Vanity, the plague on the consciousness of our people. It is not only endemic to just Black Americans, but all Americans. However, because of the nature of this nation’s white supremacist/racist media, Black Americans are depicted to be the most materialistic and the most hyper-consumptive of all peoples. I don’t agree or disagree with the claim that materialism and vanity is endemic, but I hesitate to align myself with such a racist myth given the fact that Black America is still suffering double digit unemployment and are still victims to capitalist America’s class oppression.
It can be said that mainstream White America has imbibed us with notions of individualism and materialism that has plagued our community since day one in this country. The notion of American Individualism or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” has been over-sensationalized and over-emphasized in our communities leading most of us to sincerely believe that our liberation will come at the hands of those who actively participate with this system, and imbibe them self with the same individualism. Isn’t if funny that White supremacy in America has been based upon rigid collectivism? White America sticks together when they need to, in order to not only preserve their power but to hinder the gaining of power by non-white groups. On the other hand, the majority of Black America has taken the bait of rugged individualism, believing the many myths propagated by the mainstream media and corporate Hip Hop.
To not sound like a black conservative, I will say that “showing out” or being fashionable has always been a hallmark of Black American culture, however I think we have taken it too far. Black America has created the majority of the fashion trends in this country from saggin to zoot suits and so much more. The problem is if we can find balance and avoid drinking the poison of capitalist materialism and individualism.
In the video above, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar expounds that Black Americans are too vain; we care too much about material things, namely jewelry, cars, clothes, you know, the things mainstream Hip Hop promotes on the regular. Kendrick raps:
“Doors on the Lamborghini, I want ’em
Can’t afford ’em so I tell the swap meet to clone ’em
I guess I really am a vanity slave
I guess my ancestors turning in they graves
Burning money when I get it, fuck a life savings
Overdraft bank statements, just to make a statement
When I put this fashion on, I’m a fashion junkie”
When we spend money we don’t have; buy into the idea of me over everybody else, we betray the legacy of our ancestors who preached and praticed lived that were emblems of collectivity, prudence, and moderation. Malcolm X was a frugal man, but he was also fashionable. The Black Panther Party donned Afrocentric clothing styles and fashion, but it was a political statement against the white status quo. Today we may have traded in one set of whips and chains for another thinking we are liberating ourselves, when in fact we are only tightening the shackles of mental slavery, while our ancestors are rolling in their graves. To get back to Kendrick:
“Aw man videos got me wanting hoes
Appetite for flashing lights, all I can do is pose
A black male… on Melrose. I should get blackmailed
By my people hell rose, Niggas that ain’t had shit
For 400 years overcompensate by over accessorizing with gear
Man y’all don’t see my vision. I do it for the love of hip hop
And the love of bitches. Am I a hypocrite cause everyday I’m contradicting”
Black America, particularly the youth, the Hip Hop generation; we must liberate ourselves from the propaganda aimed at us by BET, MTV, and all TV that sells us false dreams and hopes of liberation through individualism and materialism. I applaud Kendrick Lamar for making a song like this, and his budding visibility in mainstream Hip Hop is giving life to a new generation of rappers. However, even though he has made this critique, he is no guru to turn to or idol to follow. If we want to make changes in our lives and move away from the poisons fed to us by American capitalism, we must take a deep look into ourselves; discern our wants from our needs, and make the necessary changes in our consuming habits. Our ancestors did not shed blood so we could be hitched up between white women and strippers legs, ostentatiously display wealth in times of extreme poverty, and overall try to buy our way to the Promised Land. You can’t consumer your way to freedom or buy liberation from Jimmy Jazz, but you can save your dollar and in turn save yourself and ultimately your community.
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