segment of people Yet, we have very few black plastic surgeons and are struggling to find ways to capitalize off of a trend that we set. In addition, we fail to give credit to the black women for being naturally appealing to our appetites and helping to create this trend of a more voluptuous figure. Inasmuch, we lack a seat at the table.
What I am asking is that we pick ourselves up and get the hell off of our soap boxes and see ourselves for the influencers that we are. Its time for us to recognize the power that we have to drive popular thought and be ready to wield that power, accept the responsibility of what comes with it, and use it to create our own seats at the table. Either that, or build a new table altogether.
This is a letter of empowerment for my brothers, not a letter of denigration of any other segment of the population. This is about not accepting the role of the victim but embracing the role of the victor. It’s all love but we must first love ourselves and it starts by knowing our power and our worth.
My words, my thoughts, my actions.
Be well always, in ALL ways,